Four decades later, George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead remains a horror masterpiece, featuring poignantly relevant themes on modernity and consumerism. In Europe, Second Sight Films raises the dead on 4K Ultra HD as an awesome seven-disc limited edition box set with brand-new 4K presentations for all three versions of Romero's cult classic, making them the definitive watch at home. Along with several other bonus goodies inside, the entire UHD package makes for a Highly Recommended addition to the 4K library.
We have also reviewed the 2007 Blu-ray HERE.
Little else can be said of the social commentary on modernity in George A. Romero's cult zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. It's a horror masterpiece that uses the horde of mindless walking dead as a stark, poignant satire on modern consumerism, but what continues to interest me most of the film four decades later is society's insatiable hunger for purchased goods. The ideology of material wealth signifying a happy, valued life and related to one's physical, mental well-being is so deeply ingrained that it has radically altered people's natural instincts and fundamentally replaced instinctual appetites for survival.
Of course, and most obviously, this is represented by the swarm of zombies slowly amassing in the parking lot of the shopping mall, which also builds conjointly with Romero gradually intensifying the sense of dread and urgency before suddenly erupting into complete anarchy. However, I'm more fascinated by the four living survivors played by Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross, David Emge and Scott Reiniger. As the symbolic pillars of a secure, well-balanced democratic society, the pair of journalists and law officers essentially endure the impending apocalypse the only way they know — by finding physical comfort in material possessions, ultimately making them no different than the mindless dead swarming outside desiring to do the same.
Our would-be heroes are not so much trapped inside the mall as they are finding refuge or building a false sense of security by surrounding themselves in material goods. They can't seem to help themselves from reverting back to the capitalistic belief that owning stuff provides comforting protection and signifies a well-valued life even as civilization collapses all around them and just outside their front doors.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out our review of the 4K Ultra HD Collector's Edition from Italy.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Imported from the United Kingdom, Second Sight Films brings George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a seven-disc Limited Collector's Edition box set. A trio of Region Free, dual-layered UHD66 discs sit comfortably opposite a Region B locked, dual-layered BD50 disc containing all the supplements. They are joined by another trio of CD soundtracks with Goblin's original score on the first disc while the other two are a compilation of stock music from the De Wolfe Library. At startup, each disc goes straight to a menu screen with full-motion clips, music playing in the background and the usual options along the bottom.
The UHD and Blu-ray discs are housed inside a nice gatefold digipak with plastic trays and artwork inspired by the film. Another gatefold digipak with plastic trays houses the three CD audio soundtracks with similar artwork. Inside the box, there is also a 156-page hardcover book featuring seventeen new essays, archive articles, an interview with Romero and tons of color photos from the production, merchandising and promotional material. Finally, there is a softcover novelization of the film written by Romero and Susanna Sparrow with an introduction by actor Simon Pegg.
According to the accompanying book, the folks at Second Sight were given access to the original 35mm camera negatives of the theatrical version for Dawn of the Dead. They performed a full restoration and remaster of those elements while under the supervision and final approval by the director of photography, Michael Gornick. Reportedly, they also used this along with a 4K scan of the best available internegative for the Cannes Extended Cut, both of which were also approved by Gornick, and another 4K scan of the best available interpositive for Argento's European Version, which for all intents and purposes appears to be the same as Midnight Factory's UHD release from four years ago. Nevertheless, given the many laborious months and work performed by some very talented people on the first two versions, I must say their endeavor has paid off because the results are absolutely amazing, giving loyal fans the very best the film has ever looked on any format.
The HEVC H.265 encodes of all three cuts are highly detailed, exposing every nook and cranny of the mall, each store and the survivor's cramp living quarters. Arguably, Romero's original is the most consistent and stable, except that around the 56-minute mark when Fran confronts the men about her role in the group, we see a bit of flickering or pulsing in the background. It's not enough to ruin the film's enjoyment, but it's noticeable nonetheless. As is to be expected from a vintage source and small production such as this, all three come with their share of soft, blurry moments, with the Cannes extended cut and Argento's version seeming a bit more apparent. In either case, fans can better make out the stitching and faded creases in the worn leather jackets of the bike gang, the texture of the fabric in the furniture is more perceptible, and Tom Savini's gory makeup work is gorier and bloodier.
Presented in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios, the native 4K transfers are notably brighter than their respective Blu-ray counterparts, thanks to the boosted contrast balance. However, only the theatrical and extended cuts show the most improvement since they were mastered in HDR10 and HDR10+, delivering significantly punchier, cleaner and spot-on whites in nearly every scene, especially coming from the various light fixtures of the mall. Better still are the more spirited and intensely radiant specular highlights, like the tighter shine from lights reflecting off glass or wet surfaces and the brilliant twinkle in everyone's eyes. There is also better detailing visible in the clouds or in pretty much all daylight exteriors, and metallic surfaces have a more realistic shine to them, such as the scene with Peter and Roger hauling the trucks in front of the entrances.
Additionally, these two HDR presentations benefit from the improved brightness levels, showering nearly every scene with inky, raven blacks. With excellent gradational differences between the various shades, be it in the clothing, hair or shadows, visibility within the darkest, murkiest corners is consistently strong and solid. The action and visuals also enjoy a wider, more sumptuous array of colors, especially the animated candy-rose reds of blood giving the movie a more energetic pop. Greens range from deep mossy emeralds in plants and vivid chartreuse of the wheelbarrow to the odd shamrock teal glow from the lighting of some stores. Secondary hues, likewise, are more full-bodied and varied, particularly the cheerful yellows, warm marigolds, rich oranges and the hearty tan browns. Facial complexions appear healthier and accurate with revealing, lifelike textures.
As for the Argento Cut, there doesn't appear to be a significantly notable difference from the Italian 4K release, as this version is presented in SDR and rendered in the Rec.709 color space. This is arguably a disappointment, but to be honest, it is still a strong presentation. (Video Rating: 86/100)
The dead rise again to roam 4K home theaters with a great trio of DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for Romero's theatrical version and Argento's European cut: a 1.0 mono track, a 2.0 stereo option and a 5.1 upmix. The aforementioned monoaural track is the only option available for the Cannes Extended cut, and it sounds fantastic. Although confined to the center of the screen with outstanding dialogue reproduction from start to finish, dynamic range is surprisingly extensive with noteworthy clarity in the higher frequencies. Low bass isn't particularly noteworthy, but it's adequate and plenty for providing the action and music some weight.
Sadly, the surround remix is the least favorite of the three, as it largely feels exaggerated and artificial. In fact, the music and effects come off annoyingly forced with odd placement in several places, making the original design feel overly-extended and significantly thinning out the mid-range, which then makes for a rather flat and limited soundstage. At the same time, the bass is overstated and sounds distractingly muddled.
Thankfully, the stereo option comes to the rescue and more than makes up for the disappointing 5.1 version, generating a very pleasing and broad soundstage overall. With a clean, well-defined mid-range, atmospherics enjoy strong, fluid movement across the screen while the iconic score exhibits distinct clarity and excellent fidelity in the orchestration. Vocals are precise and intelligible throughout, and a hearty low-end provides the visuals and music with an appreciable sense of presence. In the end, the lossless stereo mix is the strongest and best version for the Romero classic. (Audio Rating: 80/100)
The 4K Ultra HD limited edition box set comes with a treasure trove of goodies and a region-locked Blu-ray disc containing tons of new bonus content while each UHD disc features separate commentary tracks. The package also includes a 156-page hardcover book, a softcover novelization of the film and a trio of CD soundtrack discs with the first featuring the original score by Goblin while the second is a compilation of stock music used throughout the film from the De Wolfe Library.
Ultra HD Disc 1
Ultra HD Disc 2
Ultra HD Disc 3
Often heralded as a zombie masterpiece and considered instrumental in popularizing the genre around the world, George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead is widely appreciated as one of the best and most influential horror films. Four decades later, the plot's themes on modernity and consumerism remain as poignant and relevant as ever, still offering plenty for viewers to chew on and discuss.
In Europe, Second Sight Films conducted a full 4K restoration of the original 35mm camera negatives for Romero theatrical cut, along with 4K remasters of the "Cannes" Extended version from the internegative and the Argento Cut from the interpositive. The end result is a beautiful HDR10 presentation delivering massive improvement over previous releases and a trio of DTS-HD MA options though the 2.0 stereo soundtrack is the best way to enjoy this classic.
The cult classic rises from the dead once more and walks into home theaters as a lovely seven-disc limited edition box set featuring plenty of goodies: a hardcover book, a softcover novelization of the film and three CD soundtracks. One Blu-ray disc contains a set of new supplements for hours of entertainment, and all three versions of the film are given their own dedicated 4K Ultra HD disc. The overall UHD package is highly recommended for hardened fans and makes for an awesome addition to the 4K library.