Shaun of the Dead Review
Please Note: The review below has been taken from The DVD Forums Top 100 Films 2007 article we ran in 2008.
Ask any horror film fan worth his salt about Zombies films and they will tell you that George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead are the seminal entries to the genre. The key to their appeal is that aside from the usual horror/thriller trappings, Night of the Living dead is a tense, intimate character drama; while Dawn of the Dead is a darkly comic satire, which combined with Tom Savini’s grand-guignol effects made for a very fun film. Many directors have since tried to emulate the formulas of these two films, and the few that succeeded have really only done so by either upping the gore or relying on outlandish comedy. This trend was broken in 2004 when the creators of film-spoof comedy Spaced: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, took their referential formula onto the big screen with Shaun of the Dead, and effectively combined the best elements of both Romero’s early classics.
It tells the story of affable but unmotivated Shaun, whose insensitivity and loyalty to his best friend, the incorrigible oaf: Ed, has resulted in long-suffering girlfriend Liz giving him the boot for good. So torn up by the setback, Shaun has been completely oblivious to the fact that London is being torn apart by a plague of Zombies rising up all around him, but when Shaun and Ed wake up one morning to discover a female Zombie in their back garden, the stage is set for Shaun to finally live up to his potential and protect his friends, family and Liz from the flesh-eating hordes. As an homage and expansion of the work of George Romero Shaun of the Dead is a resounding success, while the mixture of extremely inventive comedy and social observations, interspersed by tense horror set pieces makes this an unequivocal crowd-pleaser. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have never been funnier or more poignant in the central roles of Shaun and Ed, while Edgar Wright uses all his stylistic box of tricks from Spaced to demonstrate a fine eye for composition and brilliantly quirky cinematic vision.
The Disc: Shaun of the Dead was filmed in Super35 and Universal present the film at 2.28:1 which is slightly more opened up than your typical 2.35:1 presentation, but there are slight borders down the sides of the frame that suggests an overzealous attempt to reduce overscan is in play, so the viewable image is in fact only 1876p wide. That quibble aside Shaun of the Dead looks absolutely fantastic in the daytime sequences – particular in exterior scenes, the colour scheme is extremely rich, beautifully defined and naturalistic, skin tones in particular look very natural and brightness/contrast are very nicely weighted. Whites may appear a little hot and brightness a touch high in the morning of the Zombie Take-over , but I suspect Wright has ramped these up either artificially or through high exposure so he can reduce them gradually over the course of the film to give the appearance of daylight fading and night time slowly descending. The print used isn’t pristine, minute flecks and scratches appear sporadically, and grain can range from moderate to slightly thick, but it is always sharply defined and looks extremely film-like – certainly this transfer is more film-like than I’ve come to expect from Universal. Image detail is good; the transfer isn’t pin-sharp but it does look suitably hi-def and there doesn’t appear to be any blatant noise reduction in play. Black levels and shadow detail are strong and compression is very good.
For most of the film I’d have been happy to give this transfer a 9/10 or even 10/10, but there are two problems: The first is excessive use of Edge Enhancements, thick and very bright halos plague the image in the first hour or so - just look around the legs of the hoodies in the title sequence, or around the electrical store staff when Shaun is doing his morning meeting. The second is that the transfer isn’t quite as impressive in the latter stages of the hideout in The Winchester during the final act, generally appearing a little less film-like. Black levels also take a nosedive (often appearing a touch blue) and compression noise makes an appearance in the darker areas. This is a real shame as it’s very nearly a great transfer, rather than a very good one!
Audio comes in the form of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, and it does a pretty good job - albeit not quite up to the standards of the video presentation. Treble is a touch too harsh and there is some occasional tearing in both the louder audio elements and screaming dialogue. Bass is very aggressive but could definitely be a little tighter and audio dynamics are pretty solid – however in general music and some sound effects tend to be aggressively high in the mix and drown out the less prominent accompanying sound effects. On a more positive note the sound field is impressively immersive in all directions. Universal also offer DTS 5.1 dubs in French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
All extra features are ported over from the R2UK DVD release and thus are presented in standard definition, but there is a truly impressive amount of extra material on this disc - least of which are 4 separate audio commentaries, the best being the excellent commentary with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. Other highlights include an excellent Outtakes feature with some great ad-libbing from Nick Frost, a Plot Holes comic strip that fills in some of the blanks in the story, and a whole slew of fun and informative behind-the-scenes featurettes in the Raw Meat section.
You can read a more in-depth rundown of the Extra Features present on this BD in Matt Day’s review of the R2UK DVD.