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George A. Romero
Joshua Close, Scott Wentworth, Michelle Morgan, Joe Dinicol, Shawn Roberts, Amy Ciupak Lalonde, Philip Riccio, Megan Park, Chris Violette
Writing Credits:
George A. Romero

Shoot the dead.

A group of young film students run into real-life zombies while filming a horror movie of their own.

Box Office:
$2 million.
Opening Weekend
$275.061 thousand on 42 screens.
Domestic Gross
$952.620 thousand.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 5/20/2008

• Audio Commentary with Director George A. Romero, Director of Photography Adam Swica and Editor Michael Doherty
• “Character Confessionals”
• “The First Week” Featurette
• “The Roots” Featurette
• “Familiar Voices”
• “For the Record” Featurettes
• MySpace Contest Winners
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Diary Of The Dead (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 21, 2008)

Back when he made Night of the Living Dead in 1968, do you think director George A. Romero imagined he’d still be making zombie movies 40 years later? Probably not, but 2008 nonetheless sees the release of his fifth flick in the Dead series, Diary of the Dead.

Diary comes under the guise of a student film called The Death of Death by Jason Creed (Josh Close). We see some college kids as they make a mummy movie for class credit. While on location, Creed and his pals hear news that dead folks are coming to life. Creed goes to find his girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan) in her dorm. When he locates her, he meets up with his pals again and they head out for safety in a Winnebago. We follow their adventures as they attempt to stay alive amidst the undead.

As I mentioned at the start, Diary stands as Romero’s fifth Dead flick. In addition to 1968’s Night, he made 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, 1985’s Day of the Dead, and 2005’s Land of the Dead. With four prior efforts under his belt – as well as skillions of imitators over the decades – one may wonder if Romero has anything new to say with Diary.

Not really, especially since the film’s sole “innovation” has been done elsewhere. As I mentioned in the synopsis, Diary pretends to be a student film. It takes most of its footage from the video cameras operated by “Jason” and the others. Sound familiar? Yup, we’ve seen exactly the same techniques used in flicks like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield.

And used in a much more satisfying manner. One problem with Diary occurs because Romero is unwilling to give himself completely over to the pseudo-documentary premise. Unlike Cloverfield, Diary doesn’t purport to consist of simple “found footage”. At the very start, “Debra” tells us that she did post-production work to give “Jason’s” footage some extra zing via music cues, and we also get her narration and many cuts.

That’s fine; nothing says that this genre must stick to the same format as Cloverfield. However, the added music and narration do a lot to rob Diary of anything that would make it unique. That’s especially true for the score, as the presence of standard horror flick stingers means that the film loses any sense of immediacy or reality. It just becomes another zombie flick, albeit one shot on hand-held video cameras.

And there’s another flaw, as Romero schemes to find ways to provide more than one angle. We have “Jason’s” original camera, but via a shocking coincidence, the kids just happen to find another camcorder on the go! That’s a transparent ruse to allow for extra angles. Like the music, it just serves to detract from any potential believability, as we can’t buy into realism when served up with a variety of shot choices. If you want to go for the documentary vibe, then adhere to those rules; don’t try to have your cake and eat it, too.

The production choices are my main problems with Diary, but they’re not my only gripes. Romero chooses to infuse the flick with editorializing. Not only does he beat us over the head with obvious messages, but also he can’t quite keep his point of view straight. One minute the film endorses the proliferation of media sources as a way to get out the truth, but then it attacks folks who feel none of their experiences exist if they’re not filmed and the passive, voyeuristic nature of society. Which is it, George? Should we film everything or nothing?

Romero doesn’t know, and the vessels he uses to communicate his muddled messages make things work. Ironically, in a flick that attempts to feel like a real product made by non-professionals, the most amateurish elements come from the acting. Hoo boy, are these folks terrible thespians! To a one, they seem unnatural and fake. In a movie that relies heavily on a sense of reality, that’s a fatal flaw.

Granted, the script doesn’t help, as it forces them to speak terrible lines. For instance, when a zombie cop approaches them, one dude yells “I think he wants more than your license and registration!" That line might’ve been funny in a more traditional horror movie, but here it simply seems artificial, and it once again distracts us from the attempted realism of the project. We can’t buy into that side of things when the dialogue sounds so Hollywood.

Diary occasionally musters some good bits such as the gang’s encounter with the deaf Amish guy, but even the most interesting elements don’t connect because they falter under the flick’s premise. Diary wants the immediacy of the fake documentary format but it’s unwilling to sacrifice genre conventions. That makes it the worst of both worlds, as it becomes nothing more than a cheap horror flick with unrealized pretensions.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Diary 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 limitations of the source material, I thought the flick looked good.

Sharpness usually seemed solid. The shooting style meant lots and lots of out of focus elements, but those had nothing to do with the transfer itself. The DVD featured delineation that was perfectly appropriate for the various shots. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge enhancement. Source flaws also remained absent; I saw some video artifacts in low-light scenes, but those were inevitable.

Given the videotape origins, colors tended to be bland. The movie often made things look somewhat monochromatic, which made sense within the format. Though the hues never seemed memorable, they were fine for what I expected. Along the same path, blacks tended to be somewhat wan, while shadows usually appeared a bit opaque and dense.

All those criticisms and I still gave the image a “B+”? Yeah, that might not sound consistent, but this was an instance in which the objective reality didn’t match the subjective impression. Due to its “on the fly” video format, I honestly thought Diary would look terrible, but most of the time it offered very nice visuals. This was a much more pleasing presentation than I expected, so I felt a “B+” was appropriate.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Diary, it satisfied. As was the case with Cloverfield, I thought the nature of the multichannel mix violated the reality of the material. Yes, Diary explains the presence of music – which was unnecessary in the score-free Cloverfield - but it doesn’t give us a logical reason for the high-quality effects; they’re much better than we’d get through camcorder recordings.

Anyway, if I suspend disbelief, I think the soundtrack works fine. Audio quality was always good. Speech seemed concise and natural, without edginess or intelligibility issues. Music demonstrated very nice vivacity and range, as the score was full and rich. Effects did pack more of a punch than they should, though not to the same bass-pumping extreme heard in Cloverfield. The effects were strong and didn’t violate “reality” too much.

The soundfield also broadened things but didn’t embrace the multichannel material to a tremendously unrealistic degree. Music used the speakers in the most active manner, as the score emanated from the side and rear speakers. Effects mostly stayed in the front, where they showed pretty good movement and placement. The surrounds threw out a few effects but weren’t terribly active in that regard. Overall, this was a perfectly acceptable “B”-level soundtrack.

When we head to the extras, we open with an audio commentary from director George A. Romero, director of photography Adam Swica and editor Michael Doherty. All three sit together for a running, screen-specific discussion. They go over the film’s concept, cast and performances, shooting the flick and editing, camerawork, sets and locations, audio elements, and effects.

From start to finish, we get a competent commentary but not an especially stimulating one. Romero occasionally goes off on Official Aging Hippie rants about society, man, but otherwise the track stays pretty low-key and emphasizes nuts and bolts. It moves briskly and covers the flick pretty well, but it’s nothing especially involving.

Character Confessionals cover four of the film’s roles. We find reels for “Eliot” (6:06), “Tracy” (4:10), “Tony” (4:06), and “Debra” (5:21). These put the characters alone with the camera to discuss their thoughts about the events that befall them. None of them seem particularly interesting, though if you like Diary, they should prove interesting. I do like the presentation, though; if you go for the “Play All” option, it shows them in chronological order, not just character order.

Behind the scenes footage appears via the four-minute and 20-second The First Week. Independent filmmaker Michael Felsher follows the production for its first few days. Some decent footage appears, but there’s not much depth to be found in this quick piece.

A look at the project’s origins comes to us with The Roots. This two-minute and five-second program offers a short statement from Romero as he tells us that Diary will “reboot” the franchise. The reel essentially just promotes the flick.

Familiar Voices lasts five minutes, four seconds, as it provides some audio elements. When we hear media broadcasts in Diary, we get voice acting from a mix of notables like Guillermo Del Toro, Simon Pegg and Stephen King. “Voices” lets us hear outtakes from those three sessions, so it’s a cool addition. (Other famous folks appear in the film itself, but we don’t get their outtakes.)

Under the banner of For the Record, we get a collection of five featurettes. They include “Master of the Dead: Writer/Director George A. Romero” (13:18), “Into the Camera: The Cast” (17:04), “You Look Dead! Make-Up Effects” (10:56), “A New ‘Spin’ on Death: Visual Effects” (19:00) and “A World Gone Mad: Photography and Design” (20:23). Across these, we hear from Romero, Swica, producers Ara Katz, Sam Englebardt, Artur Spigel and Peter Grunwald, executive producer John Harrison, special make-up effects producer Greg Nicotero, special make-up effects supervisors Chris Bridges, Neil Morrill and Kyle Glencross, Spin VFX’s Steven Lewis and Colin Davies, costume designer Alex Kavanaugh, production designer Rupert Lazarus, and actors Josh Close, Joe Dinicol, Michelle Morgan, Shawn Roberts, Scott Wentworth, Philip Riccio, and Amy Lalonde.

Over the five programs, we hear about Romero’s work as director and how he got into filmmaking, the development of Diary and shooting it, cast, characters and performances, make-up and visual effects, cinematography and costume and production design. The first two seem a bit perfunctory and they fail to offer much in the way of memorable information. However, the other three prove considerably more useful and interesting. No real surprises emerge, but the pieces cover the material in a clear and concise manner.

Next we get something called MySpace Contest Winners. Here we find five homemade zombie films: grand prize winner “The Final Day” (3:02) and first prize winners “Deader Living Through Chemistry” (3:04), “Opening Night of the Living Dead” (3:16), “& Teller” (3:00) and “Run for Your Life” (1:43). Man, if these were the winners, I’d hate to see the other entries! Actually, “Chemistry” is pretty good, but these others seem much less satisfying.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Night of the Living Dead, Teeth, and The Mist. No trailer for Diary appears here.

After the reasonably effective Land of the Dead, I hoped George A. Romero could crank out another good reinvention of his 40-year-old zombie franchise. Unfortunately, Diary of the Dead flops in almost every imaginable way, mostly because it attempts a form of realism that it’s not willing to truly embrace. It’s a documentary-style flick that too heavily sticks with genre conventions. The DVD provides good picture and audio along with a pretty nice collection of supplements. I feel pleased with this release, but I don’t care for the movie itself.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.75 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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