Shaun of the Dead (2004) – DVD Review

Shaun of the Dead DVD cover art

Film:
DVD:

Written by: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran

Features:

  • Running audio commentary by co-scribe/actor Pegg and co-scribe/director Wright
  • Running audio commentary by actors Pegg, Frost, Ashfield, Davis and Moran
  • Storyboard comparisons
  • Zombie/movie trivia subtitle track
  • Pegg’s video diary
  • Casting tapes
  • Pegg & Wright’s flipchart presentation of the film
  • SFX comparison
  • Makeup tests
  • EPK featurette
  • Photo gallery
  • The comic strip tie-in from 2000 AD
  • Poster gallery
  • U.S. Theatrical Trailer
  • Full versions of some of the TV bits seen throughout the film
  • Edited “clean” version of one scene
  • “The Man Who Would Be Shaun”
  • “Plot Holes” section for explaining bits left out of the film
  • Outtakes
  • Extended scenes, available with commentary by Pegg and Wright

Released by: Universal
Region: 1
Rating: R
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Own it

Shaun (Pegg) is a nice enough guy, it’s just he’s a little…unmotivated. He works at an electronics shop, and while there, protesting that he has a lot to do with his life, Noel (Rafe Spall, yes, Timothy’s son), puts everything in perspective: “When?” He’s got his best friend, though: Ed (Frost), who’s even more of a slacker than Shaun. Ed has no job, and basically just hangs out at their place playing video games, drinking and not cleaning up. Every night, they head for the Winchester, a local pub, and drink and hang out. This is all well and good, except it’s not enough for Shaun’s girlfriend, Liz (Ashfield). She wants more out of life and is frustrated with Shaun that he doesn’t want the same. To make matters worse for everyone involved, it appears that the dead have picked a fine time to start coming back to life and gnaw on the living.

It wasn’t enough that the Brits gave zombie movies a well needed (and two decades-overdue) shot in the arm with 28 Days Later. No, then they have to make everybody look bad by then turning around and making a zombie comedy that’s still a better horror movie than the Dawn of the Dead remake. Jesus, are there any more genres and subgenres we can ship over to get some tinkering done to them? Please?

Making a true horror comedy is hard. We’re talking about one that switches from one genre to the next and isn’t trying to just be a straight up parody, as opposed to stuff that’s funny ha-ha even while the gore is flying, like Army of Darkness and Lake Placid. The shining example for many, An American Werewolf in London, never worked for me, because I could never tell what genre I was in at any given time. I’d think I was supposed to be horrified by a particular thing and then they cracked a joke at me–just didn’t gel right.

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg from Shaun of the Dead

The truly stunning thing here is that the movie gets dark. It goes to some really bleak places and yet, seconds later, the funny is back and the transition was positively seamless. You never get the feeling that you need one of those roller coaster head rests to keep you from getting whiplash. The writing is just that flawless. And not only did they manage to bridge the genres perfectly, but they managed to make a film that is more a love letter to horror movies in general (especially the Romero Dead flicks) than it is either a full-on send-up or a parody. If you’re able to catch all the references on your first viewing, then you’re a bigger geek than I am, that’s for sure. Also well balanced is the fact that it’s funny, yes, but these characters are truly in mortal peril. A lot.

All of this writing and directing being good is worthless without a cast who can pull it off. There pretty much isn’t a dead weight in the bunch. Bill Nighy is great, and so is Penelope Wilton, both of them playing Shaun’s parents. And this brings up an important point–watch the film once just to watch it, then go back again to pay attention to everything else that’s going on. The faces of the other people in a scene are just flat out perfect–instead of being passive observers, they are in the moment and going through their own stories. There really isn’t anybody who doesn’t follow through on this. The entire ensemble is damn good.

Still, Simon Pegg is by the standout and not just because he’s the lead. He’s not just everyman but he’s everyman that you can relate to, because really, who wants to deal with the zombie hordes without having a good sit-down first? The fact that he’s able to get to such emotional places and yet make us laugh our asses off is testament to his skill as an actor. I never believed for a moment that he wasn’t just this guy out to try and survive the end of the world.

Nick Frost from Shaun of the Dead has a message for you

Nick Frost from Shaun of the Dead has a special message for you

The DVD is one of the best I’ve seen in a while that hasn’t been from Criterion or Pixar. First up, you’ve got the two commentary tracks. Pegg and Wright are hilarious as they go through pretty much everything you could want to know about things, from the technical–including which scenes were shot where and what order scenes were shot in–to the outlandish, like telling the tale of speaking with Romero about the most bald-faced homage to his work…and the guy missed it completely.

The cast commentary is even more crazed as you have all five main cast members including a Lucy Davis who’s jet lagged half out of her skull. My personal favorite moment was when they all went around and did their best Bill Nighy impersonations, some of which were pretty startlingly accurate. Dylan Moran is the stand out on this track, giving Pegg hell every time they devolve into discussing what lenses were used or anything technical. The guy is pretty ridiculously funny.

There’s the “Zomb-O-Meter,” though it’s poorly named. There’s nothing measured with it, it’s instead a trivia track which goes through the various references to films (I missed the obvious Evil Dead Ash reference until this pointed it out to me, sadly). There’s a great deal of stuff here that’s already covered in the Pegg/Wright commentary, but I would recommend watching the two together to make sure everything’s covered.

Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright from Shaun of the Dead

Also during the film you can watch for a pair of scary-looking eyes to appear on screen and hit Enter on your remote to switch over to the storyboards for the film, with those that weren’t shot indicated with a dot. Nice and handy, though have your remote close by…those things never seem to give you enough time to reach over and grab it.

Pegg’s video diary is a little over six minutes of insane behind the scenes footage, including a very amusing dating service tape by an attractive female zombie during a makeup test, and Pegg using the camera as a place to temporarily store his chewing gum during a take. Nice. The casting tapes feature readings from Ashfield, Moran, Davis, Frost (and Pegg of course), plus Peter Serafinowicz. Apart from their performances, you get some more insanity with a camera and a monitor and some fruit. It’s best not to ask.

Next up, there’s a very odd early presentation that Wright and Pegg give, taking you through the film, their notes, and some very rough sketches in places–all on a flipchart. It’s a nice bit of posterity, and it’s obvious that these two guys, before the project really kicks off, have no clue what they’re getting themselves in for. The SFX comparison is one of the best I’ve seen: it takes you through the scene you’re used to seeing, then individually shows the pieces that comprise the effect, then puts them together again for the final effect. Very nicely done.

Zombie FX comparison from Shaun of the Dead

The makeup tests are nice in that it shows the very subtle CGI eye FX that they placed on the zombies…which you can kinda get from the film, but here it becomes clear what a sweet effect this stuff provides. The EPK featurette is exactly what it purports to be, seven minutes of interview snippets and behind the scenes bits that is blissfully without a lot of smoke blowing.

The photo gallery is typical, showing the cast in rehearsal and blocking, some makeup shots and candids from the set. The 2000 AD comic is a nice tie-in to have, since most people on this side of the pond have never had the pleasure of checking out that sweet mag. It basically gives the back story on a few of the zombies in the film and how they got that way.

The television plays a decent-sized part in the movie and here they’ve provided the full-length bits of shows that are featured in just snippets during the film. The bookend segments of a talk show, “Trisha,” which is apparently a real deal over in the UK, are nice, so is the hilarious full-on appearance of Coldplay. I want a ZOMBAID T-shirt and I want one now, dammit. (Update: Done!) There’s also the very surreal “Fun Dead” segment, and I could do with that logo on a shirt too, please.

Nick Frost from Shaun of the Dead messes with your head

Kids, don't do drugs.

The “Funky Pete” feature is basically the late night confrontation between Shaun, Ed and Pete (Serafinowicz), but “clean.” They’ve exchanged all the fucks for “funks” and pricks for “prinks.” It’s funnier than it has any right to be, I assure you. “The Man Who Would Be Shaun” is Pegg and Frost doing a scene as Michael Caine and Sean Connery. How they kept a straight face for that long, I have no idea. It’s a nice compliment to another scene in the Outtakes that Serafinowicz and Pegg do as Lennon and McCartney.

Speaking of which, the Outtakes simply made me wonder: how in the hell did they ever get anything done? These guys look to be completely out of control–in a good way–and the variations on Ed’s “cockicidal maniac” routine from the bar are worth the entire price of admission. Also, the extended scenes are a nice touch: fifteen bits that had to be shaved down for the final theatrical release, complete with commentary and a warning about how rubber bits of glass can get into your trousers.

The movie is a veritable classic and it’s one of the best of last year. Backed up by a DVD that’s this incredibly stacked, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t own it. I’ve seen the film four or five times already and every single time I pick up something new. Grab it in the name of all that’s holy.

By | 2017-09-24T23:59:55+00:00 December 22nd, 2004|Reviews|0 Comments

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