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Diary of the Dead (2007)
Dimension Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 5/20/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/23/2008
Not to stereotype, but people are usually either experiment and subject to change, or they are stuck in a rut and never change. This is true for filmmakers, as some have a very diverse filmography and never repeat themselves, while others seem to make the same movie over and over. Somehow, with his latest film, Writer/Director George A. Romero, is able to be both. Diary of the Dead is the fifth film in Romero's "Dead" series, and these films form the backbone of his career. But, the movie also marks a departure from the other entries in the series and shows that even an old dog like Romero can learn new tricks.
Diary of the Dead can be seen as a re-imagining of Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, as the action occurs as a global zombie outbreak occurs. The film introduces us to a group of young filmmakers, Jason (Joshua Close), Debra (Michelle Morgan), Eliot (Joe Dinicol), Tony (Shawn Ravello), Tracy (Amy Lalonde), Ridley (Philip Riccio), Francine (Megan Park), and Gordo (Chris Violette). They are making a student-project (a horror film) under the tutelage of their teach Andrew Maxwell (Scott Wentworth). While working, they begin to hear news reports about the dead coming back to life. Disturbed by this news, Ridley and Francine leave, heading to Ridley's home. After returning to their school and finding it deserted, the rest of the group decide to hit the road in an RV. They soon find a landscape littered with the dead come back to life and a few survivors. Jason decides to document the situation with his video camera and the result is a movie which shows the world falling into a chaos and a group of friends who must struggle to survive.
Even if you hate every second of Diary of the Dead, one must give kudos to Romero for trying something different, not only in the technical sense, but in the overall feel of the film. One usually thinks of shot-on-video faux documentaries as being a young person's gambit, but the 68-year old Romero tackles it with aplomb. (And judging by the audio commentary, he's very savvy in today's technology and the way that viral videos have effected the world.) The "you are there" immediacy of this form really works here, as there is definitely an amount of suspense when the zombies attack the group (especially in the hospital scene). The tone of Diary of the Dead also differs from Romero's previous "Dead" films. Romero has a knack for making very heavy films which resonate with a sense of doom. And while Diary of the Dead isn't a light-hearted comedy, it doesn't have that sense of hopelessness. Yes, there's violence and zombies and characters do die, but we always get the sense that they can get away. There's also some actual moments of humor in the film, which I found quite surprising. One of my main gripes with zombie films is that they are never really about the zombies, but instead they focus on man's inhumanity towards man -- and Romero's films are definitely guilty of this. (That's right, Day of the Dead, I'm looking at you.) Thankfully, there's only one scene in Diary of the Dead which falls into that trap and it's mercifully brief.
While Romero's return to the land of the living dead is a surprisingly good one, the movie does have some issues. As with any film in this genre, one must suspend their disbelief that even the most ardent videographer wouldn't put the camera down during some of these situations. (And while this movie isn't as unbelievable in this realm as, say,Cloverfield, it still has its moments.) At 96 minutes, Diary of the Dead is certainly no Dawn of the Dead director's cut, but the movie does drag in places, as the plot is simply the group driving from place to place seeking safety. The final act does contain a nice call-back to the opening, but it's also unsatisfying.
The most striking thing about Diary of the Dead is how it doesn't resemble any of Romero's other "Dead" movies. If one watched this with no prior knowledge, then they would have no idea that Romero directed it. The movie is solid, as it presents an interesting premise, characters which aren't too annoying, and some nice set-pieces. But, at the end of the day, other than the faux-documentary style, Diary of the Dead does little to separate itself from other zombie movies.
Diary of the Dead comes back to life on DVD courtesy of Dimension Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is quite sharp and clear, showing only a fine amount of grain in some shots and no defects from the source material. Despite the fact that it doesn't fit the reality of the movie, the image is never too dark, even though most of the movie takes place at night. The colors look fine, most notably the reds. I did spot some mild video noise in some shots. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a nice track, as it provides some great surround sound in some scenes. The separation between the speakers is notably good in these moments. The stereo effects are good, and the "jump" scenes and gunshots produce reliable subwoofer effects.
The Diary of the Dead DVD contains a selection of extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Writer/Director George A. Romero, Director of Photography Adam Swica, and Editor Michael Doherty. Given that Romero wrote and directed the movie, this is a surprisingly technical commentary. The trio talks in depth about how the shots were done and the challenge of shooting the film in this format. We don't get many comments which pertain to the idea for the movie or where the plotline came from. That aside, there is a lot of good information about how to make a movie this way. "Character Confessionals" (20 minutes total) contains on-camera "confessionals" from Elliot, Tracy, Tony, and Debra which weren't "used in the film". Here, the characters simply describe what is happening and how it is effecting them. "The First Week" (4 minutes) is an on-set featurette made by independent filmmaker Michael Felsher, who provides a lot of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and filmmakers. "The Roots" (2 minutes) is an interview with Romero where he describes the main idea of the film and how he approached it. "Familiar Voices" (5 minutes) presents three unedited voice-overs used in the film by Guillermo Del Toro, Simon Pegg, and Stephen King. "For the Record: The Making of Diary of the Dead" contain five sub-headings. In "Master of the Dead: Writer/Director George A. Romero" (13 minutes), we get comments from various crew members about Romero's style, which is then followed by an interview with the filmmaker, discussing his work and career. "Into the Camera: The Cast" (17 minutes) the actors talk about their characters and their experiences working with Romero. "You Look Dead!: Make-up Effects" (11 minutes) contains comments from Greg Nicotero, Kyle Glencross, Chris Bridges, Neil Morrill who discuss the creation of the make-up effects for the film. This includes footage of the effects being built and tested. "A New 'Spin' on Death: Visual Effects" (19 minutes) examines the use of computer generated visual effects in the film. "A World Gone Mad: Photography & Design" (20 minutes) contains comments from Director of Photography Adam Swica, Costume Designer Alex Kavanaugh, and Production Designer Robert Lazarus (?!) who discuss the challenges of working on a film which is essentially a fictionalized documentary.
On October 21, 2008, Dimension Home Entertainment brought Diary of the Dead to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc includes a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 31 Mbps. The image is crystal clear and razor sharp. Other than the video defects added to the movie, there is no grain or problems from the source material here. The image is well-balanced and it's only dark in the scenes where the filmmakers intended things to be dark. The colors are good and we don't get any jagged lines or artifacting here. Apparently, HD to HD works very well. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track brings us nicely detailed stereo effects, and the on-screen action lines up very well with the placement of the sounds in each speaker. The surround sound is a bit subtle at times, but when something is happening behind the characters, there are some nicely placed effects. I did notice that the subwoofer effects are somewhat weak here, as gunshots and explosions don't have much of an impact.
The Diary of the Dead Blu-ray Disc contains the same special features as the DVD.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long