Land of the Dead: Unrated Director’s Cut (DVD)

Starring Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Eugene Clark, Asia Argento, Dennis Hopper

Directed by George A. Romero

Released by Universal Home Video

Where do you start with something like this? This is only one of the most anticipated DVD releases of the entire year, mainly since it was the most anticipated horror movie of the last ten. I guess it’s best to just start from the beginning; the film.

When Universal dumped Land of the Dead into the June release that would ultimately mean bad box office (well, it made some profit, but wasn’t the blockbuster I’m sure they were hoping for), they had to keep it to the hardest R possible without offending the public. Despite some pretty significant cuts, including an entire scene in which Cholo discovers a hanged resident of Fiddler’s Green that leads to a nasty end, it was still one of the goriest films I’ve seen in theaters in a long time.

And the great news is this; Land of the Dead: Unrated Director’s Cut is even gorier. Longer scenes of zombie carnage, less annoying legs walking across the screen to block scenes of the feasting undead, and more attacks. But Romero would not be in the highly respected position he is in if all he made were gore films; Land of the Dead is a Romero zombie movie through and through because of the politics he makes the centerpoint of the plotline in addition to the zombie carnage that goes on around it.

The story takes place…well, today, according to the opening title sequence. The world has been overrun with the walking dead, and one pocket of humanity has managed to not only survive, but more or less rebuild a smaller version of society. The poor live in the shadow of Fiddler’s Green, a massive skyscraper in the center of an unnamed city that was taken over by Kaufman (Hopper), who we can only assume was a high-profile business man before the Big Change. Only the elite are allowed inside, and once again the society is run by the promise of money and the opportunity to buy things again and re-instate consumerism.

Cholo (Leguizamo) is one of the Green’s soldiers, sent out to retriever supplies for the nearby towns, as well as Kaufman’s henchman, helping to dispose of people Kaufman believes are causing issues with the promise of great riches acting as the proverbial carrot on the stick. Fellow soldier Riley (Baker) only dreams of getting a car and getting out of the city, hoping to find some peace and quiet in the north. They’re both very strong characters, especially Baker’s, and both exist in a cinematic world that only Romero can truly get right time and time again.

But there’s a problem. As we saw in Day of the Dead, zombies still maintain the ability to learn. At the beginning of the film we’re introduced to Big Daddy (Clark), an undead leader who develops some self-awareness and manages to get the zombies to follow him as they head towards Fiddler’s Green. Their motivation is simple; kill the humans. Big Daddy is a tragic character like we’ve never seen in a zombie film before, and Clark’s subdued performance is one of the most memorable things about Land, whether or not you agree with Romero’s concept of letting zombies evolve. More levelheaded and determined than Bub was, but with the same air about him of something rising above their circumstances to become more than just a shuffling pile of meat.

The result is one of Romero’s most controversial movies, filled with not-so-subtle digs at our present administration and the kind of class warfare we see far too often on the news, though taken to a more literal extreme. A lot of people had issues with what Romero was trying to do, and I’ll grant you the film is not perfect and suffers from some noticeable flaws (especially the second time through) but he has to be respected for trying to yet again bring something new to the genre. The extended cut of the film doesn’t add anything plot-wise, but I’m sure it will satisfy the gorehound’s desire to see as much carnage as possible created by the best in the business, in this case KNB.

As for the disc…well, that’s another story all together. After seeing a four-disc release of Dawn, the multiple versions of Night, and the fantastic job Anchor Bay did with Day of the Dead, Universal’s treatment of Romero’s “Ultimate Zombie Masterpiece” (their words) comes off a bit lacking.

The commentary track features George chatting the film up with producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Doherty. After a somewhat slow start it picks up the pace about the same time the movie does (although to be fair there’s very little downtime in Land) and serves to be informative, if not a tad dry at some pionts. I would have loved to hear one from Nicotero or even a fan commentary with, say, Simon Pegg and Edgar Winter, but what there is cool enough.

The main featurette is “Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead“, which clocks in at just over 12 minutes. It’s quick, featuring interviews with all the major cast members and some horrible metal songs over quick-cut scenes of zombie mayhem, and ultimately has the feel of something Uni felt they had to do instead of wanted to. I’m sure they could’ve created something five times longer and more informative if they had wanted to.

“A Day with the Living Dead” is Johnny Leguizamo (or Johnny Legs, as George calls him) wandering the set with a camera crew and cracking jokes. It’s short, too, only about 7 minutes long, but worth a look if you’re in the mood for some zombie tomfoolery. I predict “Bringing the Dead to Life” is the featurette fans are going to dig the most, as it features Greg Nicotero and his crew showing off all sorts of cool zombie stuff, detailing their creation and how they made it all work right for the film. It’s entertaining just to see all the work that went into making these creatures come to unlife, and just how damn real they look even under the harsh shop lights. My favorite featurette on the whole set. “The Remaining Bits” is just a collection of slightly longer or excised scenes, none of which add or detract from the film, and it’s only about 3 minutes long.

“When Shaun Met George” is the second-best feature on here, mainly because it’s so much like how fans would react if they were asked to come out and be zombies in a George Romero film. It features Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (respectively, star and director of Shaun of the Dead) as they prepare to fly to Toronto to be made into zombies, their first meeting with George, the actual process they go through to get ready for their scene, and their trip back. It’s very short, all done via a small camera crew they have following them around, but it’s fun to watch because not only are Simon and Edgar fans just like you and me, they also happen to be two supremely funny individuals. Kudos to Universal for including this in the set!

“Scenes of Carnage” is exactly what it sounds like; random shots of zombie mayhem from the film set to some soothing classical music. Again, way too short. “Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene” is also self-explanatory; it shows the scenes as they looked when they were shot on set, then the finished scene with all the digital effects put in. It’s pretty cool to see just how much was done digitally, which goes to show the quality of the work, but features no narration or any technical information, which would’ve been a nice touch if nothing else to beef it up. “Bringing the Storyboards to Life” is the same; the storyboards of a particular scene are shown complete with the sound effects and music, then the finished scene either follows or is shown at the same time. This feature is only cool because of the quality of the detail on the storyboards, though I’m not sure who did them. They look great. Finally there’s “Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call” which is not what you think it is. I’ll just leave it at that, as I think you’ll enjoy it more if you don’t know what to expect. Don’t worry; it’s only about a minute long.

So what do we have? A really good zombie movie, now with more gore, on a pretty lackluster DVD release. Much like the feeling behind the making of doc, you just sense that Universal felt they had to put out a disc with lots of features, but nothing on here really has any meat and the bits with the potential aren’t given enough time to really get where they should go. Does this mean a bigger SE in the future? I’m sure that depends on the sales of this one, but honestly I don’t see Universal putting forth more cash for this movie than they have to, which is pretty sad. The whole thing seems like a big fluke, and makes me wish a studio with some real guts and money, like New Line, would get behind Romero for another film.

But I digress. The film is great, the DVD…not so much. At the end of the day it’s the movie the really matters anyway, so at least we have that. I do have to give props to Universal for the badass cover art, which even George said he likes better than the theatrical poster. If it’s good enough for George, it’s good enough for me!

3 ½ out of 5

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