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Day of the Dead (2008)

First Look Pictures // R // December 2, 2008
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 23, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Up until a couple of weeks ago, I shrugged Day of the Dead off as the worst of Romero's zombie flicks.
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I guess director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th parts 2 and 3) and writer Jeffrey Reddick (Final Destination) figured out what the original movie was missing when they set out to tackle this remake, though: that girl from American Pie who looks a hell of a lot like a carp and fucking Nick Cannon doing a full-on Will Smith "aw, hell no" impersonation.

The original Day of the Dead opened with the world already having been devoured by legions of the ravenous undead, but like Romero's Diary of the Dead, this remake rolls the clock back to the start of the outbreak. The sleepy little town of Leadville, Colorado has been quarantined by the military. The official word...? Training exercises. Unofficially...? The town's been plagued by a nasty flu epidemic, and barely-twentysomething reservists like Sarah (Mena Suvari) and Salazar (Nick Cannon) are instructed not to let anyone in or out. 'Course, this is a flick with "...of the Dead" in the title, so it's obviously not a flu bug that's hitting damn near everyone in Leadville. It's the first onset of a zombie virus, so...yeah. Sarah, Salazar, and a few other straggling survivors hole up wherever they can -- a supply closet in the hospital, a low-rent radio station, and, eventually, an underground bunker left over from the Cold War days -- all in the hope of eventually finding some way out of town and escaping the legions of the undead swarming from every direction.

Like Zack Snyder's update of Dawn..., Steve Miner's Day of the Dead is really a remake in name only. Zombies, soldiers, the names of a few otherwise unrecognizably different characters, and a climax in an underground military bunker...that's about it. The sense of claustrophobia, mistrust, and the looming spectre of death that Romero tried to stoke back in 1985 has been chucked out in favor of straightahead popcorn action. Hell, this is a movie with "day" in the title where pretty much every last second takes place at night. Whatever.

Nothing really works. One scene tries to nick that paranoid feeling that a monster is walking among us from The Thing but fails miserably. Private Bud (renamed from the original 'cause Bub carries a connotation that's unacceptable to use in 2008 or something) very awkwardly announces that he's a vegetarian before he's munched on, and...yes, Virginia, that means that Day of the Dead is packing a vegetarian zombie. It's a stupid idea with a really stupid execution. These zombies explode into confetti when they catch on fire. They sporadically have superpowers that turn them into second-rate Spider-Men, but their abilities vary wildly from one scene to the next, and they're too cartoonish to ever seem like a credible threat.

Like Diary of the Dead, unconvincing digital splatter is slathered all around Day..., and there's even a sequence where CG blood cells are attacked by the zombie virus. Day of the Dead is tame enough with its splatter that it manages to slink by with an R rating. A lot of the red stuff is sloshed around, sure, but it's really not all that vicious or gory. The editing is too frantic to ever linger on the undead feasting on the living, and none of the kills are clever or creative enough to stand out. The only grisly effect that's even worth remembering is a newly-turned zombie who yanks out his eye and wolfs it down. Other than that, it kinda just seems like one headshot after another. I'm not really all that keen on the look of the undead this time around either. They don't really rot gradually so much as instantly transform the second they
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turn. Oh, and just for old time's sake, Friday the 13th alum Steve Miner throws in a couple of scenes of stalk-'n-slash in a forest. To try to make his work more edgy, I guess, Miner also tosses in really jittery camerawork, cuts the movie with a hyperactive editing style that makes it look like he's on an IV drip of Red Bull and Pixy Stix, and obnoxiously overuses slow-mo during the big siege on the hospital.

Pretty much every last character is either bland or aggressively annoying, and a couple of poor bastards like the mouthbreathing, aging hippie DJ manage to be both. Ving Rhames is around to try to add some sort of tenuous link to the remake of Dawn... -- I guess this is the other guy's long-lost brother? -- but he's barely in it. Casting Mena Suvari as a supposedly badass corporal is kind of a headscratcher, but Nick Cannon takes this shitball movie and manages to make it even worse as the :sarcastic cough!: comic relief. It's Sassy Black Stereotype 101, bogged down with hopefully-improvised lines like "Run they ass over! Now you drivin'" and "that was kinda gangsta, huh?", jabs at Oprah and CSI, outta left field racial humor about spears and shit, and swinging around a machete and shouting "by th' power of Grayskooooll..." There are a lot of weak stabs at comedy tossed around in here, and between all of that and a Goddamned vegetarian zombie, the whole thing is too goofy and campy to really take seriously.

This barely-a-remake of Day of the Dead is a low-rent embarrassment completely lacking any suspense or spark of creativity...just a weak stab at cashing in on a title with a little marquee value. Skip It.

Day of the Dead
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looks alright on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 image is softer and smoother than average, and even though it's noticeably more detailed than anything a garden variety DVD can churn out, there really aren't any moments that wow. Maybe that's because so much of the movie was shot through heavy filters: early scenes are drenched in yellow or a cold, sterile blue, and pretty much the entire second half is sloshed around in a sickly yellowish-green. There's probably some really lazy joke I could make about Day of the Dead lookin' like it's been braised in a barrel drum of bile, but...whatever. The film stock has a tough time holding up under low light, which you'd think wouldn't be much of a problem in a movie called...y'know, Day of the Dead, but with pretty much every last frame set at night, it can be kind of a mess. So...yeah. Don't expect much: Day of the Dead looks every bit like the low-rent, direct-to-video knockoff that it is.

Day of the Dead sports a pretty low bitrate AVC encode and fits comfortably on a single layer Blu-ray disc.

...but at least it sounds nice...! Day of the Dead is packing a 24-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, and it's pretty aggressive: sounds are constantly skittering from one channel to the next, there's a really strong sense of imaging and directionality, and streams of gunfire, the moans of the undead, and the scraping of teeth against warm flesh fill every speaker. The sound design is beefed up by a colossal low-end, thanks to the heavy gunfire, a Humvee plowing through an army of zombies, a handful of explosions, and even an oversized flamethrower. Day of the Dead's dialogue may be painful to listen to, but it's rendered cleanly and clearly on Blu-ray. I don't have any gripes about this lossless audio at all, really -- it's a solid effort.

Day of the Dead also sports a stereo track along with subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish.

Aside from swapping
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out some of the trailers, this retread of Day of the Dead sports the same set of extras as the DVD from a few months back. The photo gallery gets a boost in resolution, but the rest are all presented in standard definition.

I guess the featured extra here is an audio commentary with director Steve Miner, editor Nathan Easterling, writer Jeffrey Reddick, and actors Stark Sands, Michael Welch, and Christa Campbell. It's an okay track, tackling shooting so much of Day of the Dead in a Bulgarian paper factory with a small army of extras who don't speak English, baking 16mm stock in an oven for some of the 'infected' footage scattered throughout the movie, the zombie boot camp that the cast had to endure, another alternate ending, and the usual debate about practical effects vs. digital splatter. Kinda average, overall.

Instead of sticking with the usual making-of featurette formula, Day of the Dead chops the talking head interviews and behind-the-scenes footage into two separate extras. "On the Set" is a fourteen minute reel of fly-on-the-wall footage from the shoot, tackling pretty much every big setpiece that Day of the Dead belts out. There are also fifteen minutes' worth of interviews with the cast and crew, including director Steve Miner, make-up effects guru Dean Jones, and actors Mena Suvari, Nick Cannon, Annalynne McCord, Michael Welch, and Stark Sands. They don't really have all that much to say, and these interviews are aimed much more at people who haven't actually seen the movie. Brief character notes, how wonderful and talented everyone-slash-everything has been, how excited they are to be part of this amazing know the drill. The only one who really steps away from all of that is Dean Jones as he runs through the different stages of the elaborate zombie makeup. The audio drops out during every cut, and these interviews are edited together really clumsily.

A marginally different alternate ending runs six minutes but only has a couple extra seconds that have actually changed, and it's one of those pretty stupid reveals that Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang bitched about. Rounding out the extras are a small but high-res still gallery, three trailers for Day of the Dead, and plugs for other First Look releases.

The Final Word
Romero's Day of the Dead is a pretty terrible flick in its own right, but this sarcastic-finger-quotes "reimagining" manages to be even worse. This direct-to-video schlockfest -- which stars Mena Suvari and Nick Cannon, fer cryin' out loud -- plays like one of those paint-by-numbers Zombi cheapquels that Bruno Mattei used to hammer out in Italy every couple of years. There's nothin' cool, clever, or memorable scattered around anywhere in here...just a Sci-Fi Original Movie with a marginally more recognizable cast and more splatter than you can get away with on basic cable. Skip It.
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