Day of the Dead appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the movie’s age and low-budget origins, the transfer looked surprisingly terrific.
Only a few issues connected to sharpness occurred. Occasionally I saw some wider shots that appeared slightly soft and ill defined. However, those seemed rare, and the majority of the flick came across as nicely crisp and detailed. I saw no problems related to jagged edges and moiré effects, and only some light edge enhancement showed up occasionally. Print flaws looked remarkably minor. A speck or two popped up during the movie, and the image seemed a little grainier than I expected at times, but otherwise the flick seemed clean and smooth.
Since most of it took place in an underground military installation, Dead didn’t feature many opportunities for vivid hues, but the transfer replicated the colors appropriately. These tones came across clearly and seemed acceptably distinct and full. Black levels were deep and dense, and low-light shots seemed clean and accurate. Again, the setting included many images that prominently used shadows, and they were well developed. Overall, Day of the Dead presented a satisfying picture.
Though both the Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and DTS ES 6.1 soundtracks of Day of the Dead got “B” grades from me, they earned those marks for different reasons. The DTS mix offered a decidedly more active soundfield. The front area still dominated, but various elements seemed better localized and the surrounds added more to the piece. The rear channels presented a fair amount of ambience and some distinct audio at times, such as the roar of the surf on a beach.
By comparison, the Dolby track seemed closer to monaural. Some ambience came from the sides and rear, and music presented decent stereo imaging, but the mix stayed more restricted. However, the Dolby version also felt better balanced, for some flaws popped up during the DTS mix. Sometimes elements transitioned poorly, and different parts of the spectrum dominated too heavily at times. For no apparent reason, one speaker might become a little louder than the others, and this imbalance became a distraction. The Dolby mix was less ambitious but it also seemed less flawed.
Audio quality was pretty similar for the pair. Speech usually sounded reasonably distinct but a little thin, and some edginess occurred on occasion. Music was similarly decent but unexceptional. The score didn’t present a lot of range, though bass response sometimes came across pretty well. Effects were acceptably realistic and clean, and only a little distortion crept through at times. Dynamic range seemed fine for a flick of this era. Low-end could have been richer, but the bass was solid given the age of the movie. Overall, the two audio tracks of Day of the Dead had their pros and cons, but they both seemed somewhat above average for a film from 1985.
Apparently this cut of Day of the Dead altered some of the original film’s audio. From what I’ve read, it changed or deleted a few elements. Some fans seem up in arms over these alterations, while others appear to think they’re very minor. Since I never saw the flick before I got this DVD, I can’t comment on my personal reactions, but I wanted to mention the controversy nonetheless.
For this new two-disc edition of Day of the Dead, we get a nice selection of extras. Most appear on the second platter, but DVD One includes two audio commentaries. The first features writer/director George Romero, actress Lori Cardille, special makeup effects artist Tom Savini, and production designer Cletus Anderson. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific track.
Despite my dislike of the movie itself, this commentary seems fun. The participants cover a lot of useful ground. We get information about alterations from Romero’s original plans for the flick and hear a lot about locations and sets from Anderson. Cardille presents the actor’s point of view while Savini lets us know the secrets behind the gruesome creations. The four also get into some general material and anecdotes as they reflect on their experiences and the movie’s legacy. Almost no dead air appears during this lively and entertaining discussion. Fans will definitely enjoy the chat, and even those of us who think the movie bites might like it.
The second commentary presents filmmaker Roger Avary all on his own, and he offers a running, screen-specific track. Avary has no formal connection to Day. Instead, the co-writer of Pulp Fiction and the director of The Rules of Attraction, Avary essentially is just a fan with a résumé. He clearly adores Day and he tells us that over and over again. Avary gets into a few moderately interesting subjects like his one contact with Romero, his work with Savini, and his dream about a deleted scene.
However, many gaps show up through the commentary, and Avary doesn’t inform us of much more than his strong affection for the flick. He doesn’t seem all that educated about Day, and he occasionally seems to be under the impression that there were only two movies in the Dead series. Sometimes Avary notes the existence of Night, but other times he refers to the “two” films in the series and presents the impression that Dawn began the series. I didn’t find much to enjoy in this banal commentary.
When we go to DVD Two, we get a mix of additional supplements. First up we find The Many Days of Day of the Dead, a newly assembled documentary about the flick. It runs 38 minutes and 35 seconds and tosses out the usual combination of movie snippets, behind the scenes elements, and interviews with Romero, Savini, Anderson, Cardille, special makeup effects artist Greg Nicotero, producer David Ball, assistant director Chris Romero, and actors Joe Pilato and Howard Sherman.
”Days” gives us a fairly satisfying look at the film. It starts with the flick’s origins and a discussion of the script and budgetary concerns. From there we get a little info about casting and then launch into a general examination of the shoot. Effects and other production-related topics dominate. A lot of the information already appears in the Romero, et al., commentary, but the addition of the behind the scenes materials helps make “Days” a winning program.
For more footage in that domain, we shift to Day of the Dead: Behind the Scenes. This 30-minute and 50-second collection offers exactly what its title implies: videotaped footage from Savini’s archives. We see effects tests, makeup applications, and how the elements worked on the set. “Behind the Scenes” could have used some narration to tie it together, but it’s still a cool package of footage.
To get a look at one Dead location’s “real life”, we find the Gateway Commerce Center Promo. This eight-minute and 12-second ad shows the film’s main location in its normal state. This makes for a fun archival extra.
Next we location an Audio Interview with Richard Liberty. This 15-minute and 43-second piece was taped for presentation on a fan website back in 2000. Liberty talks about his career in general and offers some specifics about Day. The poor quality of the recording makes it tough to take at times, but Liberty includes enough some good notes, so the track merits a listen.
When we move to the “Still Galleries”, we get many different components. Production Stills presents 66 shots from the set. Behind the Scenes splits in Part 1 and Part 2. The first includes 95 images, while the second offers 141 frames. These mostly show pictures of makeup and effects, though some storyboards appear in Part 2. Posters and Advertising shows 60 frames of those materials, while Memorabilia details items related to the flick in its 52 images. Zombie Makeup provides 57 close-ups of actors in decay, and Continuity Stills shows 27 Polaroids intended to prevent mistakes.
Inside the trailers domain, we locate three of the movie’s theatrical ads, while TV Spots includes three more of those promos. The George A. Romero Biography falls in line with Anchor Bay’s usual high standards for those listings. It seems long and detailed and is definitely worth a read. The DVD’s booklet includes an essay from Michael Felsher plus sketches in a format that emulates a journal kept by Dr. Logan. Felsher tries very hard to convince us that Day is a great flick.
For those with DVD-ROM drives, they can check out the movie’s original screenplay and some production notes. Apparently, this is the famous longer version of the flick that Romero couldn’t afford to shoot. The script and notes appear as PDF files, but for reasons unknown, I couldn’t get them to open correctly. If you can make the disc work, however, they sound like cool extras.
I know that Day of the Dead maintains a pretty intense fan base, but I can’t count myself as a member of that club. I thought the flick seemed dull and poorly made in general. However, the DVD itself is a nice piece of work. With very good picture and sound plus a quality roster of supplements, most fans should feel pleased with it. I can’t recommend it to anyone without a pre-existing adoration for Day, however, as the movie failed to impress me in any way.