Monday, June 9, 2008
Diary of the Dead: DVD Review
Written/Directed by fright master George A. Romero. I originally seen this movie in the theatre with my wife and loved it, so of course I had to pick up the DVD. Upon my second viewing of Diary I found it to be slightly less enjoyable, for a number of reasons and not all of them are bad reasons. All in all I still really like this movie and highly recommend it. With that said, I’m going to attempt to dissect this release, including its special features.
The Feature: Running a brief 96 minutes I felt like this movie needed more time. More time to flesh out certain scenes, more time to flesh out certain characters and I guess I just wanted a longer movie full of zombie goodness. The opening scene sets the pace of the whole movie and is as good as it gets for zombie fans. It also serves to set up the filming process, Romero decided to go “handheld” to give the film a more subjective point of view similar to The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, although Romero and crew gave it a much more cinematic feel and gradually toward the end of the film used steadier shots. After the opening scene we get a sort of montage of the world turning to shit, what looks like stock footage of old news stories and the like, I was slightly disappointed with this being that I would’ve liked to of seen all out zombie chaos being that Romero stated this film was “going back to the beginning.” It was brief enough that the thought doesn’t linger and the footage is moving enough to get the point across. We then meet what is to be the cast, which for the most part is competent at playing their roles. Another thing I was disappointed with was the characters; they seemed of the standard horror stereotypes, quite unlike the characters of Romero’s older dead films. The strongest characters (also the ones that became more fleshed out as the film progressed) were Michelle Morgan who played Debra Moynihan and Shawn Roberts who played Tony Ravello and a very brief but excellent job by Tatiana Maslany as Mary Dexter. Scott Wentworth also delivered a very over the top but enjoyable Andrew Maxwell. There are a few others that are forgettable but competent enough that the movie doesn’t suffer because of them. They are in the midst of filming a student project, a mummy movie, when news of the dead not staying dead is heard over the radio. Spooked, Jason Creed grabs his camera and goes to find Debra at her dorm. They then head for the road in a Winnebago, the Professor, Jason, Debra, Eliot, Tony, Mary, Tracy, and Gordo. They encounter one of my favorite zombies in the film, a state trooper and proceed to pass him, running over a few people staggering in the street. After awhile they stop at the side of the road, some drama over the events occur. Not wanting to spoil anything, said drama causes the crew to head to the hospital. It’s a great sequence where there is a bit of gore and some jump scares; they also establish some of the “rules” for the movie as well as thin the herd. You can hear Savini on the radio and Nicotero plays a zombie. It is also a point in the movie where the device of the subjective camera causes Jason’s character to become unbelievable, his desire to film instead of follow his girlfriend and friends to search for help is just plain stupid. I forgive it and suspend disbelief accepting him not as a real character but as a vehicle for the rest of the movie to unfold. The remaining survivors flee the scene and head for Debra’s home. The Winnebago breaks down, conveniently at an Amish man’s farm, which is one of my favorite scenes in the movie; it’s a lot of fun with a bunch of zombie goodness. They encounter some more folks along the way after they leave the farm, some militant survivors, and renegade military men, all of which are unnecessary. The survivors are used as a heavy handed message related to the events of Hurricane Katrina and the renegade military group just enforces the idea that people need to fend for themselves and not rely on others to keep them safe. I think if these ideas/characters were handled with subtlety and given more time they could’ve been great scenes. They finally arrive at Debra’s home; the situation is grim and they quickly leave. They then hit the road again to meet up with their friend, The Mummy; once they get there they realize that something isn’t quite right. The rest of the movie unfolds at his mansion, the situation quickly degenerates and in typical Romero fashion the outcome looks bleak. As to not give away too much of the end I will only say the movie ends just way too abruptly and very open for a sequel. The overall message of emerging media and mainstream spin is a bit heavy handed compared to Romero’s older films, but nonetheless is relevant. The dialogue and narration can be awkward at times often stating things that don’t need to be stated. The camera work is interesting, well composed and innovative. I’ve read many reviews on Diary of the Dead, many of them are negative and many of them compare Diary to the other films. I don’t think it should be compared to the others, its intent and objectives are entirely different than those films. Romero wanted to return to his roots, to make a truly independent movie, to do it cheaply and quickly and was basically flying by the seat of his pants, he wasn’t trying to make the best zombie movie of all time, he was trying to make an independent horror movie, and he wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. He did what he wanted to do and I commend anyone who has a vision and has the balls to see it through to the end.
The Special Features:
Feature Commentary: This is pretty standard fare. They point out some of the cameos, acting and voice acting as well as what was CGI and practical.
For the Record: This is probably the best special feature on this DVD, in part because it’s very exhaustive, it’s extremely well done. The feature is broken into a group of smaller segments, my favorite being the one about the special effects, Nicotero speaks for a bit and he’s always got something insightful to say.
The Roots: A very short examination of what inspired the movie. The DVD could’ve done without this, but I like any extra’s at all, so I won’t complain.
The First Week: Again short, but well put together, it was cool to see some of the behind the scenes footage.
Familiar Voices: Outtakes of some of the voice cameos, short but sweet.
MySpace Contest Winners: 5 short zombie fan films, these are really cool, they are clearly the work of amateurs, but amateurs with potential. I’d be interested in seeing more of these.
Character Confessionals: These are kind of silly and I’m glad they didn’t make it to the movie (except Jason’s), basically each character in the Winnebago talks to the camera. It’s actually embarrassing to watch.