Night of the Living Dead appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I thought colorization went away in the Eighties, but I guess I assumed too much. This new Dead DVD offered a colorized take on the flick, and it didnít succeed.
Inevitably, the biggest issue connected to the image will connect to the artificial colors. Iím not sure who this was possible, but the tones looked too dull and too bright at the same time. The palette went with a very subdued look that tended to muted hues. We got flat blues and yellows for the most part. These lacked vivacity and came across as bland.
So whyíd I think they also looked too bright? Because they maintained a fake and artificial appearance. The colors were too peppy for this sort of flick, and they never came across as believable. They were a step up over the badly illogical hues of older colorized movies, but they still didnít work. Never did Dead look like a movie shot in color. It always presented an odd and somewhat garish appearance. The choice of tones - such as in the bright blue interior walls of the house - seemed strange, as I couldnít imagine that the production design would have looked this way if theyíd shot the film in color in the first place.
Sharpness varied, partially - but not entirely - due to the source material. Dead was shot on the cheap more than 35 years ago, and that showed. Sharpness seemed decent at best, but much of the movie came across as fairly fuzzy and indistinct. Some of these concerns related to the original photography, but not all of them. The colorization process rendered the image softer than normal and gave the movie a flat look. No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I didnít notice more than slight edge enhancement.
Print flaws were fairly minor for a low-budget flick from 1968. Grain could be moderately heavy, but that didnít come as a surprise. Otherwise, I noticed occasional marks, specks, and thin vertical lines, but nothing extreme. In general, the image maintained a fairly good level of cleanliness.
Not surprisingly, these colors also affected the rest of the image. The colorization really affected the black levels, as they gave the dark elements a distinctive blue tint. Shadows were erratic, but a lot of that came from the source. Low-light shots tended to look pretty dense, but much of that occurred due to the original photography. The colorization exacerbated this, though, as the added hues rendered matters more opaque than originally.
I tried to go into this version of Dead with an open mind, but nothing about what I saw convinced me that colorization works. The biggest problem remains one of intention. Dead was composed for black and white, and even the best rendered colors in the world wonít look natural because the film wasnít shot with them in mind. It was lit and shot for black and white, and that made it unattractive any other way. Ultimately, Dead looked crummy as a colorized flick.
Not content to alter just the visuals, this new DVD of Night of the Living Dead came with two remixed soundtracks. It included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 editions. The pair sounded virtually identical and I noticed no distinctions between them.
Really, the 5.1 remixes came across as little more than glorified mono. They focused on the center channel and spread the music and effects across the front in a rudimentary way. Little in the way of accurately localized or distinctive audio appeared, as the sound mostly stayed general and loose. Surround usage remained minor and didnít add much to the package. Some early thunder moved decently across the channels, but not much of value occurred. Dead is a pretty claustrophobic experience, so it lacked many opportunities for useful expansion. This combined with the limits of the source work meant an undefined soundfield.
Audio quality seemed weak, but most of that stemmed from the low-budget source material. Speech tended to come across as thin and lackluster, with a moderate amount of edginess. The lines remained reasonably intelligible, however, and were fine given their origins, though the remixes added a little reverberation to matters. The echo more negatively affected effects, which usually sounded broad and without definition. The mix took on too much of a sense of hollowness. Some decent bass popped up for louder effects like thunder or explosions, but this also created an impression of denseness for other elements. Music was more concise but not by a ton, as the score was fairly tinny and without much range. Although the original material suffered from its own problems, the 5.1 mixes exacerbated these issues and didnít improve anything.
Happily, one of the DVDís extras compensated for these image and audio problems. The DVDís producers saw fit to include the original black and white version of Dead along with the colorized take. The package refers to this as a ďrestoredĒ edition, but I donít know how much work they put into it. Really, it looks a lot like the colorized take without the added hues. It presents virtually all of the same print concerns, though it seems sharper and better balanced since it lacks the concerns inherent in the colorization process.
It also comes with the original monaural soundtrack. Itís not a great mix due to the source, but it seems clearer and more concise than the loose and boomy remixes. This DVD stands as one of 72,000 home video versions of Dead, and I donít know how it compares to the others. However, I felt fairly satisfied with this transfer, both in regard to audio and visuals. Could it look and sound a bit better? Yes, but it presented good quality in general when I considered the limits of the source material. I didnít like the colorized version of the movie, but as long as we get a good edition of the original black and white - and monaural - flick, Iím happy.
Note that the DVDís package lists a mono soundtrack along with the 5.1 remixes. This is true only if you count the black and white version along with the colorized one. Thereís no mono option for the colorized take, and the B&W edition only presents the original single-channel audio.
An unusual extra, we also find an audio commentary from Mystery Science Theater 3000ís Mike Nelson. He offers a running, screen-specific chat that comes short on information and long on snotty remarks. Occasionally Nelson tells us some actual facts about the participants, but he often makes up these tidbits and gives us comically false details. He also offers many snide comments about the story, the pacing, and the performances. Yeah, the film warrants some of this, but Nelsonís attempts to be clever and witty miss the forest for the trees.
Perhaps his mockery would work better if he presented funnier cracks. Unfortunately, he only occasionally manages to prompt a smile. Most of the jabs seem lame and obvious, and they come across as mean-spirited. The track also suffers from lots of dead air, though given the unfunny nature of the remarks, this may not be a bad thing. Frankly, I donít know whoíll enjoy this commentary. Fans of Dead will probably be bothered by the nasty take on the flick, and the track isnít amusing enough to entertain others. Itís a weird commentary and not a useful or enjoyable one.
Two minor supplements finish the set. We get two trailers for Dead along with one each for Carnival of Souls and Flesh Eaters. All but the last one come colorized. Finally, Separated at Death offers a comedic comparison of Deadís characters and some celebrities. We see a picture of the character and then look at a similar one of the star. For example, it posits that one of the zombies looks like Peter Boyle, while another resembles Courtney Love. Many of them seem like stretches but some work and offer a bit of amusement.
Despite many amateurish elements and flaws, Night of the Living Dead holds up well after more than 35 years. It succeeds as a horror movie in spite of its problems and remains probably the best example of its genre. The DVD presents a colorized image that looked soft and unattractive, and the remixed 5.1 soundtracks failed to improve upon the original monaural audio.
I gave Dead a ďBĒ for supplements simply because it included the original black and white, monaural version of the film. Without that, the extras seemed weak, as the only significant one came from a crummy and unfunny ďcomedicĒ audio commentary. If you want a decent version of the original movie for a low price, then you might want to give this set a look. Itís definitely not worth a purchase for the ďupdatedĒ version or its supplements, though.