Title: George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead
Screen format: Anamorphic Widescreen matted to its original theatrical presentation width
Studio: Dimension Extreme / Genius Products
First released: 15 February, 2008 (Limited US theatrical release)
DVD released: 20 May, 2008
Director: George A. Romero
Starring: Michelle Morgan, Josh Close, Shawn Roberts, Amy LaLonde, Joe DeNicol, Scott Wentworth, Philip Ricio, Chris Violette, Tatiana Maslany
Sound Formats: Dolby Digital 5.1
Length: 96 Minutes
Subtitles: English & Spanish
Diary of the Dead is George A. Romero’s chance to reboot his famed Zombie series into the new millennium. Focusing on such memes as constant surveillance, internet and web 2.0 technologies, and young adults obsessed with instant communications and always having something to say (albeit with sarcasm), it largely forgets to add much new to the genre or to bring real scares or laughs. Romero’s commentary on the rise of the amateur and the overwhelming presence of recording technology is interesting, but his characters seem to be barely fleshed out, soul-less stereotypes, without a plan.
During the filming of a college level videography project, amateur film-maker Jason Creed (Close) and his colleagues discover that the world they know has ceased to be and that for some unknown reason the recently dead have become re-animated and are feasting on the bodies of the living. Creed is struck by the need to tell this story to all who will listen to him, as the government is already spinning tales that he knows to be untrue and there is a global audience rapt with attention and waiting his details.
Creed’s girlfriend Debra (Morgan), their buddies Tony (Roberts), Eliot (Dinicol), and Tracy (Lalond) begin a journey from the college campus to their homes, with their besotted professor Maxwell (Wentworth) in tow. As night progresses, the gas in their camper runs low, and their circle of friends and families shrink, they decide to head for the mansion compound of the leading man from the student film, Ridley (Riccio).
And that’s really about all there is: Apocalypse occurs, kids drive from home to home, more zombies attack, eventually few will survive to give their perspective but the all seeing camera is their to record their every move. If this echoes either Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project for you, you are on the right track except those films had characters that one could care about. Here the nausea inducing camera work is merely a conduit for Romero’s contempt and not any kind of brilliant gimmick.
There are two brief highpoints along the way. First, a short stop with a deaf and mute Amish-person is likely to earn this movie more cult cred than the film deserves. Second, a stop at a makeshift militia that turns out to be more helpful than the real military is both tense and rewarding as the two very different camps come to a positive understanding about each other, no thanks to the men in the RV.
The bottom line is that the film’s main theme doesn’t really have a whole lot to say, I really didn’t care for or about any of the characters, the camera-work is overly bouncy and I don’t share Romero’s contempt for our species or agree with his luddite viewpoint. There’s hardly any gore to get excited about (tho there ARE two good zombie slayings) and no appreciable gratuitous nudity. Stick to the others in Romero’s back catalog!
Sound Quality: 2/5
Unlike either of the films it most closely resembles, Diary has neither NOTLD’s stark and eerie soundtrack nor Cloverfield’s amazing holosonic mix. The mix here is very front focused, has minimal musical accompaniment, and moderate use of bass. It’s about as forgettable as the film itself is.
Visual Quality: 2.5/5
Adding to the dizzying hand held camera-work is the intermittent use of video screen overlays, security cameras and other annoyances that mimic the use of prosumer video technology, giving an authentic look but destroying any artistry that the film could have achieved. There’s a ton of video noise, scan lines and other junk to help this along too.
Does it even look real? Not at all, as both BWP had the standard def look nailed and Cloverfield has the modern video camera nailed a lot better than this.
Extra Features: 3/5
I have to admit being very disappointed with some of the extras here. On paper they sound great but in reality they didn’t all hit their mark. I haven’t completed the feature length commentary with Mr. Romero yet, but I’d much rather spend that time listening to him talk about any of his other movies, all of which I liked much better. The rest of the extras are available from a single short list. First off is a series of character confessionals which made me dislike all of the characters more than the film did. Next up is a short clip with Romero talking about his inspiration for the film called “The Roots” which barely scratched the surface of what he had in mind. A disjointed review of the first week of filming, which shows even LESS interesting material is found in ‘The First Week”. The second best extra is a collection of 5 amateur videos by Zombie fans from Myspace, all of which were decent for their budget and more enjoyable plots for me than the main feature. 'Familiar Voices' is a podcast style review of three famous contributors for background TV and radio clips that are used in the film, and I wont ruin the surprise of who they, but I'd admit that they brought a chuckle at least. The heart of the extras is a feature length series of behind the scenes material, and while this shares the name with one from the NOTLD disk that shipped the same day, it is much more in depth with cast and crew and perhaps more interesting from a film-making perspective rather than as a ‘where are they now’ segment.
Overall: 2.5/5 (not an average)
This disk is definitely a bit of a disappointment when compared to its twin, the one that shipped the same day for the classic Night of the Living Dead, which is a film 40 years its senior but just about more enjoyable and interesting in every respect. Of course film has changed significantly in the intervening time and there were at least a few chuckles and smirks here and there, but if it had been me I don’t know that I would have tried riding in on that film’s coattails. Classify this one under ‘for zombie junkies ONLY’.