Sunday, August 15, 2010

DVD Review: Survival of the Dead: 2-Disc Ultimate Undead Edition DVD


2-Disc Ultimate Undead Edition DVD

“Death isn’t what it used to be”

RUN TIME: 90 Min.
DIRECTOR: George A. Romero
CAST: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Monroe, Devon Bostick

SYNOPSIS: Immediately following the apocalyptic events of DIARY OF THE DEAD we follow Sarge and his band of AWOL soldiers as they seek refuge on Plum Island off the coast of Delaware. Once there they find themselves in the middle of two patriarchs locked in an ideological struggle for power and control.

 THE FILM: SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD opens with narration by Sarge (Alan Van Sprang), the leader of the AWOL soldiers from DIARY OF THE DEAD, detailing the snafu that leads to their departure from the ranks, its tense, and a great intro. Oddly, Sarge comes across sympathetically considering what an asshole he was in DIARY, but his character is well developed in SURVIVAL and when it comes to the zombie apocalypse we can’t all be angels, right? We are then introduced to the inhabitants of Plum Island, Delaware; the Muldoon’s and the O’Flynn’s. The Muldoon’s, led by Seamus (Richard Fitzpatrick) believe for religious reasons that the undead should be quarantined not terminated, while the O’Flynn’s, led by Patrick (Kenneth Welsh) take a kill ‘em all approach. In a western-style confrontation Patrick O’Flynn is banished from the island, sent packing on a boat headed towards the mainland, his daughter Janet (Kathleen Monroe) chooses to stay behind. Back on the mainland Sarge and his men take notice of a video on the web featuring O’Flynn detailing the splendor and security of Plum Island. They make their way to the coordinates detailed in the video, once there they’re ambushed by O’Flynn and his men who are looking to take advantage of people lured in by the video. An intense gunfight breaks out between the factions and is interrupted by the undead. The battle is well staged and there’s action and zombies aplenty. Barely making it out with his skin, O’Flynn forms an uneasy alliance with Sarge, together they pilot a ferry boat to Plum Island where they are none too welcomed by the Muldoon’s. SURVIVAL has little subtext, it’s blunt with little social commentary. Romero is riffing here, having a bit of fun with his creation and I can’t fault him for that. Not since DAWN has a Romero film been so rife with comedy and humor, though LAND is pretty campy. Welsh’s portrayal of O’Flynn is fantastic, he riveting and steals the show, at times recalling Dennis Hopper from LAND. While the acting is good all around, the dialogue is uneven, at times clever then clunky, often in the same breath. However, I think Romero’s dialogue has always been a bit spotty, and I can forgive this. The cinematography is probably the best of any of the DEAD films, the scope is far wider than any previous entry, and the digital cinematography captures the forest and coastline of the island quite well, the interior of the forests are particularly well filmed. SURVIVAL is heavy on gore; scalping, pitchforks, blood and guts, head shots, and a scene involving fire extinguisher that recalls the defibrillator scene from DIARY, really creative stuff, Romero knows a good kill when he sees one. The downside, a lot of the effects is SyFy Channel level CGI due to financial restrictions. It’s difficult to look back on Savini’s amazing practical effects from DAWN and DAY, which hold up so well to this day, and not be a bit disheartened, particularly a scene involving heads impaled on pikes. That said, the zombie make-up looks great, and practical effects are used throughout, but are far outnumbered by low grade CGI.

 DVD: Magnet Releasing have put together a great package here Romero fans. The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreem with a decent 5.1 surround mix.  A humorous introduction from Romero. A commentary with Romero and crew, several featurettes including “Time With George” in which Romero briefly discusses he is stance on CGI vs. rractical FX and why the …of the Dead universe is not as interconnected as he’d like, plus an “HDNET: A Look at Survival of the Dead”. Disc 2 features the “Walking After Midnight” documentary, a short film, storyboard comparisons, and “A Minute of Your time” 13 behind the scenes shorts, plus a “How to Create Your Own Zombie Bite “.

VERDICT: While I thought DIARY missed the mark by a wide margin I think SURVIVAL finds George back in familiar territory, away from the ham-fisted commentary on the internet-age, back to the human struggle amidst the quest for survival during the zombie apocalypse. While it’s no DAWN, thankfully it’s no DIARY, either. SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is a fun, if uneven, zombie romp, and a slight return to form after DIARY. This at least feels like a Romero film. ***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)