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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Thriller > Dawn Of The Dead - Ultimate Edition (1978, Divimax set)

Dawn Of The Dead – Ultimate Edition (1978/Divimax set)


                                       Picture:     Sound:     Extras: A-     Film: B+

U.S. Theatrical Director’s Cut    B+           B+

Extended Premiere Version       B             C

European Version                   B             B-



In 1968, when George Romero’s Night of The Living Dead and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby arrived and changed the Horror genre like nothing since Alfred Hitchcock did Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963).  Ten years later, another shift happened when Romero’s sequel Dawn Of The Dead and John Carpenter’s Halloween came out, but this later set is far less discussed.  Since then, Romero has turned out to have made the more enduring film, even if it was not the film of the moment the reactionary Carpenter classic turned out to be.  Despite the recent remake, it still has not been trivialized and sold down the river as Halloween became.  After the first sequel, all we got were a series of huge mistakes.


Continuing where Nate Goss began in his earlier review of the single Anchor Bay Divimax DVD (http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review.php?id=887&filter=D) from several months ago, we continue to explore the 1978 film with Anchor Bay’s very impressive 4 DVD Dawn Of The Dead – Ultimate Edition, including that new DVD and adding two other versions of the film and a bunch of terrific supplements.  However, the film at hand is the most important thing and that is where we pick up.


Between the first and second Romero Zombie films, the source for his story was filmed again.  Sidney Salkow’s The Last Man On Earth with Vincent Price (1964) was a loose-but-official adaptation of Richard Matheson’s brilliant novel I Am Legend.  In 1971, it was turned into a thriller with a science fiction twist in Boris Sagal’s The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, and one of its highlights was Rosalind Cash as the African-American female lead.  This would never have happened without the empowered black male lead of Romero’s first film.  The film also offers a scene where the couple loots empty stores and laughs about it, something Heston does to some extent in early parts of the film.  Romero takes the ideas about Consumerism to new heights by having the film take place in one of the first indoor malls in the United States.


If it was not enough that Romero was still on the cutting edge narratively, following George Lucas’ original Star Wars the year before being so celebrated for its visual effects, Romero had Tom Savini with make-up effects like nothing that had ever been seen before and (unlike Lucas’ film) have never had to be updated.  With this combination as a start, Dawn Of The Dead would become another classic, which is why the remake is so questionable.  Even if it is “alright” it is not so.


Now, the mall is accepted, so much so that they can only get “bigger and better” as newer designs replace ones with the age and look found in this film.  Even the actual mall used in this film has been expanded with heavy construction since the videotape tour in the supplement from May 2004!  This set streets September 2004.  The remake is not smart enough to know what to do with its mall, and being in grossly overused California instead of an industrial center about to have the bottom pulled out from under it by the Reagan Years.  It is easy to forget that Disco music and Civil Rights were still in full swing when the film came out, as well as a hardcore sex film industry that had not been torn down (fortunately) by home videotape.  Yet, the film subtly challenges the aspects of the relationship (by race, gender, and societal placements at the time) other films were still taking for granted.  In this respect, it is a time capsule for those who watch very closely.


The problem is that what Romero so cleverly challenges in his screenplay does not always translate in the performances, something Stanley Kubrick seemed aware of when making The Shining (1980), one of the only Horror films of the time that can take this one on.  Because the music is atypical of what was hitting the charts at the time, the film is further removed from its time period and that makes it ironically more ageless.  The result is a self-contained fantasy brought to tangible life that gets better with age and makes for an amazing entry in what will now be four Zombie films from Romero.  It captures the real banality of the late 1970s, not the anti-Civil Rights revision Neo-Conservatism has been force-feeding us since Reagan got in.  This is why it has so many fans that see it as such a seminal film, speaking a truth in grand cinematic terms that anyone can get.  It is no surprise that this is the Romero Zombie film from the original Punk Rock music era.  There are some missed opportunities, and its ending could have gone further in a way that would have made the producers of Blade Runner (1982) never tack on the “flying car in the sun” ending that seems like a pale rip-off of (without being a spoiler) what happens at the end of this film.  You’ll have to see for yourself.


As Nate Goss noted, there are three versions.  The already issued U.S. Theatrical Director’s Cut is the one with the most well rounded vision and it is no surprise that it is the one Romero endorses.  For the thematics the film deals with and the nightmare it paints, Romero’s preferred cut does not get distracted by excess, but you can understand in the Extended version why the producers would want to show off their innovative make up effects.  The European version was cut by the Argento Brothers in Italy and cuts some of the English-speaking moments and details of the film to focus on the visuals.  Unlike the excess in the Extended cut, the Argentos focus on the kind of visual phantasmagoria that made Dario Argento’s films so distinct.  It is more of the Mario Bava/Lucio Fulci type of look and Italian sensibility than the other cuts.  The emphasis on the semantics (look) of the film and its relation to genre make this a treat of its own.  To this point, color was still relatively new to the Horror genre and Romero was being influenced by the best, but even he has admitted to unlikely sources like the films of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger.  More like Tales Of Hoffman and The Red Shoes, but Powell’s solo thriller classic Peeping Tom (1960) has to figure here somewhere.


The anamorphically enhanced image for all three films are High Definition as is the policy of Anchor Bay’s Divimax series.  There are still slight differences in the picture quality.  The U.S. version looks the best, which is good news for Romero, preserving the excellent use of color and offering a very clean and clear print for an independent production of its time.  So few Hollywood-produced big budget films look this good on DVD that this version embarrasses those films.  The Extended cut has some shots that are a tad weathered, while the European version is slightly duller throughout as some of the original footage was processed in an Italian film lab and has a cooler look with a bit less detail.  The original credits are properly retained.  Michael Gornick’s cinematography looks fine in all versions.


The sound is various throughout.  New audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo that sometimes offers Pro Logic surrounds, some of it being restricted to mono in documentary segments as per older material included.  As for the three cuts of the feature, the U.S. version again fares best with a solid DTS 5.1 remix that offers a warmth and fullness no other soundtrack for any version can deliver.  A 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is offered for this and the European cut, but the European cut is a bit weaker and neither can match the DTS.  The 2.0 Stereo with Pro Logic surrounds is even less so and the 2.0 Dolby Mono is great for purists, but is the poorest sound on all three films.  As a matter of fact, only mono is available in the Extended cut.  Dolby 2.0 Mono is also on the Document Of The Dead, Roy Frumkes’ documentary made at the time of the film’s original release.


Extras are outstanding, from the terrific metallic blood red print on jet black case the 4 DigiPak cased DVDs come in, to the contents pull-out and 24-page mini-comic book (in graphic novel style) that offers more muted color than the actual film.  This trend was begun by the new Special Edition Escape From New York MGM just issued, which is reviewed elsewhere on this site.  Each of the three cuts has an audio commentary, all of which are informative.  The U.S. Theatrical DVD previously released retains the Romero/Savini/Chris Romero commentary by DVD producer Perry Martin, who interviews producer Richard P. Rubenstein on the Extended DVD.  Actors David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger and Gaylen Ross are a hoot on the European DVD.  All are also extremely informative, but the Rubenstein commentary has two odd moments that deserve addressing.


The first odd discourse is over the idea of doing the remake, which had not been issued at the time of the taping.  He spends more time than usual trying to justify the remake and tries his best to spin it into a good idea and good “bet” for fans in particular, but it is a package deal any way you cut it and this never works.  He should not have bothered.  This is then a problem when he comments on copyrights and stealing intellectual property.  He talks about the integrity of original ideas and why websites and fans should not think because they are fans, they own something by default through admiration and devotion.  That is true, but by allowing a remake of the original, does that not demean and disrespect that work as much?  Recycling something so beloved and especially so recent does tend to show a lack of care and even brings up the very ethics issues that plague copyright protection today.  If even independent film producers like Rubenstein cannot leave certain things alone, how can he expect everyone else to?  It is a larger problem in big Hollywood productions (i.e., Michael Mann’s Manhunter (also 1985, also a Divimax DVD reviewed elsewhere on this site) versus the recent Red Dragon remake by (what’s his name?) Brett Ratner), even if both films actually have the same cinematographer.  That still does not excuse copyright violations (aka stealing), but do as I say, not as I do does not cut it.  As Angela Lansbury recently noted in her brilliant lambasting of Jonathan Demme’s recent massacre of John Frankenheimer’s 1962 classic The Manchurian Candidate, could they at least have given it another title?  This is an issue of creative bankruptcy and common sense.


The first DVD still offers advertisements for the radio, TV and theaters, a stills gallery of posters and advertising, a brief Romero biography and preview of the now-enclosed comic book.  DVD 2 has an old TV ad for the actual Monroeville Mall, and stills sections for behind-the-scenes photos, production stills, and memorabilia.  DVD 3 has a brief Dario Argento biography, extensive home video and soundtrack artwork, TV and theatrical teasers and trailers for the international market, and more stills of posters, pressbooks and advertising for the film overseas.  DVD 4 offers nothing but extras, including the aforementioned Document Of The Dead documentary by Roy Frumkes extended with location taping behind the scenes of Two Evil Eyes (1990), reflections on Monkey Shines – An Experiment In Fear (1988), the new comic book adaptations, then deleted scenes (including valuable cinematography moments that should have stayed in the film) and original credits (92 minutes), the all-new Dead Will Walk documentary which updates the original and is a great companion to it (75 minutes), a recently videotaped visit by the cast and crew to Monroeville Mall for the Pittsburgh Comic Con (12 minutes) and Robert Langer narrating his 8mm home movies on a film stock that is lucky it survived (13 minutes), considering its problems.  That is a very thorough package that challenges the film itself, but all classics deserve such treatment and that makes Dawn Of The Dead – Ultimate Edition one of the most collectible DVD sets to date.  Be sure to check out the Divimax Day Of The Dead (1985) DVD and our review for it at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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