DirectorGeorge A. Romero
Release Date(s)2005 (October 31, 2017)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
Arriving with a bit of a divide amongst the horror community back in the summer of 2005, George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead was a film that fans had been waiting for since 1985 once Day of the Dead had closed out the original Dead trilogy. After many years of George trying to get the next film made with various independent entities, Universal Pictures finally gave him the funds necessary to make the film, but with some fail-safes in place. It would have to be rated R and it had to have some familiar faces in it, both of which weren’t necessities in the original three films. Domestically, it managed to make its budget back with a little to spare, but it wasn’t particularly successful upon its initial release.
While Land of the Dead certainly has its share of flaws, one can’t help but admire George’s vision and his scope for the project. Basically taking a slice of what was going on at the time in a post-911 world, including both social and political commentary, it’s a film that’s distinctly his, but slightly hampered by outside influences. The use of CGI, for example, which he was on record at that point as saying he wasn’t particularly in favor of in his films. While some of it isn’t that intrusive, using it primarily for brief augmentation mixed with KNB’s glorious practical gore and special effects, there are a few times when it sticks out poorly and isn’t that effective, in any time frame. It’s also a glossier film than any of the previous films with an aggressively-mixed soundtrack. In other words, it’s clear that it was produced by a major Hollywood studio.
All of that being said, judging Land of the Dead of its own merits, especially now that George is no longer with us and his filmography will now likely be heralded more than it ever was when he was alive, is a must. It’s a new take and you can’t really stack it up against the three films before it. One tends to forget that even in its day, Day of the Dead was not well-received, but now is considered by many to be a masterpiece. Land of the Dead is also interesting in that it’s the only time that George ever made a Dead film through a studio system. But for me personally, I enjoy the characters, the story, the overall pace, and the practical effects while forgiving the film for any of its shortcomings. Even when I originally saw it in theaters, I knew that Land of the Dead was going to be a film with legs, and time has proven me correct.
As for Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray release of the film, there’s been some confusion regarding their new transfer of the film, particularly because the film was originally finished as a 2K digital intermediate and Scream has chosen to do a 2K scan of an interpositive element instead (or an internegative element as the back of the packaging states). What this means is that it’s even further away from the original camera negative, meaning there’s less detail in the image. Both versions of the film, the theatrical and the unrated, are presented on separate discs, with the latter utilizing HD inserts from the previous Universal transfer to complete it. Those moments are noticeable upon close scrutiny, but they’re not the point of controversy. As to why Scream chose to use this material, we don’t have a concrete answer. Either they weren’t allowed access to the DI and this element was all that was available to them, or it’s missing altogether.
All of that being said, the quality of the transfer itself is a bit overblown, meaning that it’s not as bad as you might think. In motion, this release looks quite excellent, and carries slightly warmer colors (in particular regards to white levels and skin tones), while random hues, such as greens, are more potent. The armband that Pillsbury wears, for example; I never noticed that it was green before until now as it’s much more obvious. However, looking at some side-by-side comparisons, the loss of detail is apparent, mostly in the darker areas of the frame where blacks and shadow detail tend to be splotchy. The overall image is sharper and brighter than the previous Blu-ray transfer, with slightly different framing as well. Not a lot of visual information along the edges is lost or gained though. In some shots, objects and costumes appear to have a tiny bit more detail to them, but only incrementally. Your mileage may vary, but I personally found it to be a pleasant presentation with some mild problems, not unlike the film itself.
As for the audio, there’s absolutely nothing to complain about. Scream’s usual habit of providing an English 5.1 DTS-HD track, as well as a 2.0 downmix, is also what they’ve done here. As I mentioned before, Land of the Dead is a slick production, and as such, has a much more active soundtrack than any of the previous Dead films. It’s quite a robust presentation, with crystal clear dialogue, a pulsating score, and aggressive sound effects. Dynamic range is all over the place, with sounds often leaping from speaker to speaker with perfect clarity. Low end activity is also apparent, chiefly during explosions and Dead Reckoning’s thunderous trudge across the post-apocalyptic landscape. It gives the film real teeth and is the best sound experience you could ask for with a film like this. And for those who might need them, subtitles are also provided in English.
For the extras on this release, everything has been carried over from all of the film’s previous DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-ray releases, plus a few new ones for quite a satisfying amount of material. On Disc One, which contains the theatrical version of the film, there’s Cholo’s Reckoning, an interview with actor John Leguizamo; Charlie’s Story, an interview with actor Robert Joy; The Pillsbury Factor, an interview with actor Pedro Miguel Arce; Four of the Apocalypse: The Zombies of Land of the Dead, interviews with actors Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks, and Jasmin Geljo; the Dream of the Dead IFC TV special with optional audio commentary by director Roy Frumkes; deleted footage from Dream of the Dead; a set of deleted scenes (titled The Remaining Bits on previous releases); the film’s theatrical trailer; and a photo gallery with 111 images. On Disc Two, which contains the unrated version of the film, there’s an audio commentary with zombie performers Matt Blazi, Glena Chao, Michael Felsher, and Rob Mayr; another audio commentary with George A. Romero, producer Peter Grunwald, and editor Michael Doherty; the When Shaun Met George with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright featurette; the Bringing the Dead to Life featurette; a Scenes of Carnage montage; Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene; the oddball Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call CGI test; Bringing the Storyboards to Life split-screen comparison; the Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead featurette; and A Day with the Living Dead featurette. It’s worth noting that the Bringing the Dead to Life, Undead Again, and A Day with the Living Dead featurettes were all a part of the picture-in-picture mode on Universal’s Blu-ray release of the film, but are now included separately as they were before on their DVD and HD-DVD counterparts.
Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release of Land of the Dead is sure to please hardcore Romero fans who are giving it a revisit, particularly with the great new extras put together by Red Shirt Pictures. And while the transfer of the film is a little problematical, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Take my word on this: DO NOT listen to the naysayers on this one. This is a great release and belongs in your library, if for nothing else than the tear-inducing 35-second tribute to George that opens Disc Two.
- Tim Salmons