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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » War of the Dead (Blu-ray)
War of the Dead (Blu-ray)
Entertainment One // Unrated // January 1, 2013 // Region A
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 6, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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Look, you and I both took our share of history courses in high school, so you don't need me to tell you about those Nazi experiments
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to reanimate the dead in the tailend of the 1930s that Hitler eventually put the kibosh on during his ascent to power. I know! If I had a dollar for every Nazi zombie term paper I wrote for AP European History... What you might not know, though, is how an elite group of American soldiers teamed up with a squad of Finnish asskickers back in the '40s to take down a secret Russian bunker, and how the enemy combatants they mowed down along the way returned from the dead to exact revenge and eat them and stuff.

This is normally the point in the review where I'd start rattling off the names of the characters and delve more deeply into the plot, and...yeah, there's not really much of a point to that here. Even as War of the Dead was underway, I couldn't tell you the name of a single character even if you'd had an M1 Garand pressed right up against my temple. If the straggling survivors didn't have such pronounced accents, I probably couldn't have distinguished one from another. No one has any more of a personality than the mechanics of the plot absolutely require. War of the Dead has a capable cast in front of the camera, but they're kind of like those bags of a hundred green plastic little army men; the soldiers are all basically the same and are completely disposable. There's no dramatic or emotional hook whatsoever.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Who cares about lush characterization or whatever? I wanna see zombie Nazis chow down! ...and, I
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mean, fair point. That's definitely where War of the Dead's head is too. The movie's pretty much wall-to-wall action. It boasts such staggeringly high production values that it looks like it cost ten times as much as it really did, War of the Dead delivers more gunplay than you'll see in two or three different WWII flicks, and there are a hell of a lot of zombies. To further amp up the action end of things, we're not talking about slow, shambling corpses. They have super-strength, they can run thirtysomething miles an hour, they can leap forty feet in the air, their actions are vengeful and deliberate, they still remember all their close-combat training, and they can even friggin' skitter up trees.

It's just...I mean, think back to Predator. No shortage of action or anything, but Dutch and company still came across as something resembling people. There was a reason for you to give a shit what happened. In War of the Dead, the soldiers are dead air. The plot is there just to loosely string together a parade of brutal action sequences. I get that these gutmunchers are all fresh corpses, and I appreciate that War of the Dead isn't just thumbing through the Romero playbook, but as superhuman as they are, they're kinda...boring. There's no rush of adrenaline when they roar onto the screen. They're pretty much completely interchangeable; just period military uniforms, whited-out contact lenses, and maybe a little spatter of blood on their faces. No gore. No dementedly clever makeup effects.

I know that "it's like watching someone else play a video game!" ranks somewhere in top ten Stale Online Movie Reviewer Clichés, but...well, that really is the case with War of the Dead. As many Nazi zombie flicks as I've devoured, I don't think I've actually seen one set during WWII before this. That's kind of a blast for a little while, but with nothing interesting or different thrown at me, I got kind of numb to it after a while. Even with as overflowing with action and briskly paced as War of the Dead is, I was numb to it halfway through. No investment in the plot. Couldn't care less about these characters if I'd clenched my fists and tried really, really hard. Just more and more and more and more of the same for 86 minutes. Rent It.

If the IMDb entry for War of the Dead has it right, the film was lensed on a combination of 16mm and 35mm stock. That might explain why some shots are strikingly crisp and clear, and others...well, aren't:

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Most scenes are drenched in one color or another, typically a dusty yellow or cold, steely blues. The image looks rather flat, and the middling black levels sure don't help on that front. War of the Dead boasts a coarse, gritty texture, one that I generally like, although a handful of shots are buzzing with unstable noise rather than a sheen of well-defined film grain. That texture is a little more than the modest bitrate of this encode can handle, sometimes causing the granules to clump together. There's never any doubt that I'm watching a proper high definition release, but the overall quality rarely wows, y'know?

War of the Dead shambles onto Blu-ray with an AVC encode, a scope presentation, and a single-layer disc.

The 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack does a pretty terrific job filling the room with sound. Line readings never struggle
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for placement in the mix. The surrounds are teeming with tortured screams, gutmunching, undead snarls, and sprays of gunfire. There's even a good bit of directionality to the dialogue. On the other hand, dynamic range is surprisingly cramped. It's pretty much nothing but mid-range. Bass response is so lackluster that the stings meant to punctuate the jump scares consistently fall flat, and the gunfire and grenades don't pack much of a wallop either. That richness, that clarity, that ferocity that I'm so used to hearing on Blu-ray is nowhere to be found here. Serviceable but a definite disappointment.

If you only parlez français or habla español, you're kinda S.O.L. here. The only other audio options are an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track (640kps) and English subs (SDH).

Well, this won't take long.
  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): The one and only extra is a high-def trailer.
War of the Dead comes packaged in a shiny slipcover, and an anamorphic widescreen DVD is along for the ride in this combo pack.

The Final Word
I mean, I definitely respect how ambitious War of the Dead is, from its thoroughly impressive production values to the staggering amount of action it delivers. With interchangeable zombies, a bunch of soldiers that are just about as lifeless, and a woefully uninvolving plot, though, War of the Dead is kind of like slumping over in the recliner and watching someone else play one of the zombie modes in Call of Duty. Someone else is having all the fun, and I'm kind of just wondering what I'm doing here. Add in the limited extras and not-overwhelmingly-impressive presentation, this is one you're probably better off streaming or renting instead. Rent It.
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