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A plague of apocalyptic proportions has turned the dead into flesh-hungry zombies. After escaping from her Wisconsin home on the morning after the plague strikes, Ana Clark (Sarah Polley) joins a small group of survivors including police officer Kenneth (Ving Rhames), electronics salesman Michael (Jake Weber), security guard CJ (Michael Kelly) street-smart Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant wife Luda (Inna Korobkina). The group takes refuge in a suburban shopping mall, where they must learn to co-exist and prevent the undead army from infiltrating their fortress..

Review by Richard Kuipers:
The new version of George A Romero's 1979 zombie movie arrives with all the expected technical improvements but abandons the satire that made Romero's film a masterpiece of the genre. Fans of the original will be disappointed by this timid re-working but viewers arriving fresh to the tale will find this slickly produced item a cut above the usual mainstream dreck that masquerades as horror - the appalling recent remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre being a case in point. Dawn Of The Dead, 2004-style, is a typically safe Hollywood fright film that embraces the basic elements of its predecessor but shakes out anything remotely cerebral that might turn its young target audience off.

Here the zombies are faster, smarter, more ferocious and more gruesomely decomposed than Romero's automatons. They're more visually dynamic as screen monsters but the make-over robs them of the satirical function they played 25 years ago. In the film he made and distributed outside the studio system, Romero portrayed his mindless shuffling zombie hordes as just a slight evolutionary step down from the mindless shuffling consumers these very zombies had been before plague.

Their blank staring through shop windows and massed presence at the shopping mall's entrance served as a caustic reflection on the obedience of consumer society and the need to gather in the cathedrals of free enterprise. With only a few lines lifted directly from Romero's screenplay paying lip service to these ideas, writer James Gunn's new take on the tale indicates how conservative horror movies have become in modern times.

Minus the humour and the bikie-war finale that ended Romero's version in such awesome style, this Dawn Of The Dead still manages to deliver a reasonable quota of thrills as its human contingent takes on the ghouls. There's a better-than-expected roster of performers drafted into battle here - Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley and Mekhi Phifer among them - but this shopping mall is overstocked with survivors and it's hard to care much about the fate of most of them.

Romero's tightly controlled four-character piece served the story far better and provided an emotional dimension to the drama that barely registers here. Still, the main cast are skilful enough to make more of their characters than what's on the page and give us just enough to hang on to as the body count mounts and the pregnancy of Luda (Inna Korobkina) reaches its grisly conclusion. It's also nice to see original stars Scott H Reiniger, Ken Foree and Tom Savini (also the first film's make-up maestro) turn up in cameo roles. Snappily paced and distinguished by some impressive action scenes staged by commercials director Zack Snyder, Dawn Of The Dead is at least a competent and occasionally eye-catching excursion into horror.

Special features reviewed by Craig Miller:
Marketed as an "exclusive director's cut", this Dawn of the Dead 2004-style DVD contains extra footage from director Zack Snyder's remake of George A. Romero's 1978 classic, which mostly results in more gore for us. Snyder talks for a minute or so in his introduction to the film, discussing what can be expected, and his enthusiastic commentary with producer Eric Newman also points out, in much more detail, the subtle changes between this version (known as the unrated version in the US), and his original theatrical cut.

Also included on this fine single-disc release are three beautiful but brief make-up effects featurettes (behind the splatter scenes), a collection of deleted scenes with optional commentary, and a couple of featurettes that explore off-camera action from the movie. The first featurette is a personal video shot by one of the characters from the film, and the second is a collection of news footage that is shown throughout the film in various scenes, both of which are nice additions and will mostly be coveted by fans. Lastly, and by no means least-ly, there's a trailer for the acclaimed zom/com Shaun of the Dead, which is almost worth the cost of the DVD itself!

Published October 14, 2004

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(US, 2004)

CAST: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Michael Barry

DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder

SCRIPT: James Gunn

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 2.35:1, Dolby Digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Introduction by director Zack Snyder; Director's audio commentary with producer Eric Newman, The Lost Tape: Andy's terrifying last days revealed; Special Report; Deleted scenes with optional commentary, Raising the Dead, Attach of the Living Dead & Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of an Exploding Head; Shaun of the Dead trailer.


DVD RELEASE: October 13, 2004

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