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Shaun Of The Dead

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R (Zombie Violence/Gore and Language)

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton

Written by: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright

Directed by: Edgar Wright

 

Studio: Universal

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Actor Simon Pegg and Co-Writer/Director Edgar Wright, Audio Commentary with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, Kate Ashfield and Lucy Davis, Storyboard Comparison, Zomb-O-Meter, Simon Pegg's Video Diary, Casting Tapes, Edgar & Simon's Flip Chart, SFX Comparison, Make Up Tests, EPK Featurette, Photo Gallery, 2000 and Strip, Poster Designs, TV Bits, Missing Bits, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Scenes (37 Scenes)

Released: December 21st, 2004

 

 

"You've got a bit of red on you."

 

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is just your average everyday working man in England. Reaching thirty years old, he lives somewhat of a loser-ish/slacker kind of life - he spends his time working at an appliance store and loves to hang around the beloved Winchester Tavern. Shaun soon becomes depressed however, when his long-suffering girlfriend (Kate Ashfield) dumps him. Yet when the threat of a zombie outbreak becomes apparent, it's up to Shaun - with the help of his even more of a slacker friend Ed (Nick Frost) - to find those close to him and survive, because becoming a mind-numbing zombie would be a terrible thing.

A pretty big hit when it was released in its native England, "Shaun Of The Dead" garnered critical and some box office success when Focus Features' action/horror offshoot, Rogue Pictures, released it in the United States in September 2004. The brainchild of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright - the duo behind the popular British series "Spaced" - the film is a wonderful mix of genres, and is certainly not your average zombie story (the zombie genre itself seems to have become popular again during the past two years).

Much of the appeal in "Shaun Of The Dead" lies within the characters. They're everyday people who we probably know, or people we can imagine ourselves being friends (or enemies) with. Shaun and Ed are slackers, but they're lovable slackers. They love entertainment, they love a good time and certainly they adore their pub, the Winchester Tavern. These are regular guys, and I loved how in a way, the movie revolves around this place they spend time in and how they can all hang out in. Making the place a central location, and how the characters tend to think about it, just show the right kind of mind - and even cleverness - Wright and Pegg have injected into their script.

What's most impressive about "Shaun Of The Dead" is how its able to sustain itself for over an hour-and-a-half. Other than its characters, the film has a lot of plot and backstories to throw around and it's all done in an effective manner. I have to admit that while I was watching the movie I kept wondering where it would go, and when the pace would exactly slow down. Thankfully, the film is always entertaining and it keeps evolving, which makes one more fonder for the characters that he or she is supposed to be investing in. Instead of just setting the characters up slightly and have them beat and avoid zombies, the story has an emotional arc a lot of viewers can probably relate to.

The tone of the scenes often alternate, but it works: one scene is comical, and the next is pretty serious. These serious scenes serve much purpose though - they're well timed and they let the viewer get to know the characters, their relationships and the past more. Other than the zombies running around, there certainly is a lot more drama in Shaun's life: issues with his ex-girlfriend, the lazy demeanor of Ed, his rocky relationships with his mother and stepfather, his ex's roommates that get tangled in a romantic circle and a whole lot more. The movie is fun, but believe it or not, there is a lot of real-life drama to be had here. But it's not done in a cheesy or forced way - it all comes out and feels natural. The relatable themes are there: love, friendship, family issues, loyalty (such as Shaun's constant defense of Ed), jobs and a whole lot more. The fact that Pegg and Wright have developed the story and characters so well doesn't just lead to the film's overall depth and effectiveness, but also shows a lot of maturity - these guys really know how to tell a good story that certainly sticks and resonates, which is a really hard task (and probably not what a lot of people would expect). I certainly didn't expect this in a zombie comedy, but I was thankful for it - in a way, this movie is pretty damn realistic (if you take away some of the zombie elements). I applaud Pegg and Wright for it all (a lot of filmmakers could take a lesson from them I bet).

Yet for all the more real-life moments, "Shaun Of The Dead" is still very much a comedy and a good one at that. The film can be accessed by anybody, but if you're a horror movie fan (or more particularly a zombie/George Romero fan), then you'll get a lot more mileage out the film's nods to the zombie genre: certain shots, certain musical cues and even ideas (perhaps we're all just zombies if we sit around watching TV and playing video games all day?). Nonetheless, the film's humor is very refreshing with some great one-liners, well accomplished visual gags, fine slapstick and well-placed pop culture references. There's also some moments of the movie American audiences won't quite understand - such as when Shaun's group of survivors meets another group of survivors, and how these counterparts are related.

Also quite likable Edgar Wright's style of directing. He sets the tone and atmosphere of the movie accordingly, and moves it along at a very even pace. It's also easy to admire his series of constant smash cuts to speed up some mundane actions - these fast moments work really well. The film's acting is also pretty great. Simon Pegg is just plain great as everyman Shaun, who means well, screws up but is ultimately smart and heroic. Nick Frost is hilarious as his slacker pal Ed (for the record, Frost and Pegg have had a lot on and off screen friendship together) and Kate Ashfield shares good chemistry with Pegg and makes good on their love connection as Shaun's ex, Liz. Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran are really good as Liz's vastly different flatmates, Peneople Wilton makes a fine mother and Bill Nighy ("Love Actually") nicely underplays as Shaun's stepdad.

"Shaun Of The Dead" is impeccably structured and ultimately ingenious. While paying homage to beloved zombie films of the past, it also remarkably tells a story that is funny, dramatic and engrossing all at the same time. When it's all said and done, "Shaun Of The Dead" will most likely emerge as one of the, if not the absolute, most original film of 2004. Again, it's hard not to see the film becoming some kind of cult favorite - it certainly is worthy of repeat viewings, and is quite memorable. Film fans, do yourselves a favor and don't miss this one.

 

Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, "Shaun Of The Dead" looks pretty outstanding. The color saturation is top notch, as blacks are deep and the blood reds certainly gush. Fleshtones are spot on, detail is great and the overall print used for the transfer is clean. The flaws on the transfer are minor and aren't very distracting, but they add up. There is slight edge enhancement, there are edge halos here and there and the contrast seems to be high up, resulting in quite a bit of noise. The more darkly lit scenes look a bit pulpy too, and while the film was a bit low-budget, the darker scenes just don't have the same flair as the more well-lit moments of the movie and usually come across as grainy. In all though, it is a very sharp and pleasing transfer.

 

An English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included (there are also Dolby 5.1 mixes in French and Spanish), and it sounds terrific. The track is incredibly discrete and lively, and even a bit aggressive but it doesn't go over the top. Since "Shaun Of The Dead" is pretty violent and involves a lot of zombie carnage, there's quite a bit of surrounds to be hard. The gunshots and record throwing sound particularly impressive, as do the moments involving running over zombies with a car. The more subtle effects also make an impression: people in the beloved pub minding their own business, and approaching zombies groaning. Dialogue is crisp and easy to hear, and the film's musical variety - from rap to zombie hymns - are well mixed through the speakers. A DTS track probably would have been nearly flawless, but this Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is beyond solid. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish are also available.

 

Even though it was just a small hit here in the States, Universal thankfully still packed in a wonderful amount of supplements (many of them from the original region 2 release). First up, there are two commentaries. The first Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Actor Simon Pegg and Co-Writer/Director Edgar Wright is a bit dry, but the two get along well (they did do the TV series "Spaced" after all) and are really chatty. Wright makes more of the serious comments and offers fun production bits, and while Pegg does the same, he's a lot more jokey and says a lot of fun things. What I appreciated most is how the two talk about how they crafted the story arc and the screenplay, which is pretty interesting and makes a lot of sense as far as getting the audience involved in the story. If you liked the movie and want to know more, then this warrants a listen.

The second Audio Commentary with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, Kate Ashfield and Lucy Davis is also a bit dry in nature and one of the more serious cast commentaries I've listened to, but there certainly is a lot of good-natured fun that goes around and is infectious. Some of the comments aren't too relevant to the screen, and while there are some decent bits of information that pertains to the actors' characters and the overall filmmaking, it's pretty lightweight and dare I say it - is a little dull at times. Fans of the movie and the work of Pegg will probably get something out of this, but I'd stick with the first commentary.

Two options viewers have while watching the movie are the Storyboard Comparison and Zomb-O-Meter. The Storyboard Comparison is pretty well-done, if standard: toward the beginning of each chapter, there usually will be a red mark on the upper-right hand side of the screen which you can click on, and you can see the original storyboard layout for the scene. The Zomb-O-Meter, meanwhile, is a subtitle trivia track and definitely ranks as one of the best ones I've had the pleasure of reading. It doesn't go off into pointless or obvious facts, but has bits of trivia pertaining to how elements of the movie were accomplished, what music is playing in the background and things like that. If you're a fan of the movie, then you'll definitely love the Zomb-O-Meter. Well done.

In the "Raw Meat" section of the disc there are some video based supplements. Simon Pegg's Video Diary lasts a little over six minutes, and that's a shame - it's damn entertaining and I wish it was longer. We see Pegg at the film's first make-up tests, getting ready to act, performing certain scenes and capturing some fun behind-the-scenes antics. The Casting Tapes run a little over four minutes, and has some of the actors doing read-throughs of scenes (very funny).

Simon & Edgar's Flip Chart was filmed on September 1st, 2001 and has the two creative forces behind the movie more or less pitching the entire film and their ideas. It's pretty looney at times, but it's interesting to see what ideas made it into the movie and what things they had planned or thought of that didn't make the cut (it lasts 13 and a half minutes). The SFX Comparison runs about two-and-a-half minutes and gives a short glimpse in how some of the special effects came together, the Make Up Tests show how the original make-up and CGI zombie effects came along and your typical EPK Featurette has clips from the movie, behind-the-scenes footage and the actors talk about the movie and their characters, but it's more than watchable. Some of it is pretty candid, especially in how Ed and Shaun's relationship is based on Nick Frost and Simon Pegg's friendship.

In the Zombie Gallery section, there are three sections: Photo Gallery has a bunch of stills from behind-the-scenes, 2000 and Strip is a movie-based comic you can zoom in on and read (very neat) while Poster Designs lets you check out the film's ad campaign (though where are the clever parody posters done for the North American release?).

The TV Bits section is a lot of fun - it has some of TV clips shown at the end of the movie in their full glory. While "Fun Dead" (the Zombie game show) is in full screen, the other portions are in anamorphic widescreen: the "Trisha" segments (the talk show host) are pretty fun, but best and funniest is the "T4 With Coldplay" clip where the two (surviving) members of the famous band discuss their work on Zomb-Aid.

There's plenty to be had under Missing Bits. There are nearly eleven minutes worth of outtakes, most of which are pretty amusing. The "Funky Pete" clip has a version of a scene where the characters say "funk" instead of the f-word (as the filmmakers were "contractually" had to make clean versions of some of the scenes), and there's a fun outtake of sorts entitled "The Man Who Would Be Shaun" (those are in anamorphic widescreen). There are also sixteen extended scenes (disappointingly, those are non-anamorphic) that add a little bit on to existing scenes. Most of the cuts are worthy, but there are some fine moments to be had. There's also optionally commentary from Pegg and Wright, who explain the cuts (which add up to about thirteen-and-a-half minutes). Finally in this section, there's the nifty Plot Holes feature. Three answers to some of the film's plot holes are handily explained in comic book fashion, narrated by the actors who play the characters - this is a great idea for sure, and it's certainly just as fun as the film. Too bad they're not entirely long.

Rounding things out is the U.S. Theatrical Trailer (in two channel sound and non-anamorphic widescreen), and before the main menu starts up there are other trailers for other Rogue Pictures movies (which you can skip).

 

"Shaun Of The Dead" is one of the most satisfying and original movies I've seen in a really long time, and the DVD certainly does it justice. The transfer is great, the 5.1 mix is superb and there are plethora of extras that will satisfy all fans of the movie. Whether you like a good dose of comedy or have a love of zombie films, then "Shaun Of The Dead" is a must see. This is a solid four star buy.