While I found the idea of a remake of Dawn of the Dead wholly unnecessary, I will admit that my curiosity was piqued by the potential of such a project, especially considering the massive strides in filmmaking since George A. Romero made his socio-political horror/satire nearly thirty years ago. Then working on his first film, Zack Snyder ("300") had made it very apparent throughout the production and promotion of his “re-imagining” of DOTD that he had the fan’s best interests in mind, and made it clear that he was not trying to better the original; simply reinterpret it for a new generation of moviegoers. Whatever his intentions, the results are quite impressive. It’s fast, smart, slick, scary, and downright epic!
Snyder’s Dawn begins by quietly showing us the last few hours of normalcy in the life of Ana (Polley). As she leaves work, Ana talks to her young neighbour, makes love to her husband, and settles in for a night’s sleep. As Ana and her husband lay in bed, the door opens to reveal their young neighbour, her face in the shadows, but her nightgown obviously stained with blood. Ana’s husband rushes to the child’s aid, and the undead girl attacks. Ana locks the door and attempts to save her dying husband, but almost as quickly as he lets out his last breath, he’s back on his feet, and lunges at Ana with primal ferocity. She manages to escape through the bathroom window, and, in a moment of stunning revelation, we see her neighbourhood in chaos; cars abandoned by the side of the road, people fleeing in every direction, the skyline of the burning against a pale blue sky. Ana takes it all in for barely a few seconds before she takes to the road herself, in search of safety; in search of answers.
Eventually Ana and a small band of survivors take up refuge in a sprawling suburban mall. Kenneth (Rhames) is a cop whose only goal is to get to the nearby military base to meet up with his brother. Michael (Weber) is the voice of reason; it’s he who convinces the three security guards who’ve “declared” the mall their territory that it may be prudent to alert potential rescuers that there are survivors inside. Andre (Phifer), a reformed gangsta whose wife is on the verge of giving birth at any moment, simply wants a world in which his child will have a better life than he had. For the time being, the mall offers them food, shelter, and safety, but all of them are well aware that survival means nothing if there’s nothing left to survive for.
I’m a huge fan of Romero’s Dead Trilogy, but, while many consider his Dawn to be the finest of the three, I still think his Night of the Living Dead is the penultimate zombie film (followed closely by Let Sleeping Corpse Lie (aka; The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue). I loved Dawn of the Dead, but I always found it more schlock than shock, and, while I appreciate its social commentary, it’s not nearly as powerful as that of his first film. That being said, Dawn is still a very important film, especially for the horror genre. Without it, I can think of a good dozen or so films that probably would have never come to be. However, I’ve always found it to be a bit of a sacred cow for hardcore horror purists. Those same people will be the ones who probably never visit Horrorview again when I say that, in many ways, especially technically, Snyder’s Dawn is simply a better film.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that Snyder had the advantage of better effects technology (both practical and CGI), more money, better actors, and literally decades of material to draw from other than the source, but should that matter? Shouldn’t a film be judged on how it makes you feel rather than where it came from and what came before? People have this strange need to protect the “original” things from their past. Comic books, movies, music, cars. They archive and preserve these things so that when new things come along, they can remind us all from whence they came, and that’s an honourable thing, it really is. But really, what favours are we doing anyone with such naiveté?
Would you rather fly to Africa on the Wright Brother’s flying machine or on a plush Lear jet? Would you rather cook your frozen dinner over a fire or in your new microwave oven? Would you rather the zombies in your movies look like actual rotting cadavers, or a bunch of guys lumbering about in blue pancake make-up? Hell, even Romero's "Land of the Dead" and "Diary of the Dead" (two films that probably never would have come to be were it not for Snyder's remake scoring such big box-office numbers) have embraced the look and feel of the 2004 model of Dawn.
The unrated edition differs from it's theatrical counterpart in both obvious and subtle ways. The extra gore is welcome stuff, especially for those who may have thought the theatrical version was a little "soft" in the zombie kills department. We are treated to all manner of exploding heads, decimated corpes, and fountains of grue that would make Fulci blush. On the more sublime level we are given richer characterisations that expand the roles of some characters, although, to be honest, I think the extra gore would have been sufficient, as the theatrical version's pacing was a lot more aggressive (and effective) than this cut.
I still prefer Romero's film's intimacy, and feel that the sense of isolation is definitely stronger amongst his quartet of survivors than Snyder's larger and, by necessity, more impersonal group. The new Dawn also has some inexplicable and abrupt deviations in character by a couple of the supporting players, as well as a hackneyed subplot involving Andre’s “child” that I felt was played more for laughs than tragedy. The new Dawn has a lot of humor, and it's effective even if it isn't always welcome in the greater scheme of things, but the audience I was with seemed to appreciate the occasional release, especially in light of the film's overall intensity. However, none of this new vision's weaknesses slow it down one step; it's as fast and intense as it's remarkably athletic zombie antagonists from start to finish.
Dawn of the Dead is a grungy, murky looking movie, with oversaturated colors, lots of grain, static, and all manner of digital “noise”, but all of these are stylistic choices on the part of Snyder and his editing team, and shouldn’t be looked at as flaws in this 1080p VC-1 encode. The picture presented here is a faithful recreation of what I first saw in cinemas and, subsequently, on DVD, but with much finer detail, and depth. Personally, I love the look of this film and find the Blu-ray presentation spot-on, but I can see how HD purists may be put off by the overall noisiness of the image as this isn’t the sort of clean, defined image that the medium is known for. Still, if you like this movie and are familiar with the techniques Snyder employed in the making of it, you’ll appreciate the quality.
The DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track is robust, and sports a very pronounced bass attack, crystal clear dialogue, and the overall clarity is up to Blu standard. However, much like with Universal’s “Land of the Dead” BD, the surround effects are somewhat flat and uninspired, and it seems as though too much focus was put on the “front of the house” without much consideration to the rears. It’s not a bad mix by any means, but it’s not as immersive as I’d have liked.
While Dawn of the Dead’s DVD releases were fairly well-stocked with extras, Universal has, for some reason or another, opted to release the film on a BD-25, limiting the amount of goodies that can be stored on one disc, and have, instead, included only a few extras; the feature-length commentary by Zack Snyder and Eric Newman, and the U-control PiP track which features materials culled from many of the aforementioned DVD extras. As someone who’s owned the film on DVD, I didn’t necessarily miss many of the extras omitted for this release, and, actually, rather appreciated the new way in which the older material was implemented here. However, I can understand how fans may feel a bit cheated, especially seeing as how they’ll have no choice but to keep their DVD copies around for the smattering of extras Universal decided not to include.
Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead is a fresh and exciting variation on a classic theme. Were it not for it's title and setting, this wouldn't really be a remake at all (and would have probably alientated fewer Romero apologists). It's a new story featuring new characters, different motivations and an entirely different outcome, and the result is one bloody fun ride.