"Diary of the Dead" DVD Review
May 23, 2008 by James Harvey
George A. Romero is back with the newest installment of his Dead series, this time giving us a look at a zombie outbreak through the multiple avenues of the media. Here, Romero gives us a modern-day look at the outbreak and how, today, it remains still the exact same story, but with a few changes. Toss in some student filmmakers, plenty of social commentary, and some good ol' zombie carnage and here you have Diary of the Dead. However, is this new take on the zombie genre a fresh reboot, or just another tired retread? All will be answered after the movie synopsis!
George A. Romero returns to the director’s seat to bring us a modern-day take on the “Dead” series that he started way back in 1968. Rather than picking up where the last film left off, Diary of the Dead instead rewrites the Dead universe a bit with a new tale of zombie infestation and their gradual takeover of United States. Young film students are caught in the crossfire and document the entire process on their handheld cameras, uploading their footage for the world to see online for everyone to see. As the zombie epidemic grows, it turns out that finding the truth behind it may rest in the camcorder these young students use to document the carnage.
Many will simply cite this movie as "Cloverfield meets Night of the Living Dead, and, for the most part, they'd be right. It's a superficial connection, but a valid one nonetheless. But, what this film lacks, that Cloverfield did have, was tension. Given the approach of this film, I wasn't actually expecting any, especially since the narration leaves little excitement and most of the scenes are telegraphed, whether it's with ominous music, narration, or sheer predictability. To me, that's a shame, as, with how the film is handled, there should have been a lot more "jump" moments then what we actually end up getting. However, the narration over the film cuts out any of that, and we're left with more of an alienated documentation of what happens to the narrator in the film. And, since the narrator doesn't appear to be scared, neither is audience.
Still, the movie did manage to keep me intrigued for the duration of its running time. I found myself getting involved in the film at many points, but then was jerked out of when the narration popped up and told me what I was actually seeing, which is a problem I'll get to a bit later. As I said earlier, what I liked about this film is, basically, being a fly on the wall. Whether it's during the hospital scene, in the farm house, or at the mansion, when we get those prolonged scenes without the needless narration, I found myself glued to the screen, and I was able to get really involved with what was unraveling on screen. When a zombie would start shuffling into frame, or we'd get a shot of a huge horde of creatures descending onto the barn, I was absolutely hooked and was glad to see how those played out. They worked as they should.
There's even one scene toward the end, as a damsel attempts to run away from a zombie, that is drop-dead hilarious and is a great dash of comedy on Romero's part. For a good chunk of the film, the premise works. It throws us into the situation and it's ridiculously tense. Sure, the person behind the camera is remarkably calm for what's happening, and, sure, some of the camera angles and shots, even with the constant explanations on how they got the shot, are impossible, but it works nonetheless. And to me, that is why I think Diary of the Dead succeeds to a point. It's only when things quiet down for a spell that the problems become evident.
I even appreciate how Romero handles the gore that comes along with the movie. There's one scene where the gore comes with a devastating emotional scene for one of the characters. It's not excessive or tiresome, but works appropriately with the movie.
There were a couple bigger problems I had with the film, namely some of the forced dialogue, the acting, and the sometimes uneven special effects. I'll tackle the dialogue first.
The dialogue comes off as forced, pushing all the subtext to the forefront without any subtly whatsoever. We're spoon-fed ever single detail, every single motion, and what every single event is supposed to mean both on the surface and on a subtextual level, as well. The narration seemed extraneous at times, unnecessary, and usually pretentious. In fact, it reeks of the "college talk" that most people find themselves using after being at a secondary education facility after a mere month. Perhaps this is all done on purpose, with Romero poking fun at how obnoxious and pretentious people can get. On the other hand, that doesn't seem to be the case here, and it simply brings the movie to a screeching halt at times.
The anti-climactic ending of the movie is all the more hindered by the narrator, who feels the need to tell us what we should be getting from this movie when it's pretty obvious from what we see on screen.
As for the acting, I found it fine, for most of the movie, but the big problem is, at times, no one actually seems scared. Sure, they yell and get upset at whoever's holding camera, and they occasionally display a worried look, but rarely do they seem as though they're fighting for their lives. There are moments here and there, but, for the most part, the zombies seem to be a nuisance on their travels to safety.
The final problem, to me, is the special effects. Now, most of them are great, and near flawless, but there are times when the CGI is just weak. Not to pick on the scene again, but, again, at the end of the movie, we're treated to a rather weak CGI sequence where, after a zombie, strung up by it's hair to a tree, and obviously a female, it blown to bits, leaving only from the upper jaw up still strung up. We get a close of the zombies remains, with the eyes still moving, looks weak and somewhat cheesy. It sticks out like a sore thumb where earlier CGI use in the movie is blended nicely. Another scene of bad special effects is the scene showing a collection of zombies trapped in a pool. The digital effects there are severely lacking, though budget reasons are likely the cause.
This doesn't sink the movie by any means, but I feel the uneven special effects should be noted, especially when the special effects in Romero's previous effort, Land of the Dead were much, much better. However, like I said, budget limitations are the likely cause and I can't really hold that against this film. The dialogue, however, I can, and do.
Now, it sure sounds like I hated this movie, but I didn't. I found it a bit of a letdown, yes, but I still found myself engaged in the movie for most of the running time, only retracting when one its problems overtook the positive aspects of Diary of the Dead. Regardless, I'd still Recommend this movie to Romero fans, without question. However, for those looking for a good-scare, or perhaps those interested in a good scare, I'd say give this flick a Rental, but leave open the possibility of the purchase down the line. It has many redeeming qualities and it's a pretty entertaining romp, despite the problems it has. Diary of the Dead isn't the strongest installment in the Romero Dead series, but it still remains a worthy installment, nonetheless.
Released through the Dimension EXTREME Home Video banner, Diary of the Dead comes packaged in a standard Amaray case with both a foil-cardboard slipcover and an insert. And the slick packaging matches the slick menu interface and overall transfer of the release itself. The audio and video for this movie, naturally, top-notch. I noticed no imperfections in the transfer, and the audio was crisp, clear, and handled admirably. Just a great presentation, inside and out, for this release.
As can be expected, the DVD has a well-rounded batch of extra features. The first, and probably most exciting extra for Romero fans is the audio commentary By Writer/Director George Romero, Director Of Photography Adam Swica And Editor Michael Doherty. If you want to hear more from the legend himself, this is a good place to start! After that we have "Character Confessionals," containing new confessions from the movie's character. There's also "The First Week" and "The Roots," two short behind-the-scenes featurettes on making the movie. Then we have the "Familiar Voices" featurette which enlightens us to a few surprise cameos we may have missed in the flick. "For The Record: The Making Of Diary Of The Dead is a feature-length documentary that goes into great detail about the creation of Romero's latest feature.
Rounding off the disc is a section devoted to the "Myspace Contest Winners." This section contains five short films - “The Final Day,” “Deader Living Through Chemistry,” “Opening Night of the Living Dead,” “& Teller,” and “Run For Your Life” - and are all worth watching. Whether you dig comedic zombies, running zombies, or character-driven stories, there's something in here for you. All five winning entries are shown in great quality, in terms of video and audio transferfs, and should definitely be checked out. It's a great way to wrap up a pretty stellar batch of DVD extras.
Overall, Diary of the Dead is worth checking out, especially for Romero fans, and I would definitely stamp it as Recommended. For Non-Romero fans, you may want to rent this movie before deciding whether or not to purchase it. It's a good movie, has some great effects, and it's a solid story. However, that being said, I do find that it also has some problems, too, problems I've listed above in my review. There are a few faulty effects, the narration can sometimes stop the movie cold, and the subtext is usually pushed right to the forefront of the film, which can occasionally come off as sounding somewhat pretentious. Regardless, I still found it to be enjoyable, despite being somewhat letdown by the final product. Diary of the Dead comes up as a mixed bag, but, still, it's required watching for Romero and horror-movie enthusiasts.
Diary of the Dead is now available to own.