Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Dawn of the Dead (1978, George A. Romero)

"Dawn of the Dead" (aka. "Zombi"), 1978, written and directed by George A. Romero.

Version reviewed: The entire Region 1 "Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Edition" collection from Anchor Bay, featuring the three most common cuts of the film.

There are some films that are so groundbreaking in it's genre that they become prerequisite classics. Very much of their time but still impressive today none the less are George A Romero's original zombie films. Both "Night of the Living Dead" and "Day of the Dead" have faults and high points, but the clear masterpiece of Romero's series is Dawn of the Dead - an intimate and atmospheric horror epic with action, stunts and scope. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that Dawn of the Dead just isn't very scary, I could easily consider it comfortably the best horror film ever made for these other respectable merits alone. Today, "Night of the Living Dead" plays like a perfectly sixties shocker with psychedelic musical cues and moody expressionist lighting in the face of the bright colour that was in use in cinema. "Day of the Dead" plays like a very vivid nightmare, but "Dawn of the Dead" is the one that paints a sustained, surreal zombie landscape for all it's length. A quite believable scenario is sketched in the first twenty minutes - society is falling apart, largely due to people's refusal to choose a course - readily abandoning their jobs and no-longer-relevant "responsabilities" or sticking it out together. Our four main characters can hardly be blaimed for running out on it - there was nothing left sticking around for.

For what it's worth, despite the parts that are dated (or, more accurately, of their time) the film paints it's own convincing reality and the four main characters are drawn in a lot of detail. No, the effects are often quite disappointing, but they were groundbreaking for the time and have a fun and surreal feel. George A Romero himself thinks of the film as a live-action comic book and I can definetely see what he means - but it's a long one and worth every minute.

There are three cuts of this film I have seen and all are included in this boxset - Romero's preferred 127 minute US theatrical cut, his 139 minute "Cannes" cut and the 116 minute Dario Argento cut for Europe. All three cuts have their virtues, but my preference is for the Cannes cut - the lengthier pace allows the film more space for atmosphere and this is the cut I grew up watching, anyway. Argento's cut features very little (maybe NO) library music like the Romero cuts, featuring wall to wall Goblins music. Both kinds of music are effective, though I could do without the cheesy music when Ken Foree decides not to shoot himself which appears in both the Romero cuts. The main Goblin piece which appears frequently, especially in the European cut, is a very effective piece for a horror film.
Romero's theatrical cut is the one that features the best music, featuring a mix between Goblin's score and the library cues, sometimes at the same time or seamlessly transforming back and forth. However, this cut just misses too many things I like from the "Cannes cut". Note the transition from Peter and Roger at the slum to Steven at the docks. In the Cannes cut, the transition from Peter's gunshot (right into the camera) to the helecopter in the air, as it lands at the docks. In the theatrical cut, it cuts right to someone who has been shot in the head as Steven investigates him. It misses out the helecopter and most of the material with the policeman leaving for "the islands", which added a lot of scope, giving the feel of one adventure among hundreds.

The Ultimate Edition is truly a great release for this classic. All versions of the film look good (although, the Cannes Cut is definetely the worst looking) and it's really cool to have all the versions together.

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