HD DVD Title: Shaun of the Dead
Screen format: 1080P 2.35:1 VC-1 Encoded HD
First theatrical release: 9 April 2004 (UK), 24 September 2004 USA
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Anamorphic Widescreen DVD 21 December 2004
Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton
Sound Formats: English & French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Length: 1 hour 40 minutes
Subtitles: English, French
It’s bad enough for aging slacker Shaun (Pegg) that he is stuck in a dead end sales job, is still smoking like a chimney and drinking like a fish nightly with buddy Ed (Frost), and that his mother (Wilton) is remarried to a bore (Nighy) who is constantly harping on his inadequacies, but now his girlfriend Liz (Ashfield) is dumping him plus the dead are coming back to life and anyone who is bitten by the recently risen zombies become one themselves. Fortunately it’s just the start Shaun needed to get his life back on track, which is one of his top goals just now, along with taking care of his mum and getting Liz back. If they can all survive the Zombie apocalypse that is!
Cowritten by Pegg and director Wright, SotD is a feature length tribute to and English re-imagining of the classic horror film ‘Dawn of the Dead’. But this isn’t a typical spoof, it’s an honest to goodness Romantic-Comedy-Zombie-Buddy-Horror movie, and it takes each of those very seriously. And while the homage to DotD and its sequels is at the heart of the film, Shaun manages to work in its own distinctive themes, subplots, and political commentary. Then it integrates a very suburban English background flavor and English crime caper style whip-crack editing into all of the above, stirs it together and out comes a new classic. Not only will (and have) fans of the Zombie genre take to this film, but movie fans in general find tons to love, with quotable lines, arguable plot points and holes, and a story line that is very easy to relate to.
Sound Quality: 4/5
While not as constantly in your face as the mix of Hot Fuzz, the other Pegg/Wright movie to land on HD DVD this week, Shaun’s audio track still features a relatively dynamic surround mix that uses the full length and breadth of a room to let loose audio cues, music, voices and the grunts and groans of the undead. SotD even enhances tension and ‘stings’ the audience using surround effects that leap from the outer edges of the sound field at appropriate and often unexpected times.
Musically SotD is quite a hoot too, as the original music by Daniel Mudford and Pete Woodhead often takes a back seat to the eclectic musical tastes of Shaun and Ed. Ed has his own personal rock cassette with him for use in Shaun’s father in law Phillip’s Jaguar; the jukebox in key location the Winchester Bar has a mind of its own and tends to taunt Shaun while on shuffle play; and in one unforgettable scene drunken Ed and Shaun recreate their own 4 AM rendition of the classic hiphop song ‘White Lines’ at over 100 decibels.
Bass rumbles are also a big part of Shaun of the Dead original score, as constant single note thumps are used to highlight tension similar to the score of the original Dawn and also used to great effect in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Real low frequency Bass effects are also present throughout the film, and there’s terrific low end to be found in explosions, car crashes, gun shots, and especially in the simple crack of cricket bat against zombie flesh and bone.
Overall it’s a very fun and engaging surround mix that adds dramatically to the appeal of the film.
Visual Quality: 4.5/5
Visually Shaun is rock solid all around, with some scenes bordering on greatness. First, this is a very sharp film that has tremendous detail levels and color rendition, especially given the dark nature of many scenes. The outdoor scenes of suburban London looked terrific and made me feel like I was there. I never noticed a single speck of noise and not once did I witness any edge enhancement of any kind or any other artifact, digital or film based. This is a very clean print and captured well via the transfer process. Note that there is often visible film grain however, and it holds up exceptionally well in this transfer, it’s not noisy at all and is likely exactly what you would have seen theatrically.
The source material doesn’t lend itself to many moments that I’d consider reference quality but I was floored by how good this film looked.
Extra Features: 5+/5
Like the Hot Fuzz disk, Shaun is not labeled as any kind of special edition, and as such the amount of extras that are packed in is off the charts in terms of value. Leading off, there are two separate commentaries and a feature length Zombie Trivia video layer that is laid on top of the movie as it runs. Several versions of the movie posters, advertising spreads, and the theatrical trailer are included. A standard ‘making of’ featurette is, of course present. The heart of the extras that really puts this over the top are the enormous number of deleted and extended scenes, and these are all well worth the time spent going through them, as they are as funny and some even funnier than the gags in the movie itself.
A special section titled ‘Raw Meat’ includes a half hour of Pegg’s video diaries, a serious look at the computer green screen effects used in some key sequences, and even the casting segments with the actors and actresses that got some of the costarring roles. One other neat feature was similar to one used in great effect in ‘Children of Men’: extended versions of the throwaway video segments seen on TV, including more of the Zombie Game shows, a talk show where a woman still loves her zombified husband, and an extended segment on Britain’s music TV channel interviewing band Coldplay who are supporting the Zombaid foundation after two of their members turned into Zombies and had to be replaced. There’s also still photos from Pegg and other crew members, Zombie makeup effects test, cartoon segments where characters explain away plot holes, time lapse video of Pegg during several hours of makeup application, and a full run through of the entire plot on whiteboard by Pegg and Wright. I’m sure I’m forgetting some that simply need to be seen, as they were all top notch.
I don’t have the original DVD handy so it’s hard to say how much of this (if any) is new, but even if none of it is, I can live with shoveling from DVD to HD DVD if all that comes over are this good in quality and there’s this much of it. This is one of the rare times when the back cover of a disk doesn’t do justice to advertising all that’s included!
Overall: 4.5/5 (not an average)
Together with the Hot Fuzz HD DVD today we have two new kick ass disks. One “day and date” new release that knocks its score out of the park and this related catalog release that is almost as good in every way. This disk truly shows the labor of love that cast and crew put in, and just how much they cared for the material and put everything they had into creating it. The excellent audio visual qualities paired with the ton of extras is just what was needed for this film that has already established an army of fans, and there isn’t even any lame forced interactive content or U-Control nonsense for me to complain about. All around this is a true winner, and easily comes ‘Recommended’.