• Land Of The Dead (Collector's Edition)



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: October 31st, 2017.
    Director: George A. Romero
    Cast: Dennis Hopper, Simon Baker, Asia Argento, John Leguizamo, Pedro Miguel Arce, Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter
    Year: 2005
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    When Romero came on board with Universal to make his fourth zombie film, he had to tone things down a little bit in order to secure an R rating so that the film could get theatrical play without any issues. He obliged, the film hit theaters, and now that's been slapped onto a shiny silver platter for home viewing, he's been able to restore the four minutes that were taken out of the movie.

    Originally titled Dead Reckoning (for reasons that make perfect sense once you see the film), legendary American horror film director George A. Romero's highly anticipated fourth foray into the world of the walking dead is Land Of The Dead. Though Romero jump started the genre in 1968 with Night Of The Living Dead and followed it up with Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead it had been two decades since his last zombie opus, and it took the blockbuster success of the Dawn Of The Dead remake and other recent zombies films like 28 Days Later to get his fourth entry out of the gates. Ironic? A little bit. But Romero likes irony, that much is obvious.

    The world has been overrun by the living dead. There are pockets of 'civilization' scattered around American, mostly in the big cities, but the rest of the country is a wasteland. A man named Riley (Simon Baker of Red Planet and The Ring 2) leads a group of lower class citizens whose job it is to score the wasteland area outside of Pittsburgh to bring in much needed food and supplies from what's left of the grocery stores, farming areas and shopping centers, and try not to get killed by the 'stenches' (their nickname for the zombies) in the process. To help in this mission, a rich man named Kaufman (Dennis Hopper of Blue Velvet and Easy Rider) has financed the building of a super tank named Dead Reckoning – it's pretty much an indestructible eighteen wheeler turned into the ultimate zombie killing machine.

    When Kaufman spurns Cholo (John Leguizamo, recently seen in the Assault On Precinct 13 remake), the man who was to replace Riley as the leader of the scavenger group, Cholo hijacks Dead Reckoning and threatens to blow up the building that the rich and elite members of society have holed themselves up in, the very same building which Kaufman refuses Cholo access to. Kaufman, who doesn't 'negotiate with terrorists' ropes Riley and his friends, a dimwit named Charlie (Robert Joy who worked with Romero back in 1993 on The Dark Half) who happens to be really good with a rifle, and a fiery ex-hooker named Slack (Asia Argento, foxy tattooed daughter of Dario Argento who produced Dawn Of The Dead), to get Dead Reckoning back before Cholo destroys everything he's worked to build up. To ensure things go smoothly, Kaufman has three of his hired soldiers accompany them on their mission to steal back the super tank.

    What neither Riley, Cholo or Kaufman realize is that there's a threat outside the protective walls of their armed compound above and beyond the usual zombie antics. The dead are starting to learn, they're starting to follow directions, and they're starting to learn how to work together. And what do they dead want? They want to return to their old life, to the life they knew before it all hit the fan, and that life took place inside the city and that's exactly where they're going to go.

    Sounds like a pretty decent premise for a zombie movie, doesn't it? Especially a Romero zombie movie, as the ideas behind all of what happens are ripe for satire and black comedy, two elements which made his first three 'dead films' so successful and so much better than the scores of imitators that followed. When the end credits hit the screen, the premise still sounds good and the ideas still sound good and the story still sounds good, but I couldn't help but feel that there were a couple of problems with the execution that, when the dust settles, put this one on the bottom rung of the Romero/Dead Film ladder. It's not that the film is bad, quite the opposite in fact, it's pretty good, but there are some issues…

    Character development has always been a key ingredient in a successful horror film. If you don't care about the leads, it's hard to generate any sympathy for them and as such, when the tension mounts, it isn't as effective or as scary. This was the biggest flaw in Zach Snyder's Dawn Of The Dead remake and the key reason that the original film is the better of the two, and ironically enough, it's the biggest flaw in Land Of The Dead. It's not that the rag tag group of heroes that Riley assembles is unlikable, they're not. They're nice enough people, you just don't feel much for them because you know so little about them. Riley's past is hinted at briefly. Charlie? We know Riley pulled him out of a fire and that's about it. Slack? We know Kaufman doesn't like her and that she may or may not have feelings for Riley judging by the way she looks at him. We know Cholo is pretty pissed off at Kaufman after working for him for so long and getting the shaft when it all came down. And sadly, that's about the extent of it. There's enough there to move the story along and enough there to string the plot on, but there's not enough there to involve you with these people they way you became involved with them in Romero's three earlier zombie films and that's a damn shame because the idea behind Land Of The Dead is a very good one. Though this directors cut does restore some brief snippets of interplay between characters and it does flesh things out a little bit more with some extended dialogue, it's still not quite enough to fix the problem, even if it is a step in the right direction.

    The other problem with the film? The CGI. Thankfully, most of the obvious edits to the gore scenes have been fixed on this uncut version of the film. There's still nothing here on the level of Rhodes' death scene in Day Of The Dead or some of the grislier moments in Dawn Of The Dead and none of the death scenes have the power of the matricide scene in Night Of The Living Dead, but the restored snippets of gratuitous grue do help things out in that regard. If you've seen the theatrical cut of the movie, you'll likely have noticed how obvious some of the cuts where – thankfully, Universal has allowed the trim to be reinserted and that, like the restored bits of character development, do make Land Of The Dead a better film. Unfortunately, for every fantastic organic effect we have, we're hit with a crappy CGI one. Almost all of the head shots, an important factor in the action scenes of the film, are CGI and when you see what is obviously computer generated blood spray, it simultaneously reminds you how good the organic effects work is and how crappy the computer generated ones are.

    It's not all bad news, though. Romero's wit is omnipresent throughout and while a lot of the comic relief from the three soldiers that Kaufman assigns to work with the team falls flat on its face, the more satirical aspects of the movie do work really nicely especially when you take into account the filmmaker's leftwing slant and contrast that to the real world parodies we see plaid out in front of us. The zombies once again are an obvious representation of the general public, and this time out Romero hits us with a bit of a class war between the right and the poor that isn't that far removed from the way certain political groups tend to pander to their big business friends or how the rich often times exploit the working class. While this may sound out of place for a zombie film the script works it all in nicely and while there is a certain heavy handedness to some of it (Kaufman's death scene is about as subtle as a brick to the head… money truly is the root of all evil in this film), it's at least handled in an intelligent enough fashion to make for an interesting contrast in amongst the walking corpses and the brain splatter.

    Romero's strengths in the editing room are evidenced nicely throughout the film as it moves along at a very good pace and makes use of some expertly timed jump scares throughout the movie. The tone of the film is quite bleak, and there are a few stand out scenes scattered throughout the movie such as when an army of zombies emerge from the murky depths of the river or when the camera pans up from the street to give us a birds-eye view of the carnage below. The film is quite well made on a technical level and it's a shame that the film didn't quite hit its potential.

    Performances are okay across the board. No one is particularly excellent – Hopper is Hopper, Asia Argento looks hot but brings nothing to her role, and Riley is just sufficient in the lead. The only real complaint about the actors is the 'big daddy' zombie who moans like a bad Scooby Doo ghost throughout the movie whenever he discovers something or gets upset about something. I realize that the zombies are learning as the movie progresses, but truth be told his moans were laughable. John Leguizamo is decent Cholo, bringing some sleaze and shiftiness to his role that makes it work better than it would have in someone else's hands.

    When it all boils down to the nitty gritty, Romero's film is a reflection of the times, just like the other three zombie films he's made have been. We live in a society where people think for themselves less and less and take what's spoon-fed to them as the gospel truth. We live in a society where a film's merit isn't judged on characterization but on action, flash, and effects. Romero has given us, the zombie masses, exactly what we asked for. The cheers of the people sitting around me in the theater confirmed this, as did their incessant talking when there wasn't enough action going on. The beautiful thing about that is he's done it in his own style. It's a "dumbed down" film but it's still a Romero film – as much a black comedy and social satires as a horror film – and it's still very much worth seeing. There's some irony in that. But Romero likes irony, that much is obvious.

    This two disc special edition from Shout! Factory includes both the original theatrical version and the unrated version. Now, what you're probably wanting to know is what are the key differences between what hit theaters and what's on this disc? Well, first and foremost is the bloodshed. Almost all of the zombie attack scenes play a little longer and without anything blocking the action, which results in considerably more gore in these moments. The scene where the zombies close in on the skyscraper towards the end of the film is definitely bloodier, and the gut-munching scene that happens around the same time that Savini's machete zombie shows up is also nastier. A scene where Cholo finds a hung corpse is also put back in, and while it's a short moment, it's a pretty good one. That's pretty much it, aside from the aforementioned brief moments of more expository dialogue and a quick moment where we learn a little bit of Cholo's back story. The restored footage does help the movie quite a bit, as the obvious and jarring edits are no longer an issue and it feels more like a Romero movie than a Hollywood production (though in a sense, the movie really is both).

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Shout! Factory brings Land Of The Dead to Blu-ray on two separate 50GB discs (the theatrical cut on disc one, the extended cut on disc two), each cut properly framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and taken from a new 2k scan of the interpositive. The unrated cut uses HD inserts for the additional footage that’s cut into the film – these moments don’t look quite as good as the rest of the movie but they look fine. Compared to the previous Blu-ray release that came out through Universal a few years ago, we get noticeably better black levels and stronger detail. Colors look a bit more accurate and there’s a bit more depth and texture here. The old Blu-ray looked pretty solid to begin with, but this does offer a noticeable improvement in the picture quality department. Noise reduction, aliasing and compression artifacts are not a problem and the source material used was clearly in fantastic shape as there’s virtually no print damage to speak of.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Surround Sound mix is rock solid. There’s nice surround activity present throughout. Dialogue is clean and clear, there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. The score has good presence to it as do the sound effects, which come through in the mix quite strongly without burying the dialogue at all. Optional subtitles are offered up in English only. An optional DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track is also included.

    Extras are spread across the two discs in the set as follows.

    DISC ONE:

    Lots of new extras on the first disc, starting Cholo’s Reckoning which is an all new interview John Leguizamo who speaks about his thoughts on the film and the social commentary that lies within, how many of the themes tie into the modern American political landscape and his thoughts on his character. In Charlie’s Story we get an interview with actor Robert Joy wherein he discusses his part, casting, and his love of working with the late, great George A. Romero (they also worked together on The Dark Half). This is quite a nice piece, touching even at times. In The Pillsbury Factor actor Pedro Miguel Arce that discusses how he got into the business and his thoughts on acting, his approach to his character in the film and what he’s been up to since Land Of The Dead finished. In Four Of The Apocalypse we get actors Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks and Jasmin Geljo together for a group chat that basically covers similar ground to the other featurettes so far – how they got their parts, their thoughts on their characters and some of the experiences that they shared while working on the film.

    Shout! Factory has also included Dream Of The Dead, Roy Frumkes look at the respective careers of Romero and Tom Savini. This is a mix of old and new footage, with some great vintage material included here alongside some more recent footage documenting that making of Land Of The Dead. Like Frumkes’ other Romero piece Document Of The Dead, it’s thorough and well put together. This is available with optional commentary from Frumkes that offers up his thoughts on Land Of The Dead, his experiences on set and his relationship with Romero.

    Rounding out the extras on the first disc is some deleted footage from Dream Of The Dead, a handful of deleted scenes and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

    DISC TWO:

    The only new extra on disc two is an audio commentary with ‘Zombie Performers’ Matt Blazi, Glena Chao, Michael Felsher and Rob Mayr with Felsher acting as the de facto moderator here. It’s a fun chat with the four participants talking about how they wound up playing zombies in the movie, what they had to go through in order to be transformed into the walking dead, their experiences with some of the cast and crew members and their thoughts on the film. This is a fun, enthusiastic talk that focuses on an aspect of the production that none of the other extra features really touch on.

    Also on this disc is a commentary track with director George Romero and producer Peter Grunwald who are joined by Michael Doherty, who served as editor on the project. While there's quite a bit of information covered in this track, the delivery is fairly dry and almost lifeless at times, there doesn't seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for long stretches at a time which makes it difficult to get through despite the fact that you really can learn a lot from listening to it and this isn't helped by continual instances of dead air. Regardless, the commentary does a good job of filling us in on the technical side of things, as it talks about shooting locations and some of the effects work as well as some of the rating issues that they had to deal with. They could have gone more in depth in terms of covering casting and why certain people were chose for certain roles, but this is worth skimming through if you're a fan of the film or of Romero in general.

    Undead Again: The Making Of Land Of The Dead is an all too brief (thirteen minutes, give or take) look behind the scenes at how the movie was made. Surprisingly enough, Romero comes right out and refers to Hopper and his cronies as the Bush administration, pretty much confirming everyone's suspicions of the political allegories present in the feature. There's plenty of raw set footage here, some interview clips with George, Asia, Baker and Hopper, and while it really needed to be much longer to really flesh out the story of the film, it's certainly an enjoyable look at how it all played out.

    Bringing The Dead To Life is an interesting, but again, all too brief look at the KNB Effects team and the work that they did on the film. Greg Nicotero, the man behind the makeup magic, guides us through the creation of some of the more recognizable zombie make up that is scattered throughout the film and for those who dig on 'how'd they do it' type material, this proves to be a worthwhile investigation. Romero gives his thoughts on Nicotero and his work, and vice versa, and this is one of the better and more complimentary supplements on this release.

    Scenes Of Carnage is up next and while the title certainly gets your attention, all this really happens to be is a compilation of the gore scenes from the film set to ninety seconds of music. While it's fun to check out all of the gore at once, this isn't showing us anything we didn't see in the movie and it's kind of pointless, really.

    Zombie Effects – From Green Screen To Finished Scene is another effects piece that examines rather poor CGI used in the movie. If you're into computer effects you'll like what you see here but if your preference is for the real thing, the old school organic effects, this won't float your boat as it's got nothing to do with makeup effects or fake blood. That being said, seeing the before and after versions of certain specific effects set pieces from the movie is at least mildly interesting.

    Bringing The Storyboards To Life is exactly what it sounds like - a storyboard to film comparisons for a couple of sequences from the movie.

    Up next is A Day With The Living Dead, which clocks in at about seven minutes in length. This is a short look at a day on the set through the eyes of John Leguizamo, who spends most of the time hamming it up for the camera. It's a mildly amusing and very candid look at his work on the film, but it's hardly in depth.

    When Shaun Met George is a look at the meeting of George Romero with Edgar Wright and Simon Penn, the creators of Shaun Of The Dead. This is a fun piece, as you can tell that Wright and Penn are completely stoked to be playing zombie extras in a Romero film and their enthusiasm is pretty infectious – it's hard not to have fun watching these guys get into their parts.

    Shout! Factory has given this release some nice reversible cover art and a slipcover for the first pressing.

    The Final Word:

    Land Of The Dead isn’t on the same level as the three films that came before it, but it’s still a pretty solid zombie picture with some stand out set pieces, decent performances and plenty of Romero’s trademark social commentary. Shout! Factory has gone all out on this one, presenting it in great shape with both cuts and loads of extras. A solid upgrade over the past release!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!