Shaun Of The Dead
Running Time: 100 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Subtitles: French and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1; French and Spanish – Dolby Digital 5.1
December 21st, 2004
In the strange and wonderful Shaun Of The Dead, two genres (the Rom-Com and the Zombie flick) that couldn’t possibly coexist collide, and as unbelievable as it is to me, the end product is sweet, horrifying, and hilarious! Indeed, in my humble opinion, with the year 2004 rapidly coming to a close, I think I can safely say that Shaun Of The Dead is my pick for the funniest movie of the year! The fact that zombies and gore are a part of the story is just a big fat bonus!!!
Seriously though, Shaun, a horror/comedy that spoofs the zombie genre, works so well because it can appeal to both hardcore zombie lovers (it doesn’t tinker with the zombie mythos too much) and those who just appreciate good humor and a good scare or two. With regard to the first point, it is clear that writer/director Edgar Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg both know and respect the zombie movies that have frightened us horror fans for nearly 40 years. My opinion is echoed by none other than George A. Romero, the creative genius behind the original Night of the Living Dead and its two highly regarded sequels, who is quoted on the keepcase as calling the film “An absolute blast!”.
In addition to the rules of the zombie genre followed by Shaun Of The Dead, there are some other similarities, such as the way the film pokes fun at the mindlessness of contemporary society. For instance, there are some brilliant shots of British folk looking much like zombies as they go about their daily business (even though they are not yet undead) . Now that I think about it, even Shaun himself (Simon Pegg) is a zombie-like slacker, trudging through life as a “senior employee”/assistant manager at an electronics store, a dull, mindless job in which he struggles to keep his group of young employees, who consider the 29-year-old Shaun to be an old man at the age of 29, in line.
Unfortunately for Shaun, the fact that he is coasting through life in neutral gets him in trouble with his cute girlfriend of over three years, Liz (Kate Ashfield), who wants him to be more ambitious, keep promises, and do more exciting things with her than hang out at the Winchester tavern every night. The crude behavior of his lazy, slovenly pal Ed (Nick Frost), who is always hanging around when he is not idling his life away on video games, doesn’t help any.
It is at this point, just as the story begins, that Liz dumps Shaun because of his inability to exert himself. Never fear though, for since this is partially a romantic comedy, you know that Shaun will find the resolve to get Liz back – it just happens in a more unusual way than in any other romantic comedy I have ever seen. To be more descriptive, Shaun finally decides to act on his caring for Liz when the crash of a deep space probe returning to Earth begins turning the recently deceased into zombies who yearn to consume the flesh of the living. Concerned for her safety, Shaun and Ed set out to rescue Liz, her uptight flat-mates and Shaun’s mother, Barbara (Penelope Winton) - whose name makes for a great homage to NOTLD - and hated stepfather (Bill Nighy), as the hordes of reanimated corpses begin terrorizing the living.
Beyond the rescue of those important to him, Shaun’s plan has many holes. Probably the worst of these is his decision to hide in the Winchester Tavern, the very pub that was a cause of trouble between Shaun and Liz. No less stupid is his insistence that Liz and her two friends leave the safety of their high-rise apartment, but that is all part of the joke, and as you might expect, zombies eventually surround the less-than-secure tavern, and begin working their way inside. At this point, the film plays less like a Rom-Com with zombies thrown in, and more like a traditional horror film, with plenty of suspense and dread built into it by director Edgar Wright.
To be sure, during the latter stages of the film, the tone changes a bit (it plays more like a traditional zombie flick), as the zombie’s siege on the Winchester causes the end of Shaun to feel like it moves a bit more slowly. This is really only a small quibble though, and it is not hard to imagine that that this was the most difficult part of the story to keep light-hearted. It is important to note, however, that although humor is scarcer during the final showdown between Shaun’s group and the zombies than at other spots in the film, the hilarious epilogue really makes up for it!
An instant cult-classic if there ever was one, Shaun of the Dead generates plenty of laughs by riffing on the films that inspired it, but this fun, quirky film also gets a surprising amount of punch from a plethora of well-delivered one-liners and the great expressions from its stars. Now I am well aware that none of these actors will get any recognition come Oscar® time, but the performances in this film really are superb, especially those of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, and Bill Nighy! I could go on further about these folks, but this review is already getting long, and I really want those of you who haven’t seen this film yet to go do so!
With that in mind, let me tie things together by saying what I have said before of only a few films – I hope this imaginative, funny movie finds a much wider audience on DVD. I highly recommend it, especially for those who appreciate the zombie films it pokes some fun at!!! Hell, even if you don’t, this movie has a lot to offer!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Before I begin describing the visual quality of Shaun of the Dead, I must tell you that upon reading how stacked this disc was going to be, I was really worried that this transfer would contain some issues. After all, the three 5.1 channel soundtracks, two commentaries, and wealth of other extras do take up quite a bit of the disc’s real estate!
Thankfully, after watching this film several times, my worries proved to be needless, and I could not help but be impressed by Universal’s anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) presentation of Shaun of the Dead! To begin with, although the film’s color palette is somewhat muted (intentionally, I would imagine), colors are reproduced beautifully, particularly reds, which are present in abundance – hey, it wouldn’t be a zombie film without gore, deteriorating corpses, and stomach-turning blood splatters, would it?
Black level is also well above average, so the image continually exhibits a satisfying sense of depth, texture, and shadow delineation, even during the somewhat poorly lit final sequences in the Winchester tavern. Fine detail is generally good enough that viewers can make out some of the jokes in the background of scenes as well, although the film does look a little soft on occasion.
With that being said, I am still extremely pleased with the way this transfer brings home Shaun of the Dead, especially considering the sheer amount of material that has been crammed onto a single disc!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Offered by Universal in glorious Dolby Digital 5.1, the Shaun of the Dead audio track rises up to meet the high standards set by the disc’s visuals, and provides and engaging, dynamic experience that perfectly compliments the movie. To begin with, dialogue is consistently clean and easily discernable throughout the picture’s running time, which allows viewers to get every joke, even during sequences where dialogue is competing with sound effects and music for listeners’ attention.
Speaking of music, Shaun of the Dead is a film that really uses songs well, not to mention imaginatively, particularly in some of the scenes featuring zombies. These scenes are fairly obvious, so I will not spoil anything by describing them. Suffice it to say that the massive amount of music in this film is reproduced marvelously, thanks to a wide, airy soundstage and wonderful frequency response. And in this regard, the rear channels provide some support as well, by spreading the score and licensed tunes through the listening space.
The surrounds are also used to create a wonderful atmosphere during quieter, more suspenseful scenes, and to deliver some attention-grabbing discrete effects during the film’s action sequences. Bass response is also great, exhibiting power and control during the aforementioned action scenes, as well as to providing more subtle support for other sound effects in the film and the music.
All in all, this excellent Dolby Digital track is yet another feather in this disc’s cap, and should please fans of the film immensely!
Audio Commentary #1
The first audio commentary, featuring actor/writer Simon Pegg and director/co-writer Edgar Wright is all of the things one would hope a commentary will be - informative, humorous, extremely entertaining, and easy to listening to! Specifically, both men discuss the genesis of the film, the casting process, the special effects, and some of the difficulties that were overcome during production.
Pegg and Wright also call viewers’ attention to the many homages in the film and provide a wealth of interesting information about the locations used. Honestly, if you like this film at all, you have got to give this track a listen – it will make you appreciate this film even more!
Audio Commentary #2
Although I would have expected this cast commentary (Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, and Dylan Moran) to be just as energetic as the first, the level of enthusiasm of a few of the speakers seems to be lacking somewhat. Star Simon Pegg is just as chatty as he is on the track he did with Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost is very funny, but the lovely Kate Ashfield hardly speaks at all, and neither does Lucy Davis.
Overall, despite Simon Pegg having to keep encouraging some of the other participants to speak, this is a decent commentary, as it contains plenty of entertaining anecdotes that are not mentioned elsewhere. To be honest, it is not as good a commentary as the other track on the disc, but there are plenty of interesting, funny stories told here, and they definitely make it worth a listen. Further, in terms of listenability, the jovial interaction between the male cast members makes the commentary a fun listen, and the ladies lack of participation is not missed too much since the three guys pick up their slack.
You will have to look on the “subtitles” menu to find this, but selecting this option allows viewers to pause the film at selected points (an icon will come up onscreen), and peruse the storyboards for that particular sequence of the film.
Also accessible via the “subtitles” menu, the Zomb-O-Meter is essentially a trivia track for Shaun of the Dead. As the film plays, text overlays will give viewers a wealth of interesting and amusing facts, anecdotes, and minutia about Shaun, which includes the many references to other films, the titles/artists of the songs featured in the film, and even the fact that the working title for the film was “Tea Time of the Dead”.
As was the case with the commentaries (especially the Pegg/Wright track), if you have a fondness for this film, you will definitely want to spend some time with the Zomb-O-Meter!
SECTION TITLE: Raw Meat
Simon Pegg’s Video Diary
This bonus featurette, courtesy of the video camera of Mr. Pegg takes us through a variety of things, such as the zombie make-up tests, preparation for the “record-throwing” sequence, Nick Frost getting a shot in the arse, and Simon and company re-creating a memorable scene from Star Wars.
“Casting Tapes” plays as one continuous reel, and consists of readings from Kate Ashfield, Peter Serafinowicz (Pete), Dylan Moran (David), and Lucy Davis (Dianne), which are followed by Nick and Simon reading scenes together and playing with fruit.
Edgar and Simon’s Flip Chart
Warning: This piece, filmed in September of 2001, contains spoilers, so you may want to watch the film first.
Essentially, Simon and Edgar run us through a flip chart, which basically lays out the initial version of their film. While they are doing so, they also point out some drawings, and discuss scenes that were eliminated early on (deleted scenes that were never even shot).
This very short, but very cool, featurette shows how composites were used to create two of the film’s more memorable effects shots, including two from “The Battle of Bloody Mary”.
This very short extra features footage of several of Shaun’s zombies in their make-up, and a comparison of zombies with/without the CGI eye effects.
During this fairly brief and extremely fluffy promotional piece, actors Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, and director/co-writer Edgar Wright briefly discuss the characters, the events unfolding around the characters, and the importance of being faithful to previous zombie films, with regard to the horror aspects of the film. There is also an interesting anecdote about how the relationship between Shaun and Ed is based upon the real relationship the two actors (Pegg and Nick Frost) shared as roommates.
SECTION TITLE: Zombie Gallery
The photo gallery contains over 40 production stills, some of which are black-and-white, and some of which are in color.
2000 Ad Strip
As its name suggests, this extra allows viewers to take a gander at some advertising for the film.
Opening up this gallery will treat viewers to a variety of interesting posters for this instant cult classic!
SECTION TITLE: TV Bits
T4 With Coldplay
In the brief 4-minute piece, two members of the acclaimed band Coldplay do an interview to benefit a charitable organization featured in the film. There are two different takes of this interview, the second of which sees the fellas from Coldpaly joined by some special guests.
Running for 1 minute, this extra is an excerpt from a television program that appears during Shaun’s clever epilogue.
Trisha: Your Nine Lives Are Up! And Trisha: I Married A Monster!
These short extras (1 ½ minutes each) feature a couple appearing on the fictitious talk show “Trisha”. In the first segment, the couple is going through a crisis similar to that being dealt with by Shaun and Liz at the beginning of the film, and in the second, the couple returns, only this time the man is….well, dead would be a good way of describing it!
SECTION TITLE: Missing Bits
This is an alternate take of the scene where Pete goes off on Shaun for hanging around with Ed, which the filmmakers attempted to tone down a bit, or “funk up”, if you will.
“The Man Who Would Be Shaun”
This is an interesting look at Simon Pegg and Nick Frost acting out a scene from Shaun of the Dead in the style of Sean Connery and Michael Caine in The Man Who Would Be King. Shortly into he scene, the silliness of it all, particularly how awful Nick Frost is as Connery, makes the tow of them break into laughter.
“Plot Holes” is a fairly interesting bonus feature, where storyboards and voiceovers – by the appropriate actors in character - flesh out three sequences (“What Happened to Shaun when he ran off?”, “What happened to Dianne when she left the Winchester?”, and “How did Ed get from the cellar to the shed?”) that are not fully explained in the film.
The amusing outtakes reel features 11-minutes of gags and bloopers, including footage of Simon Pegg trying to resurrect the ‘80s break-dancing craze!
There are a total of 15 “Extended Bits”, most of which feature in-jokes and other clever lines, and most of which were simply cut to bring the film down to its desired running time. These portions of scenes, which run for about 12 ½ minutes total, can be viewed either on their own or accompanied by commentary by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. They are titled as follows:
--- “Kitchen / Pow-Wow”
--- “Body On The Line”
--- “Bodies On The Line / Yvonne”
--- “Taxi Driver”
--- “Bathroom Blowout”
--- “In The Bedroom”
--- “Meercats United”
--- “Alternate Ed”
--- “The Dopplegang”
--- “David vs. Shawn”
--- “More Peanuts”
--- “Rifle Trifles”
--- “David’s Redemption”
--- “Bar Extension”
The U.S. theatrical trailer for Shaun Of The Dead is included.
The disc kicks off with skippable trailers for Unleashed, Drunken Jackasses: The Quest, and Seed Of Chucky.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
As I mentioned above, I think Shaun of the Dead is the funniest film of 2004, not to mention an instant cult classic. There is a lot of stuff crammed into this film, most of it extremely funny, and most viewers will probably have to watch it several times just to catch all of the subtle humor and homages to previous zombie films.
Honestly, even as a barebones release, this film would warrant a recommendation, unless the A/V quality was horrible. To their credit however, Universal Home Video worked with the filmmakers to give fans a disc that they will cherish! Why? Well, the presentation of this little gem is first rate, and there are more extras than one can shake Shaun’s cricket bat at, including two commentaries, a trivia track, a handful of featurettes, an interesting look at the original ideas for the film, amusing outtakes, and cool poster/photo galleries that really add a lot of value to this disc.
For all of these reasons, I am not at all hesitant to give this disc my very highest recommendation! If you enjoy zombie films, or are just looking for a really different Rom-Com, don’t let Shaun of the Dead pass you by! I'll say it again - Very highly recommended!!!