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Still filling his films with social satire, George A. Romero takes a different approach with LAND OF THE DEAD ($30)- the director’s first zombie opus after a twenty-year hiatus. Featuring a lot of black humor heaped on top of the requisite gore and social satire, LAND OF THE DEAD proves to be a lot more action packed and playful than Romero’s earlier zombie films. LAND OF THE DEAD takes place many years after the zombies brought about the downfall of human civilization. Isolated pockets of the living remain, once such pocket exists in Pittsburgh, inside a heavily fortified stronghold that has the river and electrified fences protecting it. At the center of the stronghold is Fiddler's Green, where the wealthy live in luxury, while the other living survivors exist in abject poverty. Ruling over this feudal society is Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), who has enough money to pay for the firepower and a private army, which keeps both the dead and rebellious poor at bay.

Although, the inhabitants of Fiddler's Green have managed to keep the dead out, the living still have basic needs, which requires that salvage parties leave the safety of the stronghold in search of provisions. The only way the living can leave the stronghold is in Dead Reckoning, a heavily armored vehicle constructed for such salvage missions. When Cholo DeMora (John Leguizamo) hijacks Dead Reckoning, Kaufman sends the vehicle’s designer Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) out to recover the seat of his power base. However, a bad situation is made even worse by the fact the zombies are starting to evolve, or at the very least, regain some small semblance of their past memories, which gives them enough brain power to lay siege on the under-protected stronghold. What follow is gunfire, explosions and zombies ripping the living to pieces (in plenty of gory detail). The cast of LAND OF THE DEAD also features Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Eugene Clark, Joanne Boland, Tony Nappo, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks, Jasmin Geljo and Maxwell McCabe-Lokos.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has made LAND OF THE DEAD available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. The 1080p presentation is terrific, and all things being equal, this is George Romero’s best looking movie. LAND OF THE DEAD is a dark movie, but I can’t say much is lost in any kind murkiness. Image sharpness, detail, clarity and dimensionality all received very high marks. Depending on the lighting, colors can be strong or a little muted, but the blood reds are always effectively conveyed. Blacks are inky and whites are completely stable. Shadow detail is quite good, but I attribute it to the way the dark sequences were shot. The elements from which LAND OF THE DEAD have been transferred appear relatively free from blemishes. Grain is ever present, but it does give LAND OF THE DEAD as somewhat gritty, film-like quality.

LAND OF THE DEAD is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Considering that Romero backs his story with a lot more action and gunfire, it should come as no surprise that LAND OF THE DEAD features a highly aggressive sound design. When weapons are going off, sound effects bounce, whiz and explode all over the soundstage, so you know all of the outlying channels are being deployed on a consistent basis. Even smaller sounds are given a terrific spread throughout all the speakers. The bass channel is deep, forceful and fully percussive. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand. A Spanish DTS 5.1 channel track is also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some extras. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with director George Romero, producer Peter Grunwald, and editor Michael Doherty. Featurettes include When Shaun Met George and Zombie Effects. Other bits include Storyboards, Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call, Scenes Of Carnage and The Remaining Bits. Universal's U-Control interface is utilized for an interactive version of the movie that provides in context picture-in-picture, pop-up supplements (requires a Profile 1.1 player).

As George Romero movies go, LAND OF THE DEAD won’t be everyone’s cup of entrails. Personally, I thought LAND OF THE DEAD was a lot of fun, plus Romero showed that even as the elder statesman of zombie movies, he has changed with the times and is capable of taking a modest Hollywood budget and turning it into a movie that looks and feels like it cost a whole lot more. The Blu-ray presentation is just great. Recommended.



Land of the Dead (Unrated Director's Cut) [Blu-ray] (2005)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2008 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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