There are moments when sound, vision, and performance all fit together perfectly, and if you can get three or four of them in a film, then you have a good movie by technical default. The British 'romantic comedy with zombies' Shaun of the Dead has nine such moments, ranging from a glorious electro party all the way to a family confrontation that made me laugh hard enough to pass my drink through my nose. As such, it needs no technical qualification: it's a good, often great film that manages to walk a fine line between gut-busting comedy and gut-munching splatterfest, taking British lad and DJ cultures, finely cultivated slackerdom, love at its most sincere, and all the great zombie films of the past and crafting something new and vibrant out of the many components.
Think of what An American Werewolf in London was to lycanthropes. Think of what Fright Night was to vampires. That is what Shaun of the Dead is to zombies, with a proper dash of Nick Hornby. Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a decent thirtysomething with a dead-end job at a TV store (Foree Electronics, ha!) and a lack of ambition. He's perfectly happy just being himself and hanging out at the Winchester, his pub of choice, with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost), a lummox of brilliant comedic timing and less-than-delicate social skills. Unfortunately, his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield, from Tim Roth's The War Zone) has had enough and feels the need to dump him. It would be bad enough if Shaun just had to deal with that emotional tragedy. But alas, the dead have begun to rise, and our man Shaun must save his Mum and his ex-girlfriend lest all that defines us as humans is lost.
Like Made and like Mean Streets, which it resembles in no other way, Shaun of the Dead understands the weird intangibles of male friendships. This proves an immeasurable strength when introduced into the emotionally stingy genre of zombie apocalypse. Zombie films by nature tend to skimp on developing relationships beyond obvious signifers like expectant mother or parent/child, so that one can feel appropriately horrified without developing feelings for those involved. It's a similar philosophy behind the disgusting way that the MPAA rationalizes violence on a mass scale but abhors it on an individual one. How many movies kill off 50 or more people/soldiers/aliens/orcs, yet still get a PG-13?
Wright and Pegg will have none of it. Death by zombie is horrifying, grotesque, and really an obscenity against how we view death. It's the darker side of the resurrection parableit may be the only zombie film that the late great Elisabeth Kübler-Ross could have enjoyed. After the decent Dawn of the Dead remake and the execrable Resident Evil sequel, audiences hoping for something distinctive in the realm of zombie cinema have something to be thankful for.
Universal's disc for the film looks wonderful, especially considering how packed it is (three different 5.1 audio tracks, two commentaries, exhaustive supplements). The soundscape is spot-on, working the low frequencies at opportune moments and making every quavering Gahanic zombie-groan pop at the viewer, and the 'Scope image looks great. Of the two commentary tracks, the more enjoyable one features director Wright and star Pegg. The other, which features Pegg, Frost, Ashfield, and costars Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran, is pleasant enough but lacks the other's rapid-fire camaraderie and anecdotes.
There are deleted scenes aplenty, heaps of background materials and production documentation (including the extensive storyboards that Frost and Pegg used to pitch the film), and a section called "Plot Holes" in which three major gaps in the film's narrative are explained with high-quality comics art. It's a step that other movies could certainly benefit from exploring. At the very least, it will tide the viewer over until the theoretical sequel: From Dusk Till Shaun.