Zombie movies tend to be a genre all to themselves. A good zombie flick can be (and often is) a terrible movie when judged on its merits as a film. Instead zombie pictures have to be judged on other categories. Instead of story development, consider how big a brain splatter you can get when you inevitably shoot a zombie in the head. Instead of character development consider how creatively the zombies happened. Other points to ponder often include what kind of zombies there are and how fast they move. The British Shaun of the Dead takes a unique approach to zombie flicks by throwing all of those considerations out the window and actually making a well rounded film while paying tribute to the films that came before it.
Have you ever been so involved in your own thoughts, that you lost track of the world around you? That’s the biggest problem of the title character in Shaun of the Dead, an ambitionless fellow who sees no problem hanging out at the local pub, “The Winchester”, each night with his best friend and roommate Ed (Nick Frost) despite the concerns of his girlfriend Liz(Kate Ashfield). Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a bit of a zombie himself as far as the world goes, so he’s the last person to notice when a zombie plague is unleashed upon London, especially since he’s more focused on his breakup with Liz, problems with his other roommate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), and a troubled relationship with his stepfather (Bill Nighy). Before Shaun knows it, London is full of zombies and he finds himself having to play the part of the hero in order to save Liz, her flat-mates (Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran), and his mother (Penelope Wilton).
The ad campaign for Shaun of the Dead pitched the film as “A Romantic Comedy, with Zombies”, and a better description couldn’t be had. Rather than tackle the problematic world of zombie stories, Shaun is built as a comedy about Shaun’s lackluster life and his relationship and love for Liz. Instead of the typical rom-com obstacles like other men or women, Shaun’s antagonists are simply the undead. By taking this approach, the movie builds well rounded characters, whether they be Liz’s idiot flat-mates, or Shaun’s innocent mother Barbara. You find yourself taking a much bigger interest in the characters than a typical zombie flick affords, and feel genuine concern when they face off with the walking dead.
That’s not to say Shaun isn’t an excellent zombie movie as well. The film handles its use of zombies with as much care and detail as it handles the main characters. The zombie makeup is really well done, and the special effects of brain splatters or torn flesh look as good as any true horror movie. There are some fantastic fights with the zombies throughout the film, whether it's the initial fight with a “drunken girl” that finally opens Shaun and Ed’s eyes to the problem around them, or a battle at the Winchester that makes the best use of Queen’s music in a film since Wayne’s World. And sure, sometimes the movie loses continuity as far as its zombies go (several fights are prolonged as the heroes bat the zombies around the body rather than aiming for the head) but no more than any other zombie movie. It really is one of the best zombie movies to come out in years, because its both a fun flick and a good film. It’s the kind of romantic comedy I’d love to take my fiancee to, if not for the blood, guts, and gore. That’s high praise for any zombie film out there.
The DVD release of Shaun of the Dead is the kind of disc you want to see for an enjoyable movie like this. Unfortunately it also lacks a few things. As a British movie, Shaun has already been released as a Region 2 release, right around the time the States saw the film in theaters. That release had several extras (including two additional commentary tracks) the Region 1 disc lacked. At the same time, the Region 1 disc contains a few bonus features that the other release didn’t have. It’s an odd approach to DVD releases. You’d think Rogue Pictures would just do one version of the DVD and then encode it differently for the different regions, rather than create different builds of the disc with different features for each region. I just don’t understand withholding extras from one area or another, and makes me worry Shaun of the Dead has another DVD release somewhere down the pike.
Of course, all of those extras aren’t worth much if the film itself doesn’t make the cut, and there are a few issues with the movie, which suffers a notable sound dropout in a few places and has a grainy digital appearance in some of the darker scenes. While I recall the grainy appearance being there for the film’s theatrical release, the audio issues most definitely weren’t there, as one of the places the audio drops out is right on top of one of my favorite moments (which I would have noticed right off the bat). While it is noticeable, fortunately it doesn’t completely detract from the enjoyment of the movie, but it is a downside of the release.
There are two commentary tracks that accompany the movie, one with writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, and another with the primary cast members. Both tracks are a lot of fun, and really give the feeling of watching the film with a bunch of friends who happened to be involved with the making of this movie. People trade friendly insults, the conversation gets somewhat bawdy, and we learn more about one actor’s pubic region than anyone should really have to know. The actor commentary in particular is one of those commentaries I’ll probably return to again, and definitely recommend checking out.
Other extras include extended versions of over a dozen different scenes, and several looks at other aspects of the Shaun of the Dead story not included in the movie, such as a prelude to the first zombie Shaun and Ed come into contact with (“Bloody Mary”) or epilogues to other character’s storylines. These epilogues are presented as a comic book of sorts, with artwork depicting the events while the actor who played the part of whatever character is focused on narrates the action. It’s a very unique and funny way to tie up loose ends or add a bit of depth to the story that had no reason to be in the film itself.
Shaun of the Dead is a hilarious movie that should be checked out by any fan of zombie movies, and by anyone who loves romantic comedies and can stomach the gore factor of Shaun. While the region 1 DVD release is something I’ve been anxiously awaiting, I wish it had gotten a tad bit more attention. With extras that exist on other DVD releases not included, and the sound problems that appear from time to time, this is not the DVD release I was waiting for, and almost makes me wish I had a region free player so I could have gotten the European release months ago. Of course, knowing other bonus features exist, most likely another version will show up somewhere in the future, hopefully with sound problems resolved. For now, this version will have to do.