Land of the Dead Blu-ray Review – Feast Upon Hours of Features!


Land of the Dead Blu-rayStarring Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Dennis Hopper

Directed by George A. Romero

Distributed by Scream Factory

The horror community was dealt a devastating blow this past July when George A. Romero passed away at the age of 77. Mere days before his death, Romero was still talking up his latest … of the Dead project, yet a further continuation of the timeline originally set-up with his 1968 debut, Night of the Living Dead. The follow-ups came during the subsequent two decades, capturing the zeitgeist and delivering gallons of gore alongside Romero’s typically shrewd social commentary. And then the ‘90s came and went, with Romero directing only one full feature – and it wasn’t set in his undead universe. Finally, in 2005 Universal ponied up the cash for Romero’s return to the subgenre he created and Land of the Dead came into being. Ironically, it took a remake of Romero’s seminal Dawn of the Dead (1978, 2004) to convince Universal to hand him a bag of money. I remember being one of maybe two dozen people seated for a midnight screening of Land and the wave of excitement that hit me when the old timey Universal logo hit the screen. My opinion of the film has varied a bit over the years but, with the hindsight of knowing George is gone, I now view it as one final masterpiece(-ish) picture from a genre giant.

The zombie plague begun in 1968 persists, with humanity relegated to heavily reinforced outposts and buildings in order to survive the endless hordes of undead. In Pittsburgh, the elite have created Fiddler’s Green, a utopic high-rise replete with all the trappings of a luxury lifestyle. Everyone else, however, is left to fend for themselves on the streets, where crime runs rampant and zombie games & gambling are promoted as a potent distraction from reality. Riley (Simon Baker) is a freelance contractor (of sorts) who works for Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), owner and operator of Fiddler’s Green. Riley’s claim to fame is Dead Reckoning (which was almost the film’s title), a massive tank-like vehicle capable of laying waste to the “stenches” (zombies) and carrying massive amounts of supplies back to town. During a routine run for supplies Riley notices one zombie, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), exhibiting unexpected intelligence, calling out to his brethren and trying to protect them when gunfire erupts.

Riley has had enough of doing Kaufman’s dirty work and promptly quits after the mission. Not long after Cholo (John Leguizamo) does the same after Kaufman denies his request to buy an apartment in the skyscraper. Riley heads to the streets and over to a bar, where zombies regularly fight to entertain customers. On this night, Slack (Asia Argento) has been tossed into the ring; punishment for promoting a revolt against Kaufman. Riley and his burned-face buddy, Charlie (Robert Joy), save Slack and plan to leave town. But when Cholo steals Dead Reckoning and threatens to bomb Fiddler’s Green – which would also put the citizens at risk – Riley agrees to assist Kaufman in stopping his former co-worker. There is another growing threat, though, as Big Daddy continues to lead an army of the undead straight into the heart of the city.

Really, there are only two glaring issues with Land of the Dead, one major and one minor. On the former: casting. The quality of acting in this series has steadily depreciated since Night of the Living Dead – which is not my way of knocking the casts of Dawn or Day, because I love both – but Land feels like it dropped off a cliff in that department. Simon Baker might as well be a cardboard cutout with a speaker taped to the back. He has the personality of cold toast. Asia Argento has never impressed me with her acting; she’s passable here. Who would’ve thought John Leguizamo would be the best actor in a George A. Romero movie in 2005? Not me, but he’s probably the most interesting character of the bunch. Robert Joy always lives up to his last name. Dennis Hopper looks like he’s having fun playing a mustache twirling villain. Most of the minor supporting players are laughably bad.

The other minor issue is the use of CGI. I can understand the instances where Romero needed to show a hundred or so zombies and they simply didn’t have enough background to cover that quota, but there are some digital gore gags and blood that look terrible. 2005 terrible. 90% of the film was completed with practical effects, making these moments of CGI stand out in the worst way.

Where this film succeeds in spades is exactly where you’d think: zombies. My favorite shot in the film comes right at the beginning, when Romero glides across a town square filled with flesheaters. They slowly lumber and move with pained expressions, a firm reminder that in George’s universe zombies don’t run. The three-piece zombie band, members still attempting to play their instruments, is classic Romero. This is just one of many standout moments, including the warehouse scene wherein dozens of zombies are shown in another classic Romero scenario: eating. Not that anyone expected less, but KNB totally killed it by creating dozens of unique zombies that nearly live up to the iconic undead of their predecessors in this universe. And in the first bit of true connective tissue in the series, Tom Savini returns as the undead version of his biker character, Blades, from Dawn.

Further sequels in the … of the Dead series are best forgotten. I remember the sucking void of disappointment like a vacuum in my chest while watching Diary of the Dead (2007) in theaters. I might’ve made it through about 20-ish minutes of Survival of the Dead (2009). For me, Land is going to stand as Romero’s last great hurrah in the genre he created. There’s no hyperbole in that statement; every single piece of zombie media people have loved since 1968 owes it all to him. Land is the perfect stopping point, and given the sense of cautiously optimistic closure suggested by the film’s ending it seems a fitting end for one of horror’s most iconic series.

Scream Factory has given Land a new 2K scan of the inter-positive for the theatrical cut, while the unrated cut gets the same with HD inserts of the additional footage. Unrated is the way to go and the 2.35:1 1080p image is a winner. Hard to say just how improved this is over Universal’s previous edition but this release features sharp definition, clear examples of fine detail within the frame, natural color reproduction, deep black levels, and fine film grain. Aside from bad CGI looking like bad CGI and some minor compression issues, this is a solid presentation that matches the theatrical experience.

An English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 or 5.1 surround sound track is available to choose from. The multi-channel offering sounds best, delivering a full, robust experience with deep bass during explosive moments and decent impact from gunfire. Dialogue is nicely prioritized and is never lost in the frequently-active mix. The score by composers Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek is mostly forgettable, a stark change from Romero’s previous soundtrack collaborators. Aside from a few strong cues this is a largely boring score. Subtitles are available in English.

DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut

“Cholo’s Reckoning – An Interview with Actor John Leguizamo” – There are a handful of fond recollections made here, most involving Romero’s genial nature on set.

“Charlie’s Story – An Interview with Actor Robert Joy” – The actor shares what he remembers from his time on set, including what it was like wearing his facial appliance.

“The Pillsbury Factor – An Interview with Actor Pedro Miguel Arce” – Hear from the dude who has a line of memorable dialogue.

“Four of the Apocalypse – An Interview with Actors Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks, and Jasmin Geljo” – A handful of the lead zombies sit down to discuss what it was like being featured in a zombie film made by the master.

“Dream of the Dead” is a short documentary on the making of the film, with optional commentary by director Roy Frumkes.

There is also “deleted footage from Dream of the Dead”, a reel of a few deleted scenes from this film, a theatrical trailer, and a photo gallery containing 110 images.

DISC TWO: Unrated Cut

There are two audio commentary tracks; the first, a new offering with zombie performers Matt Blazi, Glena Chao, Michael Felsher, and Rob Mayr; the second, with writer/director George A. Romero.

“When Shaun Met George” – Revisit the time Shaun Pegg and Edgar Wright flew to Canada to be zombies, shot in a fly-on-the-wall style.

“Bringing the Dead to Life” – Focusing on the film’s FX work, this piece showcases some of the zombies KNB created.

“Scenes of Carnage”, featuring exactly what it promises.

“Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene” – This shows off the evolution of zombies, from early CGI rendering to what wound up in the final film.

“Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call” is a bizarre little short of CGI zombies dancing “Thriller” style.

“Bringing the Storyboards to Life”- See how the early storyboards for the film were re-created for the filming.

“Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead” – This is a behind-the-scenes look at the production.

“A Day with the Living Dead” – Leguizamo takes viewers on a tour through a day on set during production.

Special Features:

DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut of the film

  • NEW 2K Scan of an interpositive
  • NEW Cholo’s Reckoning – an interview with actor John Leguizamo
  • NEW Charlie’s Story – an interview with actor Robert Joy
  • NEW The Pillsbury Factor – an interview with actor Pedro Miguel Arce
  • NEW Four of the Apocalypse – an interview with actors Eugene Clark, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks and Jasmin Geljo
  • Dream of the Dead documentary: The director’s cut with optional commentary by director Roy Frumkes
  • Deleted footage from Dream of the Dead
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer

DISC TWO: Uncut Version of the film

  • NEW 2K Scan of an interpositive with HD inserts
  • NEW Audio Commentary with zombie performers Matt Blazi, Glena Chao, Michael Felsher and Rob Mayr
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director George A. Romero, producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Doherty
  • Undead Again: The Making of Land of the Dead
  • Bringing The Dead To Life
  • Scenes of Carnage
  • Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene
  • Scream Test – CGI test
  • Bringing the Storyboards to Life
  • A Day with the Living Dead hosted by John Leguizamo
  • When Shaun Met George
  • Film
  • Special Features
User Rating 3.53 (17 votes)


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