It’s ironic that 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake (which was originally a George Romero film), have jump-started Romero’s long-running “Dead” series that started in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead.
Since 28 Days Later and the Dawn remake were released, Romero has released two new installments: Land of the Dead in 2005, and now Diary of the Dead in 2007.
It’s also quite ironic, and perhaps a little sad, that 28 Days Later and even the Dawn of the Dead remake were better movies than any of Romero’s “Dead” films since the original Dawn of the Dead was released in 1978. But with Diary of the Dead, Romero clearly isn’t putting this series to bed any time soon. And according to IMDb, a sequel to Diary of the Dead is on its way.
So, is Diary of the Dead any good?
Right off the bat, Diary of the Dead screams low-budget. I’m not exactly a huge Romero or “Dead” fan, but I would imagine that those who are would say that a return to Romero’s low-budget roots is a good thing. After all, Romero made the original Night of the Living Dead on a shoe-string budget. And even though it took me a while to adjust my eye and ear to a no-name cast and low-budget look/feel, before long I got into the mind frame of the film, despite some bad acting and cheesy lines.
The plot is as follows: A small horror film crew slowly realize that the dead are coming back to life. Only the director refuses to turn off his camera, shooting the carnage as it happens, Blair Witch and Cloverfield style, so that someday people will know the truth before the media spins it into something different.
As you know, Romero’s “Dead” films are usually recycled versions of the same movie with a new social commentary thrown into the mix. This time it’s television and the Internet and how the media massages the truth. And as you probably also know, Romero hammers the viewer over the head with this message. He’s never been one for subtlety, and here it’s no different. Romero hits the mark on several occasions, but other times the viewer will be like, “OK, I get it. Enough.”
What does set Diary apart from some of Romero’s other “Dead” films is that he returns to the day that the shit hit the fan. His characters are in ground zero and the “as it happens” news reports on the radio heighten the suspense. However, the characters are never really given much to do other than argue with one another and beg for the director to turn off the camera. And this is where Diary of the Dead feels more like The Blair Witch Project than a bonafide “Dead” movie.
But Romero doesn’t skimp on the blood and guts, and he mixes in some good black comedy. From that standpoint, the movie manages to score some points. But overall, Diary of the Dead is more proof that Romero’s “Dead” series is getting long in the tooth. It’s also been one-upped by other directors who have re-invented the zombie genre with a more biting and subtle social commentary, so it may be time to shoot this zombie in the head and call it a day.
Diary of the Dead is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Filmed in HD, the picture is crystal clear. Dark scenes are deep and crisp with no grain or fuzz to speak of.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track on Diary of the Dead is mediocre. Jump scares are loud and jarring, and the music is handled nicely, but the film is mostly dialoge and the limited action sequences fail to impress audibly.
First up is the Commentary with Director George Romero, Director of Photography Adam Swica and Editor Michael Doherty. Quite simply, it’s bland. The three men mostly recount what happens on screen and how they shot various scenes. It’s clear that they all had fun returning to a low-budget style of shooting, but it doesn’t translate into an entertaining commentary.
Next is For the Record, a feature length making-of documentary. This is where the meat of the special features material is located. Luckily it’s divided into chapters, so we can skip to learn about the actors or the special effects team instead of having to slog through an 80-minute documentary.
Next up is a short featurette called The Roots, in which Romero explains his desire to go back to the night the dead started to come back to life and how he would include the Internet and Media social commentary into the film.
The First Week is a standard on the set walk-through of the beginning of filming. The crew mostly shivers through Canadian October rain.
Familiar Voices is a fun five-minutes which features the voice-work of several horror icons whose voices were used as news reports throughout the film. Includes clips from Guillermo Del Toro, Simon Pegg and Stephen King.
Character Confessionals are Real World-style confessionals where the actors sit and talk to the camera in character. Pretty weak stuff.
Finally, the MySpace Contest Winners feature five excellent short, zombie-themed films.
One thing is for sure. Both Romero and his “Dead” series are showing their age. What used to be groundbreaking stuff now feels like cheap imitations of films like 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake. While Diary of the Dead has its moments, it’s mostly recycled stuff from his other films, with a new social commentary splashed over the old coat of paint. The A/V specs are respectable, and the Special Features are hit and miss. I’d venture to say that Diary of the Dead is for Romero and “Dead” film fans only.