From all of us here at The Bits today: A Happy Friday to YOU, sir! (And/or madam.)
Shaun of the Dead (Steelbook)
Release Date(s)2004 (June 25, 2013)
Studio(s)Universal Studios (Focus Features)
It gives me great pleasure to review my all time favorite film Shaun of the Dead, which often surprises many people when I bring it up because, I suppose, it seems like a controversial choice given my passion for movies and the variety of genres out there. Yes, I admit it to being a die-hard lover of film, which is one of the reasons that I’m drawn to Shaun of the Dead. The problem is that people don’t recognize it to be a gloriously well-made film, and not simply just a horror comedy. Yes, it is that, and a great one, but it’s so much more.
I instantly became a fan of the film upon my first viewing it, and it wasn’t until after I had seen it over and over again that the thought occurred to me one day that it was, indeed, my favorite film. Shaun’s character reminded me of myself in a lot ways at the time. I was sharing an apartment with a roommate who came and went most of the time, I lived around the corner from a convenience store that I walked to all the time and I was having relationship problems. A zombie apocalypse would have made that mirror image complete. Besides that personal connection to it, Shaun of the Dead also introduced me to a large amount of talent both in front of and behind the camera including director Edgar Wright, actors Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Kate Ashfield, Peter Serafinowicz and Jessica Stevenson, among many other talented people. As far the filmmaking and the writing goes, you simply can’t get any better. Not only is there plenty of character development, and characters that we both love and hate, but the dialogue never comes off as trite or expositional. It all works really well, even with the references to other horror films. You don’t think about that much while watching it as they’re integrated into the film’s storyline so well. And despite the film taking a dark turn in the last act, you can tell that the actors had a hell of a good time making it.
I find something new in the film every time I watch it as it is chock full of visual gags, references, character actions, background details and various other tidbits. I guess it can be an assault on you if you’re not in the right frame of mind. There are lots of quick edits, pans, crash zooms and focus pulls that can give people who enjoy their films with a more leisurely pace a bit of an anxiety attack. I don’t think it’s as bad in that regard as say, a Tony Scott film, but there is a lot to take in. But it’s never at the expense of the plot. You understand what’s going on in the story at all times and you’re never left with questions in your mind afterwards. It’s just that when you watch it again, you pick up on something that you had missed the first time. It’s one of the reasons why the film is so easy to watch over and over again. There’s so much information in both the background and the foreground that you simply cannot get it all in one viewing.
Even with all of these textures and layers, Shaun of the Dead is still littered with some famous comedic bits and set pieces that can still play to an audience, including Shaun attempting to jump a fence and failing, the “Want anything from the shop?” “Cornetto.” bit, the backyard zombie assault involving kitchen utensils and Prince records, the scene where Shaun and his friends pretend to be zombies in order to get through a horde of them, among many, many others. It’s just simply one of the best horror comedies ever made, as well as one of the most respected British films of the last several years. It’s the total package, and a summation of everything I want out of a movie-going experience. It’s a shame that we can’t get films like it that are both equally entertaining and well-crafted pieces of cinema that often. And even though Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would go on to make more films in their “Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy,” I find this one to be particularly special. It just clicks with me the way no other film does or likely ever will, and not only for the sheer amount of inspiration that I get out of it, but also for the amount of entertainment value that I get out of it.
What you get new with this new Blu-ray release is essentially the Steelbook packaging, which is very nice, but not essential. It’s just a nice tough. The discs themselves, both Blu-ray and DVD, are the same releases that have already been on the market for a while. It’s now a complete package though, as all of the extras from all of the releases of the film (including the UK DVD release) have been gathered together for the first time, but I’ll get into that in a minute. First of all, let’s take a look at the A/V quality. The video quality itself is quite excellent without being completely perfect. Most won’t notice any problems with it though because it does indeed look very, very good, and it is indeed a step up from the DVD. The grain structure is perfect, and one can notice very small film flaws in the image if you look close enough. The colors and the skin tones are good, but they seem to come off better in daylight scenes to me. Blacks appear too bright, which is probably due to the brightness and the contrast more than anything. For the audio, you get three options: English 5.1 DTS-HD and Spanish & French DTS 5.1. The English DTS-HD track is very robust and packs a lot of punch. There’s also plenty of ambience and surround activity, as well. Dialogue is crystal clear and centered quite well, except for group scenes when multiple speakers are put to use. The music and the sound effects really shine, giving the bass plenty of a workout. Overall, it’s a fantastic presentation without being perfection, but almost. There are subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French for those who might need them.
Extras are abound, as they usually are with Edgar Wright’s releases. There are four audio commentaries: one with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, another with Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran, another with Billy Nighy and Penelope Wilton and a final one with “the Zombies”; a Storyboard Comparison and Zomb-O-Meter trivia track (both U-Control and subtitle options); Missing Bits, which includes Extended Bits (with or without audio commentary from Pegg and Wright), Outtakes, The Man Who Would Be Shaun, Funky Pete and Plot Holes; Raw Meat, which includes Simon Pegg’s Video Diary, Lucy Davis’ Video Diary, Joe Cornish’s Video Diary, Casting Tapes, Edgar & Simon’s Flip Chart, SFX Comparison, Make-Up Tests and an EPK Featurette; TV Bits, which includes T4 with Coldplay, Fun Dead, Trisha – Your Nine Lives Are Up, Trisha – I Married a Monster and Remembering Z Day; a Zombie Gallery, which includes a photo gallery, the 2000 AD comic strip and poster designs; Trailers, which includes the US theatrical trailer, the UK teaser trailer, the UK theatrical trailer, two UK TV spots and a Fright Fest trailer; a Storyboard Gallery (played during playback by selecting the interactive icon that appears on-screen); a D-Box Motion Code option; the aforementioned U-Control options; the “How To” Blu-ray User Guide option; the “What’s New” BD-Live option; and finally, an insert with a code for Ultraviolet and Digital Copy options, as well as an ad for The World’s End. The DVD is identical except for Dolby Digital soundtracks instead of DTS. And being that the DVD is the same DVD as has always been available, several things were carried over from the UK DVD release to the Blu-ray that were not included with the original US DVD release. They include the latter two commentaries with Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton and “the Zombies,” Lucy Davis’ Video Diary and Joe Cornish’s Video Diary. All of the trailers, except for the US theatrical trailer, are all new for the Blu-ray.
Shaun of the Dead is, to me, a perfect film from beginning to end. I’m biased in that regard, but I absolutely and unequivocally love this film. I certainly can’t sit here and deflate any arguments about large scale epic films or even big sweeping dramas being more personal favorites among film fans, but when it comes to just the pure joy of filmmaking, Shaun of the Dead is heads and tails above them all. This was reason enough for me to pick up this double-dip release of the film, as well as gathering all of the extras together, retiring my Region 2 DVD copy of the film, and checking out the new artwork. I consider Shaun of the Dead essential viewing, and with this release, you should too.
- Tim Salmons