George A. Romero's Diary Of The Dead
R1 - America - Genius Products/Dimension Extreme
Review written by and copyright: Stevie McCleary and Noor Razzak (22nd June 2008).
The Film

It’s an understatement to say that I was greatly anticipating watching "George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead. The original "Living Dead" trilogy (1968-1985) is amongst my favourite horror films. The follow up "Land of the Dead" (2005) was a worthy successor as well. So when the announcement was made of a brand new take on his zombie lore, but using the now all-too-familiar ‘handicam style for added realism’, I was very excited. I talked with fanboy abandon all day about the fact I was going to watch it...sucks to be me. What an absolute mess this was and for so many reasons. I was bored stiff (cadaver *humour*) almost the entire way through and ended up along way away from being satisfied once it was done.

First up was the “acting” or whatever it was that they called that. Listen, I do happen to know a thing or two about the craft. And something that is talked about in every workshop about it is that there is a vast difference between merely saying your lines and between actually delivering them. It’s about the suspension of disbelief that allows us to be put into the shoes of the characters involved. What a joke that this was here. I’ve heard better delivery at a cold reading (audition without prior knowledge of the script) and it was embarrassing to watch these people fumble around saying everything in a shallow monotone. And I do mean everything. A fun trick is to jump to any scene in the film while someone is talking and realise that they sound exactly the same whether discussing philosophy, the state of filmmaking as an art form, or whether they just killed their parents who had turned into flesh eating monsters. Not a single line of dialogue was uttered at any point that echoed believability. Not a single line gave me a connection to the people involved and the situation around them.

Past the actual delivery, the motivation of these characters followed suit. Very few choices made any sense at all and held water about as well as a decaying corpse would. Maybe you could believe that the stress of the situation was making people do strange things…but as nothing else was believable, you find it impossible to give anything the benefit of the doubt. The characters would leave places that were perfectly safe seemingly to just move the ‘plot’ along. Characters would let their friend comfort their crying girlfriend because they were too busy holding the camera. Oh good, I’ve mentioned the camera work.

Here’s an idea; when you decide to make a shaky “it’s like someone is really filming this for realz~!” movie, maybe you should consider making it look like someone is actually filming this. For "realz". Or do what they did here and have an obviously expensive film camera recording everything (but treating it in the script like a more basic camera) just not on a tripod. If "Cloverfield" (2008) (a movie I straight up loved) had been filmed the way they did this, it would have failed completely. So: no sense of realism in the cast, their dialogue, their story, or the way it was shot. And all in a movie that proclaimed that as the main reason to watch it.

Now, another thing that "Cloverfield" did right, and is an easy choice given the filming style, is because the camera is moving so much you never get a good look at the CGI. This in turn makes it look more realistic. Diary slaps logic in the face again and has the camera eerily stay still when CGI is used. And boy, does it stick out like a sore thumb. The effects are all shiny and brightly coloured…it is embarrassing and takes you out of the film even more than everything else. No, that is a lie. The voiceover does the best job of that.

You know what movie was awesome? "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991). I sure did love the Linda Hamilton voice work echoing over the whole film. Why am I thinking about that now? Because "Diary of the Dead" decided to do the exact same thing here, only even preachier about us destroying the world we live in. And with the annoying monotone of someone reading lines like you recite your shopping list. It is laughable at every turn. She talks about how we are watching her documentary about the horror that the world went through (and I’m guessing survived?) and points out that she added “scary music” in parts, in order to try and scare us. Right. I kept waiting for her to tell me that SkyNet became self aware at 2:14 Eastern Standard Time.

This film was a colossal disappointment for me. It’s not like I was expecting the genre to be re-written or anything like that. I was simply expecting a good movie. Apparently I was silly for anticipating such a thing. "Diary of the Dead" is almost in "Lady in the Water" (2006) territory (In terms of just how bad the film is). You’re still my hero, Romero (there’s a song in that) but this was something that couldn’t be saved. What an absolute shambles.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1 this anamorphic transfer, in order to maintain an amateur feel the film's photography is mostly handheld and shot on DV cameras. The result is at times messy, there's noise all over the place to begin with especially in dark and dimly lit scenes (and there's a lot of them!). Colors look fine under normal light but many times they appear flat, in fact the image is mainly flat with crushed blacks. The good thing is that the print is clean, sharp (for the most part although this is questionable at times), I guess that's really the only good thing I can say about this transfer. Since the film was supposed to look like an amateur diary I suppose it does a good job in that sense, which is why I didn't give this transfer a worse grading.

Audio

A single English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included here, the audio is slightly better than the image, although for an action/zombie flick there isn't enough surround activity to immerse the viewer. The majority of the soundtrack is in fact very front heavy with occasional surround channel noise. Dialogue is clear and so is the film's music. The one thing that Romero's pervious films have been able to do is draw the viewer in with some eerie sound design, it helps build on the tone of these Zombie films. This track has none of that, it's a 5.1 track that may as well just be a 2.0 number.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Genius Products has released this film with a series of extras that includes an audio commentary, character confessionals, three featurettes, a documentary, some Myspace shorts and a series of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by writer/director George A. Romero, director of photography Adam Swica and editor Michael Doherty. The participants remain largely screen-specific as they reveal how each shot was set up and completed including the challenges of he shooting style and making the necessary adjustments. Romero comments on the themes and excitedly takes us through the production process. Of the three the director is the most talkative, but the other two chine in and comment on their involvement in the picture and talking about their work on it providing fans with an insight into the making of the film. It's interesting to discover that unlike Romero's previous "Dead" film this one was shot very quickly on a very small budget, I suppose the style also dictated that.

Following that are 4 character confessionals, these are reality show styled confessions of the cast in character, the footage is largely uncut as they talk direct to a camera sharing their thoughts about what's going on (within the context of the film). These clips take you further into the mind of these characters and on some level cold have been used by the actors to get into their characters a bit more (but judging by the acting, I'm guessing not), the confessions included are:

- "Eliot" which runs for 6 minutes 7 seconds.
- "Tracy" which runs for 4 minutes 11 seconds.
- "Tony" which runs for 4 minutes 7 seconds.
- "Debra" which runs for 5 minutes 22 seconds.

Following that is "The First Week" a featurette that runs for 4 minutes 20 seconds, in this clip a fan/independent filmmaker is granted access to the set during the first week of filming, here we see the guy going around asking various crew questions and taking into the shooting in Canada.

Next is "The Roots" a featurette that runs for 2 minutes 5 seconds, this clip takes a closer look at the inspirations for the film, Romero comments on the ideas fr his Zombie films and what's different about them.

"Familiar Voices" is the next featurette and runs for 5 minutes 5 seconds, in this clip we get to hear some voice recordings from some famous fans of Romero who contributed to the film's soundtrack, the recordings are the unedited sessions with Guillermo del Toro, Simon Pegg and Stephen King.

"For The Record: The Making of Diary of the Dead" follows and is a 5-part documentary, this feature can be played individually or with a 'play all' option, the chapters are:

- "Master of the Dead: Writer/director George A. Romero" runs for 13 minutes 18 seconds, this is about the iconic director and his films as cast and crew talk about him. Romero comments on the idea for the film and the production.
- "Into the Camera: The Cast" runs for 17 minutes 5 seconds, here we get a look at the young cast assembled for the film, as they talk about working with the director who is very open and accessible. They comment on their characters and the performances being a result of their collaboration.
- "You Look Dead!: Make-up Effects" runs for 10 minutes 56 seconds, the KNB effects crew talks about the project and getting a young effects company involved in creating the various Zombie gags for the film, as we get a look at some of the key effects prosthetics created.
- "A New Spin on Death: Visual Effects" runs for 19 minutes and takes a look the CGI effects created for the film, these are mainly blood splatters among other things that enhance a shot.
- "A World Gone Mad: Photography and Design" runs for 20 minutes 23 seconds, delves into the shooting style and lighting and how that dictated a lot about the production process. Also takes a look at the 'look' of the film and it's use of locations, costumes and production design.

Next up are a series of short films that were part of a Myspace contest, the winners are all included here, the object was to shoot a Zombie film of your own, a couple of these are quiet good, especially the Grand Prize winner. The shorts included here are:

- Grand Prize Winner: "The Final Day" by Paul Del Vecchio which runs for 3 minutes 2 seconds.
- First Prize Winner: "Deader Living Through Chemistry" by Kern Saxton which runs for 3 minutes 5 seconds.
- "First Prize Winner: "Opening Night of the Dead" by Shelena Oxley-Butler which runs for 3 minutes 16 seconds.
- First Prize Winner: "& Teller" by Teller and Ezekiel Zabrowski which runs for 3 minutes 1 second.
- First Prize Winner: "Run For Your Life" by Jesse Blanchard which runs for 1 minute 43 seconds.

Rounding out the extras are a collection of bonus trailers for:

- "Night of the Living Dead" which runs for 1 minute 50 seconds.
- "Storm Warning" which runs for 30 seconds.
- "Teeth" which runs for 1 minute 45 seconds.
- "The Mist" which runs for 2 minutes 29 seconds.

Packaging

This disc is packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: D Video: C- Audio: B- Extras: Overall:

 


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