REVIEW – We take a look at Second Sight’s new 4K release of George A Romero’s “Dawn of The Dead”

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Film
Picking up some time after the original Night of The Living dead, Dawn of The Dead drops us right into the chaos of a Philadelphia TV news studio as it broadcasts news of the ongoing, and now widespread, zombie outbreak.

It’s here we meet our first two main characters, employees Francine and Stephen, who are planning to make their escape in the station’s traffic helicopter. Soon the action moves to a SWAT raid on a housing project, focusing on two officers, Peter and Roger, as their teams try to enforce martial laws that have been put in place to deal with the outbreak. The raid inevitably descends into chaos, and eventually the two police officers meet up with Francine and Stephen, and the four of them manage to leave the city.

They eventually find sanctuary at an abandoned shopping mall, and, after breaking in, soon make themselves at home and take full advantage of the facilities and well-stocked stores. When a passing gang of bikers spot their helicopter, the group soon discover that it’s not just undead that they need to be worried about…

Moving the action from the original’s small, contained house, to a huge (almost) empty mall, writer/director George A Romero uses his new location to great effect, creating an atmosphere of constant dread – while the four survivors make themselves comfortable in their new surroundings, you’re constantly aware that something could go terribly wrong at any moment. And, inevitably, it does…

There’s not much else to be said about Dawn of The Dead that hasn’t already been said. Made ten years after the original Night of The Living Dead, Dawn remains the gold standard zombie movie, and continues to influence horror cinema over 40 years later. The label ‘classic’ is thrown around a lot, but this is one of the few films that truly deserve it.

 

Video
All 3 versions of the film are presented here in 4K, but how do the differences in source material affect the final results?

Starting with the Theatrical Cut, we get a new 4K scan and restoration of the Original Camera Negative, supervised and approved by the film’s Director of Photography Michael Gornick. It’s no surprise that overall, the results are stunning. The opening scenes in the TV studio do exhibit a little bit of minor fluctuations in colour and brightness around the edges and some backgrounds – noticeable on areas of solid colour, like the red carpet on the wall in the opening shots, or the white-painted breeze blocks in the studio control room. I put this down to being a ‘baked in’ feature of the negative itself, which is never too distracting, and quickly disappears as the story moves on to other locations.

Aside from that, the image is pretty much flawless. There’s light grain throughout, which gives the image a nice natural look, while the level of detail is phenomenal. Colours are well presented, punchy where needed – such as the pools of light in the TV studio at the film’s opening – and more naturally subdued elsewhere, while skin tones are natural-looking at all times. Even the simple grey/blue zombie makeup looks good here, given the budgetary constraints that Tom Savini’s team were working under.

HDR treatment is subtle, and helps give the image a nice uptick in contrast, with natural looking highlights and some nice deep shadows, which still produce plenty of detail.

The Extended (‘Cannes’) Cut utilizes a mix of the Theatrical Cut 4K scan, alongside a 4K scan of the Extended Cut Colour Reversal Internegative for the additional footage. There’s really nothing in it between the two, and all but the most eagle-eyed will fail to spot the joins.

The Argento Cut is sourced from a 4K scan of that version’s Interpositive, and this version does exhibit some differences. For a start, the image here looks a little softer, and very slightly lacking some of the more finer detail that can be seen on the other two cuts. This softness results in a noticeable reduction in grain, which some people may prefer, but of course it’s then a trade-off against sharpness and detail. Colour timing on the Argento cut is slightly warmer, but still has a nice natural look, and, while we don’t get HDR here, there are still some nice contrast levels on display. This is by no means a bad transfer – it’s without doubt the best the Argento Cut has looked – but there is a different look to the image compared to the other two cuts.

Compared to the old Anchor Bay Ultimate Edition DVD, and Arrow’s more recent Blu-ray release, both of which I own, and both of which are excellent in their own right, the video presentations here are just sensational. The transfers are clean and free from damage, and do a brilliant job of preserving the organic, analog nature of the source materials.

 

Audio
The audio presentation across all 3 versions is very pleasing indeed.

All get their respective original mono mixes, while the theatrical and Argento cuts also get stereo and 5.1 options. As with most multi-channel remixes of mono soundtracks, there’s only so much enhancement to be had. The 5.1 tracks do give a wider soundstage, but they’re obviously not a patch on modern sound mixes, and to be honest the mono tracks are the best way to go.

This is obviously not going to be demo material, but whichever track you choose you’ll find dialog nice and clear at all times, with music and sound effects reproduced well.

 

Extras
There’s a couple of bits and pieces here. I’m sure this won’t take long…

Second Sight have filled this edition with a treasure trove of new and archive extra features. While it doesn’t include everything from every previous release, after making your way through this lot you really will know everything you need to about the making of the film.

Commentaries
First off, all through versions of the film get their own commentaries, starting with archival tracks from George A Romero, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest on the Theatrical Cut, producer Richard P Rubinstein on the Extended Cut, and Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, David Emge on the Argento Cut. All of them are fun and informative, covering most aspects of the production across all three. The cast commentary is especially enjoyable, as it’s obvious they all still get along and enjoy each other’s company.

The Theatrical Cut also gets a new commentary from Travis Crawford. Wisely avoiding repeating much of the info from the other tracks, Crawford discusses the film more in the context of the genre and Romero’s wider body of work. It’s a fascinating listen, and well worth your time.

Extras Disc
Once you’re done with the commentaries, it’s time to move onto the dedicated extras Blu-ray, which has hours of documentaries and interviews.

New Documentaries and interviews

First up is Zombies and Bikers, which runs for an hour, and looks at the recruitment of the movie’s zombie and biker extras, through new interviews with crew members and some of the extras themselves. This is a great piece, with plenty of behind the scenes info and anecdotes, and you can tell that everyone involved is immensely proud of being part of such an iconic movie.

Memories of Monroeville is just over half an hour long, and features DoP Michael Gornick, make-up FX maestro Tom Savini, cameraman Tom Dubensky, and stuntman Taso Stavrakis as they take us on a tour around the Monroeville mall where filming took place.

Raising The Dead is a 20-ish minute look at the logistics of making the film, specifically the issues faced filming in a real working mall, which included limited filming hours, some stores not wanting to be associated with a horror movie, and a Christmas shutdown to avoid having shots full of festive decorations.

Next we get The FX of Dawn, a new interview with Tom Savini, running just under 15 minutes. While he’s spoken at length about the film in the decades since its came out, it’s always a pleasure to see Savini talk about his work.

Dummies! Dummies! is an interview with playwright Richard France, who appeared in the original Night of The Living Dead as a zombie, as well as Romero’s The Crazies, before his brief but memorable turn in Dawn. It’s clear that France has huge affection for Romero, and he credits the director with giving him a second career on screen, which included several acting roles throughout the 80s.

The last of the new extras is a previously unreleased archive interview with George Romero, lasting 20 minutes. The chat doesn’t really include anything not covered elsewhere in the set, but it’s nice to have.

Next up is just under 15 minutes of Super 8 footage shot on location at the mall by zombie performer Ralph Langer. It’s an interesting look at the behind the scenes activity from an extra’s point of view, and comes with the optional commentaries by Ralph and his brother Robert.

Next up is documentary film Document of The Dead, which is included in its original 66 minute version, as well as a 100 minute ‘Definitive Cut’. Directed by School of Visual Arts teacher Roy Frumkes, the film was intended as a teaching film for independent filmmakers. Around a core of behind the scenes footage from the making of the Dawn, Document looks at Romero’s career and filmmaking styles. Over the years, Frumkes has revisited the film, adding further interviews and insights into the progression of Romero’s career and the long term influence that his films have had. While the original version is obviously much more focused, the wider scope of the Definitive Cut makes it a different – but equally interesting – viewing experience. Included on the longer cut is an interesting optional commentary from Frumkes, which ads further context and anecdotes, and is definitely worth a listen.

The final archive documentary is 2014’s The Dead Will Walk, which is a more traditional retrospective ‘making of’ piece. Running 80 minutes, we get plenty of interview and behind the scenes stories. In the unlikely event that you think there are some info gaps left from the rest of this set’s contents, they’ll be well and truly stuffed once you’ve watched this doc.

Finally, the disc is rounded out with a selection of trailers, and TV and radio spots.

Additional extra content

As if all of that isn’t quite enough for you, Second Sight have also included a load more in-box content.

While we haven’t been able to get our grubby mitts on these other goodies just yet, these include three audio CDs showcasing the film’s soundtrack, including Goblin’s original score, as well as tracks licensed from the De Wolfe library for use in the film.

You also get a new 160 page hardback with new essays, a Romero interview, marketing materials and behind the scenes stills.

Finally (phew!) the set includes the film’s novelisation from Romero and Susanna Sparrow, complete with exclusive artwork.

All of this content is housed in a pair of digipaks, inside a rigid box showcasing the original movie artwork that is going to look fantastic as a part of any collection.

 

Summary
Second Sight have been building a well-earned reputation with a series of high quality releases of classic and cult films, and it goes without saying that they’ve really outdone themselves this time.

The presentation of all three versions of the film is really hard to fault, and, minor nit-picking aside, I was very impressed with how they look. The detail on display is phenomenal, the HDR on the Theatrical and Extended cuts is subtle but effective, and there’s a welcome lack of tinkering or modern ‘improvement’ to the image.

In terms of extras, while this set doesn’t include everything that has been produced about the making of the film, the wealth of new and carefully selected archive materials means you’re really not going to miss anything when it comes to behind the scenes information.

The CDs and books are welcome additions, and together the whole set represents the definitive release of Dawn of The Dead.

I can’t recommend this release highly enough.

Film – A
Video – A+
Audio – A-
Extras & Packaging – A++

Second Sight’s Dawn of The Dead is released on November 16th, and is available to order now in 4K (3 x 4K movie discs, 1 x Blu-ray extras disc) and Blu-ray (4 x Blu-ray discs) editions. The 4K discs are region free, and the Blu-ray discs are region B locked. Orders placed directly with Second Sight will also receive 4 exclusive art cards.

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