Few things are better in life than a Wright/Pegg/Frost (I’ll throw in Jessica Stevenson for good measure) triple decker – the artistic entourage behind Shaun of the Dead and its worthy successor, Hot Fuzz.
Shaun of the Dead was something of a coming out party for the trio, as Americans were never really exposed to Spaced. In the midst of a pop-culture zombie revival (kick started by fellow British filmmaker, Danny Boyle), Shaun of the Dead came out of nowhere, starring two blokes Americans never heard of, pitching one of toughest kinds of movie to sell – a satirical horror flick.
The cinematic landscape is littered with corpses of films with similar ambitions, and with the zombie sub genre reaching the point of over saturation, the odds were stacked against Shaun of the Dead.
But director Edgar Wright and his comrades succeeded where others have failed, creating a brilliant collaboration that yielded arguably the best horror film since Wes Craven’s own satirical take on the genre, Scream.
Universal has done an admirable job of bringing the undead masterpiece stateside, with a Blu-ray worthy of its place in genre history.
It doesn’t have a large helping of new supplemental material not found in earlier DVD releases, but it does fit almost all existing content, along with Blu-ray specific features like U-Control and BD Live, onto one 50GB Blu-ray disc.
It’s almost good enough to make me wish I lived in a country that had cool pubs.
Billed as a “ZomRomCom” (zombie romantic comedy), Shaun of the Dead has more in common with John Landis’ An American Werewolf in Common than Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Romero’s series of zombie films.
The premise is a loving homage to the Romero classics, with the dead rising from the grave (they tend to do that), as Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his sloth-like friend, Ed (Nick Frost), navigate their way through zombie hordes to their local watering hole as refuge. On the way, Shaun attempts to reconnect with his girlfriend and earn his family’s respect.
Yet, the film is a lot more complex than that. Shaun is someone who has wasted most of his life away, and is teetering dangerously close to do the same with his relationship to his girlfriend, Liz.
The biggest running joke of the first third of the movie is that Shaun is seemingly a zombie himself; Shaun and Ed are completely unaware of the zombie apocalypse that has broken out around them, as they go about their daily routine.
What sells this entire film is the chemistry between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and the wonderful cast that surrounds them. Most of our UK audience will recognize actors like Dylan Moran from “Black Books” and Bill Nighy from his endless list of credits (long before Americans knew him as Davy Jones), but to those of us on the other side of the pond, it was a revelation. Nighy alone threatens to steal almost every scene he’s in, right out from under Pegg and Frost.
The film retains its sharp humor throughout, without sacrificing its horrific side. It’s a careful balancing act, that proved divisive amongst critics in regards to the climax, but one that ultimately pays off. And like Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, it subsequently feels so human, because fear and humor are natural bedfellows.
The clever marketing and framing of the film as a romantic comedy is not a simple stunt, but rather the heart and soul of the production. Shaun’s awkward campaign through emotional turmoil feels believable, and the love he shares for a friend in the face of mounting disapproval and unthinkable terror is touching.
This is a story about relationships, that just happens to have the trappings of a zombie outbreak.
It’s tough to walk away from the film and not enjoy it on any multitude of levels – it is simply that entertaining. Edgar Wright and his crew have crafted something special, something that will be remembered as the zeitgeist of its decade.
Shaun of the Dead serves up a pretty sweet 1080p transfer, framed in its native 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with some caveats.
It features minimal grain, and the incredibly rich color palette courtesy of its DP, David Dunlap, really pops on Blu-ray. The exteriors shine in high definition, and all the aged buildings, pubs and streets give an added texture that is foreign to my American peers.
The film benefits from a colorful, classical look, which is something of a welcome throwback in a day and age where the vast majority of genre films feature overt color burn or a slick, glossy sheen that feels fabricated.
The downside is that while the transfer is sharp, it’s almost too sharp, and it exposes the film to some degree. It becomes obvious, pretty quickly, what parts of the production were shot on a sound stage and what parts were not. It’s not a deal breaker, but for those who consider themselves students of the form, it will be hard to overlook.
Regardless, it’s a good looking transfer, and won’t disappoint fans.
Few genres rely so heavily on audio more than horror; a mere sound effect can illicit terror from an audience when coupled with the right image. Zombie films, especially.
Shaun of the Dead is no exception.
Baring a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track, Shaun of the Dead sounds superb. Every creak, zombie moan, shotgun blast comes through the speaker with astounding clarity. The mix cleverly balances dialogue and sound effects, with neither overwhelming the other. The film features an eclectic soundtrack, including one of my favorite Queen songs of all-time, and everything resonates nicely.
The film also boasts an ingenious use of directional audio, along with great use of background noise. You really get a sense of a living, breathing city as all the audio elements of a scene – from zombies to cars – come together to create a coherent world.
For a horror fan, it’s an aural delight.
Shaun of the Dead hits Blu-ray on a single BD-50 disc with scaled one-sheet poster artwork for home video release.
But that’s just the physical case.
Cast and crew threw everything, including the kitchen sink, into the supplemental material for the film. It features not one or two or even three, but four commentary tracks – one of which is from the zombies featured in the film. The rest are manned by cast and crew, usually funny and always informative.
The sheer amount of material from commentary alone is indicative of how much the crew enjoyed this production, because there’s an endless laundry list of additional footage.
Shaun of the Dead is a U-Control title, one that touts storyboards and a pop-up trivia track for fans. There’s also a collection of deleted scenes with commentary, extended footage used for television sequences, production diaries, cast diaries, trailers and a photo gallery.
That’s not touching stuff like featurettes created exclusively detailing plot holes, video footage of Pegg and Frost goofing around, extended takes and other on set shenanigans.
It’s an impressive amount of material to wade through, and when you add in D-Box and BD Live support, it’s tough to think of a better package for devout fans.
I saw Shaun of the Dead in theaters four times. I’m pretty obsessive when it comes to zombie fare, from film to books to everything in between. I’ve seen the American take on the undead, the Italian take, the Japanese take, and so on.
But who would’ve thought that it’d be the British, between Boyle and Wright, that would leave such a lasting imprint on a sub genre of horror that refuses to die?
Shaun of the Dead is not only memorable simply for being an entertaining horror flick (though it works quite well on that level), but primarily as a sly satire that pays tribute to its past with humor and for its willingness to mix various elements of storytelling. The screenplay is clever, the performances compelling, its scary when necessary and genuinely touching when the script calls for that too.
Wright, Pegg and Frost work so well together that it looks almost seamless, and although this stretches back to their Spaced days, one wishes that they’d simply work together forever.
Shaun of the Dead is arguably one of the best genre films of the decade, and has received an equal amount of care with its Blu-ray debut. It looks great, sounds great and has compiled an impressive set of supplemental material for fans on one disc.
If you buy one horror film from this decade, this should be the one.