DirectorGeorge A. Romero
Release Date(s)1978 (November 16, 2020)
Studio(s)Laurel Group/United Film Distribution Company (Second Sight Films)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: A-
- Overall Grade: A+
[Editor’s Note: This set is a UK import. The 4K & CD discs are ALL REGION, but the special features Blu-ray is locked for REGION B. You’ll need an all-region compatible player to view it.]
Munching its way into cinemas in 1978, George A. Romero’s masterpiece Dawn of the Dead redefined the zombie film ten years after the horror landscape had been altered with the original, and still effective, Night of the Living Dead. As was the case with Night, Dawn also reflected what was going on in the world at the time, commenting upon consumerism, a woman’s role in a male-driven society, and anti-authoritism, all under the guise of a simple story about four individuals holed up in a shopping mall during a zombie apocalypse. Just the idea of that, with everything you could ever want or need, satisfies a consumer fantasy that many would gladly participate in. On the other hand, it’s exactly what the film is about: getting it all, but not really having anything. Meanwhile, the outside world has gone to Hell... and it’s coming for you.
Of all the films in the original Dead trilogy, Dawn is by far the most popular—though in recent years, Day of the Dead (the third film) has grown in popularity to give Dawn a run for its money. But whereas Dawn was instantly popular upon release, and has been a mainstay within the horror genre ever since, Day has had a long, slow crawl out of the grave it was buried in when it failed upon its initial release. Dawn is also the most upbeat and fun of the three films, despite its heady subject matter. It’s action-packed and dramatic, even corny at times. But by the time you get to a shopping mall full of bikers throwing pies at zombies, you’ve enterted full-on into romp territory. It also helps to have a film with four main characters with distinct personalities that you like and care about, despite their flaws and sometimes dumb decisions.
Many have also taken shots at the film’s zombie make-up. Even Tom Savini himself isn’t happy with it due to how it photographs as different colors, but for a film made for less than $500K, you have to cut it some slack—it adds to the film’s charm. The blankness of the zombies lumbering through the mall with grey faces also stands out more and ties into the themes of the film better than if they had been given full appliances like every Dead film since. Dawn is certainly a reflection of its time, dated in every conceivable way, but its concepts and execution are still key to its long-term success.Whether you’re in it for its social commentary, its zombie carnage, or its characters, Dawn of the Dead is a film that’s easy to enjoy and stands up better than many of its counterparts.
Second Sight’s long-awaited new 4K Ultra HD Limited Edition box set includes no less than three different versions of the film, all in 4K. So let’s talk A/V quality…
Dawn of the Dead was shot photochemically on 35mm film using Arriflex 2C and 35BL I cameras with spherical lenses. It was finished on film at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for theatrical exhibition.
Disc 1 includes the 127-minute Theatrical Cut (Romero’s preferred version) which has been scanned in native 4K from the original camera negative, restored digitally (to remove dirt and age-related damage), and graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 and HDR10+ are available on the disc) in a process supervised by the film’s director of photography, Michael Gornick. The resulting image quality is fantastic, with ink-black shadows, bold highlights, and lovely fine detail and texturing (beyond a few shots that are optically soft as photographed). Grain is light-moderate to moderate, varying a bit from shot to shot, but it’s always natural-looking. Colors are richer and more nuanced than ever before, while still retaining the appropriate period look. Skin tones are healthy and accurate on the living, and nicely blue-gray on the living dead. Blues, tans, browns, and reds are all well saturated—the distinctive color palette of the 1970s. Truly, this film has never looked so good before at home. Honestly, we’d be surprised if it looked this good even in theaters during its original release.
Audio for the Theatrical Cut is presented in three options: English 1.0 mono (newly restored from the original optical track negative), English 2.0 stereo, and English 5.1 surround, all in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio format. The new 1.0 mono recreates the original theatrical audio experience well. Obviously, the mix is limited by its very nature and by the mixing tools of the day. But dialogue and music are mostly clean and clear, albeit with some occasional distortion. Restoration has been done to dramatically reduce hiss and remove pops, clicks, and other artifacts. The 2.0 stereo mix offers a modestly wider front soundstage, but the separation does help a bit with the dialogue clarity and music. Effects sound a little cleaner and fuller as well. The 5.1 mix brings a bit of atmosphere effects and especially music into the rear channels to create a slightly more immersive experience. But the good news is, the 5.1 mix still retains much of the film’s original vintage sonic character. Dialogue remains front and center, and it’s nicely clean. Gun shots have a bit of added low-end heft. Note that optional subtitles for the Theatrical Cut are available in English for the Hard of Hearing.
Theatrical Cut (Video/Audio): A/B+
Disc 2 presents the 139-minute Extended “Cannes” Cut, also sourced from a native 4K scan of the original camera negative along with an additional 4K scan of the Extended Cut color reversal internegative. This cut features longer versions of several scenes, plus a few additional character moments. This too has been remastered and graded for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and HDR10+ are available here). The image comments from the Theatrical Cut apply here too, for the most part. The Extended Cut footage differs only slightly in quality. A generation or two down from the OCN, the internegative is softer overall, with slightly less refined detail. Grain is slightly more coarse and the shadows are just a tad crushed. But the differences aren’t distracting enough to pull you out of the film, nor are they enough to knock the video grade down.
Audio for the Extended Cut is only available in English 1.0 mono in DTS-HD Master Audio format. Sonically, it’s very similar to the 1.0 mix on the Theatrical Cut, enough so that the same comments apply here too. Interestingly, though, this version has only library music (The Goblins’ score was added later when the Theatrical Cut was complete). The audio grade is marked down slightly, but only due to the lack of additional mixes. Once again, optional subtitles are available in English for the Hard of Hearing.
Extended “Cannes” Cut (Video/Audio): A/B
Finally, Disc 3 offers the 119-minute Argento Cut (a.k.a. Zombie), sourced from a native 4K scan of the interpositive supervised by Michele De Angelis. However, the color grade here is SDR only (though with a 10-bit color space). This version of the film features more of The Goblins’ score than the Theatrical Cut, with a slightly quicker editing pace and less exposition. Image detail is still good, but it’s not nearly as well defined as it is on the Theatrical Cut and there’s somewhat coarser grain. Shadows are more gray looking overall and they’re also a bit crushed, lacking the truly deep blacks and bold highlights of the other 4K presentations. Colors remain accurate and they’re nicely saturated, though without the nuance and vibrance of HDR. This isn’t a bad looking image by any means, but the other cuts certainly have the edge in terms of detail, color, and contrast.
Once again, audio for the Argento Cut is presented in three options: English 1.0 mono, English 2.0 stereo, and English 5.1 surround, all in DTS-HD Master Audio format. The 1.0 mix here is of roughly similar quality to the other mono tracks, though the dialogue is a little more buried under the additional music. The 2.0 stereo mix has a slightly fuller sound given the more pronounced music, and the soundstage is perhaps a little wider than the Theatrical Cut stereo. The 5.1 mix is very front-and-center, with a more narrow forward soundstage than the stereo option. The surround channels are also much more subdued, utilized almost exclusively for very light atmospheric effects. There’s perhaps just a bit more analog hiss audible too. As is the case with the other cuts, optional subtitles are available in English for the Hard of Hearing.
Argento Cut (Video/Audio): B-/B-
Second Sight’s 4K Limited Edition is a 7-disc set that includes the following disc-based extras:
DISC 1 (4K) – THE THEATRICAL CUT
- Audio Commentary with George A. Romero, Christine Forrest, Tom Savini, and Perry Martin
- Audio Commentary with Travis Crawford
DISC 2 (4K) – THE “CANNES” CUT
- Audio Commentary with Richard P. Rubinstein and Perry Martin
DISC 3 (4K) – THE ARGENTO CUT
- Audio Commentary with David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, and Gaylen Ross
DISC 4 (BLU-RAY) – SPECIAL FEATURES
- Zombies and Bikers (HD – 58:30)
- Memories of Monroeville (HD – 34:24)
- Raising the Dead: The Production Logistics (HD – 25:03)
- The FX of Dawn (HD – 12:56)
- Dummies! Dummies! (HD – 12:20)
- Horror Legacy (SD – 20:28)
- Super 8 Mall Footage with 2 Optional Audio Commentaries (HD – 13:25)
- Document of the Dead: The 1998 Special Edition Version (HD – 91:36)
- The Definitive Document of the Dead with Optional Audio Commentary by Roy Frumkes (HD – 102:12)
- The Dead Will Walk (HD – 75:02)
- Trailers, TV Spots, & Radio Spots (HD – 13 in all – 18:37)
AUDIO CD 1 – THE GOBLINS SOUNDTRACK
- L’alba Dei Morti Viventi (6:07)
- Zombi (4:26)
- Safari (2:13)
- Torte In Faccia (1:59)
- Ai Margini Della Follia (1:34)
- Zaratozom (3:39)
- La Caccia (3:41)
- Tirassegno (2:53)
- Oblio (5:15)
- Risveglio (1:07)
- L’alba Dei Morti Viventi (Alternate Take) (5:21)
- Ai Margini Della Follia (Alternate Take) (1:44)
- Zombi (Sexy) (2:22)
- Ai Margini Della Follia (Alternate Take) (3:40)
- Zombi (Supermarket) (3:16)
- L’alba Dei Morti Viventi (Intro – Alternate Take) (0:48)
- Zombi (The Living Dead’s Voices!) (2:09)
AUDIO CD 2 – DE WOLFE LIBRARY COMPILATION PART 1
- Cosmogony Part 1 (4:12)
- Dramatic Moments No. 1 (1:03)
- Sinstre (3:09)
- Dramatic Moments No. 2 (1:08)
- Violence (3:16)
- Cosmogony Part 3 (2:52)
- Eclipse (4:06)
- Dark Forest (2:03)
- Cause I’m a Man (2:52)
- Figments (3:24)
- Dynamise 65 (2:33)
- Cosmogony Part 4 (3:06)
- The Mask of Death (3:16)
- Cosmogony Part 2 (2:42)
- Victorian Vintage (1:46)
- Queka (1:40)
- Scarey I (0:24)
- Scarey II (0:25)
- Zap (0:13)
- Spinechiller (2:19)
- Violent Payoff Version 2 (0:40)
- Waiting for the Man (5:19)
- Flossie (2:39)
- Neurotic Bird (4:33)
- Desert De Glace (3:53)
- Dank Earth (Part 1) (1:44)
- Red Sequence (0:35)
- Barrage (2:03)
- Face at the Window (2:49)
AUDIO CD 3 – DE WOLFE LIBRARY COMPILATION PART 2
- We Are the Champions (2:18)
- Ragtime Razzamatazz (2:49)
- Tango Tango (1:01)
- Fugarock (1:29)
- Sonata (12:42)
- El Chapo (3:23)
- Dramaturgy Part 1 (2:39)
- Night Life (1:01)
- Sun High (2:55)
- Cantano (5:21)
- On His Own (1:43)
- Mechanical High Jinx (2:52)
- Dramaturgy Part 2 (3:34)
- So Fantastico (4:31)
- Violence Sting 1 (0:07)
- Caverne De Glace (4:09)
- Dramatic Moments No. 3 (1:06)
- Deserted Vaults (2:16)
- Action Pack (2:15)
- Kadath (4:14)
- Proud Action (2:33)
- Dramatic Moments No. 4 (1:33)
- The Gonk (3:39)
The first audio commentary for the theatrical version from Disc One is the classic Laserdisc and DVD commentary with George A. Romero, Christine Forrest, and Tom Savini, with Perry Martin serving as moderator. They watch the film and discuss the ins and outs of making it, commenting upon it specifically as it unfolds. It goes without saying that it’s been a favorite of many fans over the years. The second is a new commentary that features writer and film journalist Travis Crawford. Although he only specifically comments occasionally while watching it, he mostly spends his time delving into George’s body of work and the context of the film in relation to it, as well as the film’s various versions and thematic material. The audio commentary for the extended “Cannes” version from Disc Two features Richard P. Rubinstein and Perry Martin. It’s not quite as classic as its Disc One counterpart, but Rubinstein provides valuable, at times even frank, details on the nuts of bolts of the business side of the film from his point of view. The final audio commentary for the European version from Disc Three features the main cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, and Gaylen Ross. It’s a very upbeat discussion of the film as they watch it together, and is much more on the lighter side of things compared to the previous commentary.
Disc Four is a Region B-locked Blu-ray of bonus materials. Zombies and Bikers is a new documentary on the making of the film from the extras’ perspective, featuring interviews with Bob Michelucci, Lenny Lies, Debra Gordon, Chuck Gordon, John Kiss, Denise Kiss, Jim Krut, Joe Shelby, John Amplas, Warner Shook, Roy Frumkes, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest, Tom Dubensky, Tony Buba, Ralph Langer, Mark Cooper, Taso Stavrakis, Gary Zeller, Mike Savini, Donna Savini, Michael Gornick, Trudy Gray, and Nick Bomba Tallo. Memories of Monroeville features a new tour of the mall with Tom Dubensky, Michael Gornick, Tom Savini, Taso Stavrakis, and Christian Stavrakis, but also highlights the moment when a bronze bust of George is unveiled at the mall for the first time. Raising the Dead goes over the nuts and bolts of the production with Michael Gornick, Christine Forrest, and Tom Dubensky. The FX of Dawn interviews Tom Savini about his work on the film. Dummies! Dummies! interviews Richard France about working with George and his realization of the film’s legacy and fan appreciation. Horror Legacy, touted as The Lost Romero Interview (which was previously included as an extra on an Arrow Video release), appears to have been culled from the same interview he gave for the Day of the Dead documentary The Many Days of the Dead, but with different footage that’s Dawn centric. The Super 8 Mall Footage features silent 8 mm footage shot during the making of the film, with two optional commentaries by the men who shot it: Robert Langer or Ralph Langer. The 1998 Special Edition of Document of the Dead is erroneously listed on the main menu as The Original Cut. Also included are two US trailers, one European trailer, one German TV spot, one German trailer, three US TV spots, two UK TV spots, and three US radio spots.
In addition, there are three CDs, one containing 17 tracks of The Goblins’ score for the film, and the other two containing 52 tracks of incidental music used throughout the film from The De Wolfe Library. Inside the package is a 156-page hardcover book entitled Dawn of the Dead: Dissecting the Dead featuring rare photos, posters, and artwork; Dawn of the Dead: Over and Over by Chris Alexander; A Real-Life Nightmare by Tony Williams; Romero’s New American Gothic by Kat Ellinger; Superschlock! by Jon Towlson; Attention All Shoppers: Dawn of the Dead and the Monroeville Mall by Neil Mitchell; They’re Us, That’s All: The Undead and the Unliving in Dawn of the Dead by Allison Taylor; Fingers to the Bone: Class Conflict in Zombie Cinema by Craig Ian Mann; Things About Francine by Lorna Jowett; Dawn Man: Challenged Masculinity in Dawn of the Dead by Manuela Lazic; Combat Shock: Reflections on Vietnam and the War Movie Genre in Dawn of the Dead by Martyn Conterio; Lying Down Standing Up by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; George A Romero’s Dystopias: The Representation of Dystopia in the Universe of His Zombie Trilogy by Michal Zgorzalek; A Bleaker Ending by Justine Smith; A Form of Punk: The Production and Distribution of Dawn of the Dead by Daniel Bird; Needle-Drop Nightmares and Muzak of the Dead: Production Music Liner Notes by Jim Cirronella; Dawn of the Nasties by Tim Murray; Tales from the Darkside: An Interview with George A. Romero by Matthew Thrift; Io Zombo, Tu Zombi, Lei Zomba: Italian Variations on Dawn of the Dead by Roberto Curti; restoration information; and production credits. Another softcover book contains the 2012 140-page reprinting of George A. Romero’s and Susanna Sparrow’s movie novelization, featuring an introduction by Simon Pegg. Discs One through Four and Discs Five through Seven are housed in separate digipaks. All of this material is housed within a sturdy, rigid box with the original US theatrical artwork on the cover.
Because Dawn of the Dead has been released so many times in many different territories on Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and recently on Ultra HD, it would likely have been nigh impossible for Second Sight to gather together every single piece of bonus material out there. As such, there are a number of items not included in this set. Missing from Anchor Bay’s legendary 4-Disc Ultimate Edition DVD release is a Monroeville Mall commercial and tour video, the 1989 version of Document of the Dead, several still galleries, additional radio spots, a 28-page mini-comic book (which was included in the set as swag), and five Easter eggs: a short interview with Tom Savini about a practical joke he once pulled; a short interview with Gaylen Ross; a testimonial from a Buddist Monk; an interview with Christine Forrest about how she met George; an interview with Greg Nicotero on how Tom Savini created the helicopter zombie; and an interview with John Harrison, the screwdriver zombie. The subsequent US Blu-ray release from Anchor Bay also featured a Fast Film Facts trivia subtitle track, which is also absent. M.I.A. as well is an audio commentary with Tom Savini and Taso Stavrakis, which was included on several overseas DVD releases. The Umbrella Entertainment Ultimate Edition DVD and Blu-ray release included an hour-long Q&A with George at the Melbourne International Film Festival from 2008. The Arrow Video Blu-ray release included the documentaries Fan of the Dead and Scream Greats (the latter of which was later added to the Synapse Films Blu-ray release of Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow, which we’ve reviewed before). Not included from the Koch Media 6-Disc Ultra HD release is an audio commentary on the European version with Claudio Fuiano and Alessandro Marega; The Wizard of Gore interview with Tom Savini; Talk of the Dead interview with Nicolas Winding Refn; Talk of the Dead interview with Dario Argento; The Restoration of Zombi in 4K interview with Michele De Angelis and Gianni Vittori; the press conference for the 4K premiere and the post Q&A, both with Dario Argento and Nicolas Winding Refn; When There Is No More Room in Hell interviews with Claudio Argento, Claudio Simonetti, and Alfredo Cuomo; and the featurette Contest: Zombi Fan Art. Not included from the Synapse Films Blu-ray release of The Definitive Document of the Dead (which we’ve also previously reviewed) is the original 60-minute version of the film. Missing from Synapse’s original Special Edition DVD release of Document of the Dead is an audio commentary by Roy Frumkes on the original version, six minutes of deleted scenes, and unused interview segments from the 1989 version.
It’s also worth noting that the Laserdisc release from Elite Entertainment also contained the original screenplay which featured the original ending, while the Japanese Laserdisc included an additional 20-minute interview with George. And if we’re going to be completists, there’s the 3D version of the film which, as of this writing, has only ever played theatrically overseas. Some German releases also included a fourth version of the film, entitled The Ultimate Cut which combined footage from all three versions, as well as a featurette detailing its creation (but this is not considered an official release by anyone associated with the production). Bottom line: the extras for Second Sight’s new release are not complete (not by a longshot), but the 4K remasters and the addition of the new extras, the booklets, the CD soundtracks, and the overall packaging more than make up for it. Just be sure to hang on to any of those older releases if you want everything.
Like many of you, we here at The Bits are massive fans of Dawn of the Dead and have long been hoping for a deluxe edition of the film. But we certainly did not expect such an impressive release to come down the pike, especially in 4K. Second Sight’s Ultra HD package is an amazing release that bests all previous editions in terms of video and audio, but also wins for the fantastic (though incomplete) extras package. To say that it comes as highly recommended is a no-brainer. It’s one of the best home video releases of 2020 on any format, period.
- Tim Salmons and Bill Hunt