The Disc Jockey 

A zombie classic comes back from the grave...and again, and again

A zombie classic comes back from the grave...and again, and again

For a decade now, music buyers have gnashed their teeth as early sub-par CDs were replaced by sparkling new remasters, which in turn are soon reissued with extra tracks and chunkier packaging. As a result, a fan might end up buying a cherished album in three or four editions, with no guarantee he’s seen the last. And the music business complains about getting ripped off.

DVD collectors face the same problem. A title might hit the streets in a no-frills edition as part of a studio’s “catalog dump,” then resurface in a double-disc special edition. Ask the poor saps who bought the first Memento disc, only to see the thing repackaged later with an entire extra disc of goodies. In some cases, the practice makes sense. A casual Lord of the Rings fan may not want to shell out $40 for four discs that commemorate every hair on Elijah Wood’s foot.

What to make, though, of a case like Anchor Bay’s current Divimax single-disc “special edition” of Dawn of the Dead? At a glance, it’s a solid investment: a high-definition transfer bolstered by a commentary, trailers and other extras. But what’s this? Anchor Bay plans to release a double-disc edition later this year with two versions of the film (including one of its many alternate cuts) and different supplements. One suspects the company just needed a stopgap release to piggyback on the current remake.

That said, anyone who isn’t a zombie completist may be satisfied with this edition. The second film in George A. Romero’s “Dead” trilogy, the 1978 Dawn of the Dead has a satiric sharpness and gory grandeur lacking even in the surprisingly strong remake. Like the remake, Romero’s film explores the aftermath of a contagion that revives the dead. A small band of survivors holes up in a deserted shopping mall, avoiding the rotting ghouls who stalk its Muzak-ridden corridors. Brain-dead but ravenous, the zombies embody the last gasp of a consumer culture left with little else to devour.

The original’s far grislier gut-munching will come as a shock to fans of the remake, as will its apocalyptic sweep. Explaining his difficulty in getting a fourth Dead film financed, Romero says he thinks more in terms of theme than character, and his Dawn is unquestionably cerebral-sometimes in disgustingly literal ways, as when one ghoul gets pureed by a helicopter blade. By contrast, the warm commentary track with Romero, his wife and collaborator Chris and gung-ho effects wizard Tom Savini leans more toward fond reminiscences of cast and crew peppered with anecdotes-like the mall walkers who wound up as zombie extras.

The question remains: is this enough to justify buying the disc when a larger edition will be out soon? A better question is whether you like the movie enough to want more, more, more when it comes to extras. Most viewers, I suspect, leave a lot of DVD supplements untouched, and a lot of so-called extras aren’t worth touching. For those who don’t have the time, patience, or interest to compare alternate cuts and other hardcore-cinephile must-haves, this Dawn still has a fair amount of meat on its bones. Unlike its cast.

WORTH RENTING: The Rundown, Peter Berg’s knockabout action comedy, with a charismatic lead performance by The Rock as a reluctant bounty hunter dispatched to the South American jungle. Too much Seann William Scott mugging for my tastes in the sidekick role, but as compensation there’s one of the most memorable action sequences of recent years: The Rock getting a beatdown from a tribe of scrawny acrobats. New this week.

COMING SOON: New Yorker Films has just announced a 20th-anniversary DVD edition of the Oscar-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, about the openly gay San Francisco councilman who was assassinated in 1978. Where New Yorker’s previous DVD releases have been disappointingly sparse, this promises three hours of bonus features, including footage from Milk’s candlelight memorial and an account of the case against his killer, Dan White. The disc arrives June 1. Coming May 25 from New Yorker: a pair of Robert Bresson masterpieces, A Man Escaped and his Arthurian retelling Lancelot of the Lake.

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