Release Date(s)2004 (January 31, 2023)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
The horror community was spitting venom in the early 2000s when talk of a remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead first hit the internet news cycles. One of the most beloved and respected horror films of all time, the thought of cashing in on it for a quick buck didn’t sit well. It wasn’t until the trailers and TV spots came along that the tide began to shift in its favor. Now brought up in conversations as one of the better horror remakes alongside John Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg’s The Fly, and Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Zack Snyder’s (and to a large degree, James Gunn’s) Dawn of the Dead is a completely different beast than Romero’s, and depending upon who you ask, its modern-day equal.
From the outside looking in, many of Dawn of the Dead’s story elements are the same. Wayward people are trapped in a mall and they’re surrounded by zombies. Characters, dynamics, and outcomes have been completely altered and gone altogether is the consumerism angle of the original. We’re now saddled with a group of folks who range from awful to annoying, which is why it’s difficult for many (myself included) to enjoy this film fully. Characters are primarily written to be repugnant, not to mention that there are way too many of them. Gunn’s and Snyder’s apparent intent was to portray people with the worst traits who can still manage to come together in the end. It’s also the complete opposite of the original film, wherein the characters are likable and you want them to succeed. I could care less about what happens to these people.
On the other hand, Dawn of the Dead 2004 has one of the strongest openings for a horror film of recent memory, which grabs you by the throat and makes you sit up and pay attention. This and 28 Days Later were also responsible for a minor trend of fast-moving zombies, which is now all but abandoned, especially after the success of The Walking Dead and its spin-offs. The zombies being more aggressive and able to chase down their victims is certainly a different take, but it’s slowly but surely gone by the wayside over the years. There are sporadic moments of interest, such as Kenneth and Andy’s relationship, the Dead Reckoning-like bus at the end (Was somebody peeking at the Land of the Dead script?), and all of the practical special effects work. Unfortunately, it’s all in service of characters that you frankly don’t care whether they live or die. Oddly enough, it parallels James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, which has many of the same issues, but I digress. For some, Dawn of the Dead 2004 is one of their favorites, but for others, it’s a mildly entertaining facsimile of a full-blown masterpiece. To each their own.
Dawn of the Dead was shot by director of photography Matthew F. Leonetti on 35 mm film using Arriflex and Moviecam cameras with Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Scream Factory previously released a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray featuring both the theatrical and unrated versions of the film (the latter of which was truly uncensored for the first time on home video in the US). They’ve returned to the title six years later for Ultra HD, offering the unrated version only (the theatrical version is included on one of the accompanying Blu-rays). It features a new 4K scan of the original camera negative with inserts from a 2K Digital Intermediate for the unrated scenes, and graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included).
Home video has been very kind to Dawn of the Dead, sporting various special edition releases with plenty of extras, but the picture quality has had its ups and downs, getting better with each successive release. This new UHD sports the best presentation of the film to date, possibly ever. A mostly refined grain structure and a high bitrate are on display, offering crisper images with a new level of clarity not found on previous releases. It’s a clean, sharp image with mild speckling here and there, though some of the CGI-based visual effects don’t hold up in higher quality. The unrated inserts blend surprisingly well, even if they are softer and less detailed than the material surrounding them. The color grades dramatically improve black levels and shadow detail, allowing for more natural contrast that mostly avoids crush and blown-out whites. The color palette is better represented with deeper reds, greens, and blues, which suffered a bit on Scream Factory’s previous Blu-ray. It’s likely the definitive presentation of the unrated version of the film, but it’s a shame that the theatrical version wasn’t included in the same quality.
Audio is presented in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH, the latter a downmix of its multi-channel cohort. Nevertheless, the 5.1 presentation is still quite robust with plenty of atmospherics and ambience, as well as deep, booming LFE. Dialogue is always clear and discernible, while the score and music selection have plenty of good fidelity. A Dolby Atmos option with more height would definitely put this film’s soundtrack over the top, but as is, there really isn’t really much worth complaining about. It’s a great track.
Dawn of the Dead on 4K UHD sits in a black amaray case alongside two 1080p Blu-rays containing both the theatrical and unrated versions. The insert and slipcover feature the original US theatrical artwork. The following extras, which are primarily upscaled SD and HD, are included on each disc:
DISC ONE: UNRATED VERSION (UHD)
- Audio Commentary with Zack Snyder and Eric Newman
DISC TWO: THEATRICAL VERSION (BD)
- Take a Chance on Me: Ty Burrell Talks Dawn of the Dead (15:28)
- Gunn for Hire: Reimagining Dawn of the Dead (9:26)
- Punk, Rock & Zombie: Jake Weber Talks Dawn of the Dead (23:10)
- Killing Time at the Mall: The Special Effects of Dawn of the Dead (25:36)
- Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Zack Snyder and Eric Newman (9 in all – 11:30)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:34)
- Still Gallery (96 in all)
DISC THREE: UNRATED VERSION (BD)
- Introduction by Zack Snyder (1:16)
- Audio Commentary with Zack Snyder and Eric Newman
- Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads (5:36)
- Attack of the Living Dead (7:24)
- Raising the Dead (7:54)
- Andy’s Lost Tape (16:22)
- Special Report: Zombie Invasion (21:05)
- Undead and Loving It: A Mockumentary (5:09)
- Drawing the Dead (2:48)
- Storyboard Comparisons (4 in all – 5:51)
- Easter Egg (23:30)
The audio commentary with director Zack Snyder and producer Eric Newman was created for Universal’s original DVD release in 2004. It’s a mostly informative track, although a bit too laid back as they tend to fall into the trap of watching the film. A new historical-based track would certainly have been welcome. The four interviews produced by Hutson Ranch Media for Scream Factory’s previous Blu-ray release include Take a Chance on Me, an interview with actor Ty Burrell; Gunn for Hire, an interview with writer James Gunn; Punk, Rock & Zombie, an interview with actor Jake Weber; and Killing Time at the Mall, an interview with special make-up effects artists David Anderson and Heather Langenkamp. Next are 9 deleted, extended, and alternate scenes with optional commentary by Snyder and Newman; the theatrical trailer; and a Still Gallery containing 96 on-set photos, behind-the-scenes photos, posters, lobby cards, and pages from the Japanese pressbook. The rest of the extras consist of material produced for Universal’s DVD and Blu-ray releases, including several featurettes, a non-optional introduction by Zack Snyder, and a set of four side-by-side Storyboard Comparisons. The Easter Egg can be found by pressing up while hovering over Bonus, which will take you to the Surviving the Dawn featurette.
While I have my own misgivings about the remake of Dawn of the Dead, it at least tried to do something a little different and not be an exact copy of the original. As previously mentioned, the notion of fast-moving zombies has been more or less erased from the zombie lexicon, but there are certain visuals and sequences that hold up. Scream Factory’s UHD showcases those moments well. If you’re a fan of the film, this release comes very much recommended.
- Tim Salmons