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Sony Pictures // R // February 2, 2010 // Region 0
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 7, 2010 | E-mail the Author
See? And here I thought the Zombie-Flick-with-a-Climax-Set-in-an-Abandoned-Amusement-Park sub-sub-sub-genre peaked thirty years back.

This is from Nightmare City, by the way.

Sorry, Umberto.

So anyway, the downfall of civilization
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kicked off with a gas station cheeseburger. Some sort of E.coli/Mad Cow cocktail...? No idea. Whatever was in that burger made some poor schlub get violently ill...he started spewing black bile, his skin began sloughing off, pus and other sticky stuff oozed from every sore and orifice, and he was consumed with a blinding hunger for human flesh. The first person he nom-nom-ed on became infected too, and...yeah, flip forward a few pages, and mankind is all but extinct. Jesse Eisenberg stars as one kid who seemed to be dealing with it alright, though. I mean, it takes direct contact with a zombie or its bodily fluid to become infected, and who's better equipped to deal with that than a paranoid shut-in toting around a laundry list of rules to survive Zombieland? Okay, maybe you're snickering at a rule like "Beware of Bathrooms", but hey, he's still alive and kickin', and you're a cannibal with no upper lip and half your face encrusted with pus, so there's that.

On his way to see if his folks in Ohio somehow managed to make it, he bumps into a shit-kicker in an post-apocalyptic Escalade. They opt not to tell each other their real names -- don't wanna get too attached or anything -- but Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) lets Columbus (Eisenberg) tag along anyway, at least for a while. It seems to be going alright. This jittery kid's good for a laugh, if nothing else, and he plays it so safe that he never manages to get into trouble. Meanwhile, Columbus doesn't have much to fret about with a sociopath like Tallahassee ready to hack apart any zombies they run into with garden implements or El Kabong 'em with a banjo.

Columbus thought there was a pretty good chance that he was the last man on Earth, and then he met Tallahassee. Turns out that the world's population is about to double again when they stumble upon Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) in the middle of a Twinkie hunt. Forget about the twelve year old and take a peek at that quirky-cute sister in the leather jacket and painted-on jeans. I mean, it's not as if Columbus has much competition to fret about, right? You'd think that this'd be the closest thing that could pass for good news for this virginal kid after humanity turned into an all-u-can-eat buffet, but...nope. Wichita may be alive and breathing, but she isn't much of a step over that foxy neighbor of Columbus' who tried to gobble him up a couple months back. So...yeah. Mistrust. Lotsa back and forth. Highway shenanigans. Mansion squatting. Anyway, every survivor had heard tales of some sort of Last Untouched Bastion of Civilzation at one point or another, and for these two girls, it's an amusement park called Pacific Playland out in Anaheim. Why not give it a shot? Best case scenario, you're finally safe from those legions of the ravenous undead. Worst case...? If you and your sister are gonna be a Combo Meal, you might as well be scarfed down at the Happiest Place on Earth.

I'm a card-carrying zombie nerd (no, really, I have a card), and I'm part of the reason Zombieland got the nod last year as the highest grossing zombie flick of all time. I'm not going to say it's my favorite gutmuncher ever, and it's not even my favorite zombie comedy, but Zombieland sets out to do something different and pulls it off almost deliriously well. For one, it's kind of like
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"The Walking Dead" in that the zombies are there more to set the stage rather than pose a constant threat...y'know, it's more about the survivors rather than throngs of rotting corpses out for brunch. The demented opening titles are sopping with splatter, and Tallahassee goes to town with everything from hedge clippers to a banjo in a smalltown supermarket, but other than that, the undead attack in short, controlled bursts until the climax rolls around. Zombieland prefers instead to spend as much time with its characters as it can get away with, and they have enough personality and are fleshed out well enough that I didn't mind those breaks from the infected ghouls.

Jesse Eisenberg does play a very Jesse Eisenbergish part, but he's better with that sort of awkwardness and nervous energy than anyone this side of Michael Cera, and some of the subtle physical color he splashes on -- like sucking on the string of his hoodie -- makes him seem a lot more real to me. I like the fact that Emma Stone has such a different look to her than most of the actresses being spat out of the Hollywood meat grinder, and she radiates such a cool confidence here that even though Wichita may be the last woman on Earth, Columbus isn't exactly settling when he sets his eyes her way. Abigail Breslin doesn't make quite as much of an impression, and Little Rock comes across as more of a plucky sidekick than a sister, but I liked her well enough anyway. There are two definite show-stealers, though. One of 'em is a surprise cameo, and even though the smart money says you've either already seen the movie or at least read about this months ago, I won't spoil it here. It's a reveal that caught me completely off-guard, though, and it makes for one of the most inspired and indescribably brilliant sequences in an already great flick. The best thing about Zombieland by a country mile is Woody Harrelson as an unhinged good-ol'-boy. It's pretty clear that he's having a hell of a time chasing after the undead with chainsaws and a dufflebag fat-packed with semi-automatic weapons. Harrelson scores most of Zombieland's
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biggest laughs, and when the movie very briefly shifts gears into something a little more emotional, he pulls that off without a hitch too. This is a movie with a surprising amount of heart, at least until a zombie rips it out of your chest and starts munching on it.

So yeah, there's characterization and all, but there's plenty of the red stuff being sloshed around too, and they come up with some demented and inventive ways to knock off all these gutmunchers. This is a flick where the two leads keep a running tally of the Zombie Kill of the Week, after all. It's more blood-stained slapstick than outright horror, although Zombieland does manage to squeeze in a couple of really effective jolts. You can call it a horror/comedy if you want (and re-reading through this review, I sure am, repeatedly), but Zombieland is even more of an action/comedy. Hell, freshman director Ruben Fleischer even sums his movie up as "Midnight Run with zombies", and that's not too far off. Zombieland attacks with surgical precision too. With a very lean runtime -- just shy of 83 minutes before the end credits do their whole upward scroll -- it gets in and out quickly. The next gag's never that far off on the horizon, and no scenes ever linger on longer than they ought to. Its sense of humor can be hit or miss, sure, but a lot of the jokes do connect, and it's infused with a pretty impressive wit. The gags never seem as if they're trying too hard or are shamelessly mugging at the camera, and they don't lean on doofy pop culture references or post-modern smirks either. It's just clever and funny, and that's what I go for. The comedy does play better in a packed room, and I kind of regret that I'm reviewing Zombieland after going at it this second time solo. I still love the movie and all, but I think I'd be even more enthused if I'd rewatched it in a different setting.

Why am I writing all this, though? Witty. Gory. Perfectly cast. Ridiculously fun. That's the review right there. Highly Recommended.

Shot digitally with the Panavision Genesis camera, Zombieland winds up looking spectacular in high-def. The digital photography is consistently clean and smooth, and no noise ever creeps into the frame, even when the lights are dialed down. I can't get over how unbelievably sharp and detailed Zombieland is; even in the wider shots on the highway, f'r instance, it seems as if every brown weed, every blade of grass, and every last leaf in the background is clear and distinct. Not that I don't think you'd believe me or anything, but seriously, click on this screengrab to get a taste of what Zombieland looks like in 1080p. No, go ahead...I'll wait.
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As far as fine detail and texture go, Zombieland outclasses pretty much everything I've ever caught in high-def, and there's such a strong sense of depth and dimensionality that it's the closest I've come to 3D without having to slap on a pair of glasses. The slightly desaturated palette comes through perfectly here too, and the same goes for the warm, golden tint that Zombieland takes when the few straggling survivors hole up in a mansion down in Beverly Hills. Black levels are deep and inky as well, and although that'd normally be a plus, that does lead to the one and only gripe I can make about the way Zombieland looks in HD: fine detail does sometimes get gobbled up in swathes of black. That's not even close to being a constant headache, though, and as long as you can look past that, Zombieland ranks dizzyingly high up there as one of the best-looking live-action movies on Blu-ray right now.

Zombieland and its extras get a chance to spread across both layers of this BD-50 disc. The movie has been letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and has been encoded with AVC.

I guess I was expecting to be a little more bowled over by Zombieland's 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It's not that there's anything wrong with this track, exactly, but it doesn't pack as much of a wallop as I'd expect for a newly-minted action-horror-comedy flick. To tear into the good stuff first, Zombieland's dialogue is consistently clean and clear, and it's balanced flawlessly in the mix. The licensed songs as well the original score by David Sardy are rendered remarkably well too. ...and then there's the less-than-good. The track is reasonably full-bodied, but it doesn't really pack that extra kick I've come to expect out of a day-and-date release on Blu-ray. Some of the effects do sound great, like a piano careening down on a gutmuncher and a few of the shotgun blasts, but too many others feel kind of thin and lightweight. The clarity of the individual elements in the mix is probably a leg up over anything I could hope to hear on DVD, but it isn't especially dazzling either. The surround channels don't really draw all that much attention to themselves until the climax rolls around. Up till then, the rears flesh out a little ambiance, such as the faintly buzzing electric sound in the grocery store stockroom, and there are occasional pans like buckshot whizzing from the front-right to the back. It's all pretty low-key until the assault on Pacific Playland, and then you do have the snarls of the ravenous undead, a rollercoaster screaming around, and all. I know Zombieland isn't pitching itself as a hyperaggressive action/horror movie or anything, but as I tore into it a second time, I did find myself wishing for something at least a little more engaging and immersive than this. As it is, this lossless soundtrack is far from a disappointment but isn't anything all that remarkable either. Oh well.

Another DTS-HD Master Audio track is served up too, this time in French. An English descriptive audio service track has also been piled on alongside subtitles in English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish.

  • Audio Commentary: On the bill for Zombieland's commentary track
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    are actors Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, director Ruben Fleischer, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. It's a pretty solid commentary...breezy, personable, but not so overcaffeinated that they're constantly talking over each other or anything. A few standout comments include shuttling one of the flashbacks around somewhere completely different in the movie, Woody Harrelson having to learn to pluck Dueling Banjos at the last minute, Emma Stone originally being eyed for another, smaller part, what in here was leftover from its origins as a small-screen TV series, and ::sniffles!:: having to yank out a Kenny Loggins song. They're also pretty honest about what they've done in Zombieland that they don't think work all that well. There are a few lengthy patches where no one has much of anything to say, but that's infrequent enough to not be too much of a drag. Sure, I'd say it's worth a spin.

  • Beyond the Graveyard: Zombieland's picture-in-picture track splices together animatics, storyboards, different passes of the visual effects, a handful of interviews, and oodles of shots of the cast and crew toiling away on the set. The best thing about it comes very early on: an incredibly detailed look at the one-and-done shot of a soccer mom careening through her windshield and onto the blacktop. There's also some Twinkie talk, some chatter about how close Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin got to be on the set, a teary-eyed prank that Breslin pulled on the crew, the writers running through which characters they infused the most with themselves, and the cast touching on what the most grueling part of the shoot was. It's an okay PiP track, but the interviews really aren't all that meaty, and my attention span's way too short to wanna sit through that much fly-on-the-wall footage from the set.

  • In Search of Zombieland (16 min.; HD): I'm kinda glad to say that this isn't the lightweight electronic press kit you probably waltzed in expecting. Nope, "In Search of Zombieland" really, truly, sincerely does want to run through the making of the movie rather than playing like an extended trailer-plus-frothy-interviews. This featurette touches on Zombieland being resurrected from a dead TV pilot, lining up the cast, carving out the infected look of the zombies, and what exactly was in that fake blood that Abigail Breslin was licking up. Other highlights include the reveal that Woody Harrelson did most of his own costume design and an extended look at Amber Heard being zombified in the make-up chair. A good bit of behind-the-scenes footage is sloshed around here too.

  • Zombieland Is Your Land (12 min.; HD): Featurette Numero Two-Oh aims its high-def camera at Zombieland's production design, including the Kemo Sabe trading post, dressing a grocery store from scratch with some really convincing sheets of paper, the one and only true set in the film, the scale of the destruction on the highway, and taking over an out-of-the-way amusement park for a bunch of grueling night shoots. It's a little odd that most of the featurette is about shaping the look of these backdrops and then suddenly turns into more of a candid, behind-the-scenes clip in its last few minutes at the amusement park. Still well worth a look, though.

  • Deleted Scenes (5 min.; HD): There's chatter in the commentary about how many great bits were snipped out, so it's kind of a drag that next to none of that actually clawed its way onto this Blu-ray disc. We get a look at the start of the Ziploc bag runner that was axed, more of Columbus in his apartment (including dumping what's left of 406), the girls snickering at how dweeby their marks are before swinging back to pick 'em up again, and a little more conversation and clowning around in Pacific Playland. The scene in the Humvee does answer one of the questions that had been nagging at me, but otherwise, it's all pretty forgettable. Where's the outtakes reel, again?

  • Visual Effects Progression Scenes (2 min.; HD): Hey, now that's a catchy title. It's
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    exactly what it sounds like, really, serving up looks at different stages of the digital effects work. There are very brief peeks at three sequences, complete with green screens, CG models, rotoscoped backgrounds, and the blood-spattered finished product.

  • Promotional Trailers (6 min.; HD): Rather than just bombarding theaters with the same trailer over and over again, Zombieland opted for something a little more clever: having Tallahassee and Columbus respond to viewer mail in-character. The two of 'em offer up helpful hints on things like the best way to off a zombie with everyday household items and explaining why those gutmunchers never attack each other. Oh, and also piled on this disc are a gaggle of trailers for other Sony BDs if you feel like counting those too.

  • movieIQ: Running for the entire length of the movie, this online-enabled extra lets you peek at the credits for the actors currently on-screen, runs through the music that's playing in the background, and lobs out a bunch of nuggets of trivia: Woody Harrelson's stint in the theatre, Zombieland getting a stretch of Hollywood Blvd. all to itself for a while there, the origins of zombie lore...that sort of thing. A feature like this is more useful in a movie with a larger cast, and most of the trivia has either been lifted from the other extras on the disc or nicked from Wikipedia. Not really worth it this time around. movieIQ is the only BD Live functionality that's really worth pointing out; the usual online portal is there, natch, but the only thing Zombieland-centric here are a few clips from the movie.

If you're knee-deep in Sony gaming gear, you can pop Zombieland into your PS3 and dump a digital copy straight onto your PSP. A second disc in the set sports a digital copy for use on iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices.

The Final Word
Okay, maybe Zombieland is hanging around the rear on my list of The Five All-Time Best Zombie Comedies, but...hey, Return of the Living Dead, Dead Alive, and Shaun of the Dead aren't exactly bad company to be mixed in with or anything. Zombieland is definitely its own movie too, pushing characterization and its own very distinctive wit rather than just aping the zom-coms that've shambled along before it. From the demented splatter-comedy to a perfectly cast, ass-kicking Woody Harrelson to its breakneck pace, this is one of the best horror-comedies to roll out in quite a few years, and it pulls it off without a bunch of heavy-handed pop-culture references or post-modern genre deconstruction or whatever. Will I still be frothing at the mouth about Zombieland years down the road like I am with Shaun of the Dead and company...? Who knows? Even if I'm not, that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with a movie just being sharp, clever, and a ridiculous amount of fun right now, and that's exactly how I'd sum up Zombieland if I weren't so rambling. Highly Recommended.

Don't Believe Me?
DVD Talk's Tyler Foster has also written a review of the Best Buy-exclusive Nut Up or Shut Up Blu-ray release.
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