Back Comments (10) Share:
Facebook Button
As one of the surprise hits of the year, horror-comedy Shaun of the Dead revived a lot of people’s faith in the British film industry. The film—from the same team that gave the world the indescribably excellent sitcom Spaced—is a bizarre fusion of styles that manages to bring comedic elements to the traditional horror genre, without ever disrespecting the material from which it draws inspiration. After almost five months of waiting fans will finally be able to get their hands on the DVD when it’s released by Universal in September, but we’ve managed to obtain an early copy to provide you with an exclusive look at just what you can look forward to.

Shaun of the Dead

Feature


Twenty nine year old Shaun (Simon Pegg) is stuck in a rut. Working as a junior sales advisor at his local electrical store in Crouch End, the one time wannabe DJ has now resigned himself to an unfulfilling, but nonetheless comfortable existence. Shaun’s spare time is divided—somewhat unevenly—between his girlfriend Liz and nights down the local with his slobbish best mate, Ed (Nick Frost).

Liz (Kate Ashfield) is an attractive, intelligent woman who is growing increasingly tired with Shaun’s indifference, not to mention Ed’s constant presence in their lives. However, their personal problems have to take a back seat when a mysterious phenomenon causes the recently deceased to come back to life and attack the living! Shaun becomes an unlikely hero and leader of the group—which also consists of Liz’s friends Di (Lucy Davis) and David (Dylan Moran)—as he fights to rescue his loved ones from hoards of bloodthirsty zombies.

Let me begin by saying that Shaun of the Dead is the most refreshing film I’ve seen this year! I’m a massive fan of the TV series Spaced, and the film plays like an extended episode complete with appearances from most of the cast of the sitcom. Fans of Spaced will lap up the in-jokes (fried gold anyone?), but thankfully there’s little to alienate the casual viewer. Self referential humour aside, there are plenty of references to other films such as George Romero’s original Living Dead trilogy, Reservoir Dogs, The Deer Hunter, and An American Werewolf in London (to name but a few).

The humour is decidedly ‘British’, and the characters and situations are more readily identifiable than those found in your average American monster movie. Odds are that we’ve all known a Shaun or an Ed in our time, although it’s hard to believe there’s anyone quite like Ed out there! Although the film is billed as a romantic comedy with zombies—or ‘Rom-Zom-Com’ if you prefer—there’s a surprising amount of violence and gore to be found. In particular, one scene during the final act took me completely by surprise, although the absurdity of the situation helps to offset the shock value somewhat.

The film, however, is not without its failings. After an exceptionally strong start the movie loses steam towards the end, with the sharply observed witticisms giving way to slapstick and gore. That’s not to say it becomes a bad film—indeed, at its worst Shaun of the Dead is still a cut above most British ‘comedies—but this is enough to prevent it from attaining ‘classic’ status. Don’t let these minor negatives put you off though, because if you miss Shaun of the Dead you’ll be missing one of best films of the year!

Shaun of the Dead

Video


Universal presents Shaun of the Dead in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, complete with anamorphic enhancement. Considering the amount of bonus material that’s been crammed onto a single disc, I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the video. Colour rendition is excellent throughout—particularly the many hues of red essential to a zombie flick—while contrast and black levels are slightly variable, running the gamut from excellent at the beginning, to fair during the climatic sequences in the Winchester. However, I suspect this has more to do with the lighting conditions in these scenes than a flaw with the transfer itself. For me, the most disappointing element of the transfer is the sharpness, which lacks the fine detail of blockbuster releases such as The Matrix sequels. Even with that said, this is still a good transfer that more than does the justice to the film.

Audio


The only soundtrack on offer is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 effort. Thankfully the track lives up to the standards set by the video, creating an atmospheric, immersive experience that is perfectly suited to the tone of the film. The all important dialogue remains clear throughout the entirety of the proceedings, ensuring that every razor-sharp line comes through loud and clear (even during the livelier moments). Surrounds are used well from the outset, distributing the score around the soundstage to great affect, as well as delivering some neat discrete effects. Bass is extremely powerful, and is used to good effect in both an obvious and subtle manner (a good example of the latter is the distant thunderstorm when Shaun is talking to Liz towards the beginning of the film). The film’s soundtrack is also worthy of note, and features classic tracks such as Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’, and Grand Master Flash’s ‘White Lines’ (courtesy of a rendition by Shaun and Ed). The observant among you might even spot the snatch of music from the original Dawn of the Dead! All in all this is a surprisingly good track.

Extras


Shaun of the Dead features an impressive four Audio Commentaries. However, this is one of those discs that prohibits you from changing between tracks on the fly, forcing you to instead return to the options menu and start the film from the beginning again—most infuriating! With that moan out of the way, let’s get on to the tracks themselves.

The first track, from director Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg, is probably the most informative of the bunch, as there is more discussion of the creative process than the other commentaries. There’s plenty of anecdotal information though, and the pair have natural chemistry that creates a fun, lively track that runs right through until the end of the credits. The guys discuss many of the casting decisions, the special effects shots, the difficulties of shooting on location, clearing issues, and much more. This is definitely the place to start if you want to know everything there is to know about the film (and hear two guys impersonate the Millennium Falcon).

Commentary number two features the cast, including Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran. This is a very relaxed affair, and is by far the most anecdotal of the four tracks. There’s plenty of light hearted banter, particularly between the male cast members, and the whole thing feels like a bunch of friends sitting around discussing the film at home. Indeed, there is plenty of sweet eating and wine drinking going on throughout. Although probably the least structured of the commentaries, the track does reveal some interesting little titbits of information (such as why Ed has a patch of hair missing, and why he spends the whole film scratching his crotch).

Shaun of the Dead
The third commentary is by Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton. This is the most stilted of the tracks, and it seems fairly obvious that neither actor is particularly at ease with the process (in fact there are times when they both need to read from cast lists to identify their co-stars). Bill Nighy spends most of his time complaining about how bad he looks in the film, which does start to grate after the fifth time or so, but at least Penelope Wilton remains upbeat throughout. Although worth a listen this commentary is nowhere near as entertaining as the first two, and is possibly the weakest of the four tracks overall.

The fourth and final commentary is by the zombies themselves, and it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. In total there are four members of the zombie cast who give their views on the film—not in character I might add—and the track is surprisingly lively considering that the participants all had fairly minor roles in the film. There’s quite a lot of useless information, but the banter between the zombies makes for a fun commentary if nothing else. There is the feeling that this—and to a certain extent the track before it—has been included simply to try and match The Lord of the Rings in the commentary stakes (and indeed there’s a joke about this on the first commentary track), but you have to take your hat off to the filmmakers for giving this kind of platform to the bit players.

Moving on to the extras proper, the first section we come to is entitled Raw Meat. The first two items— Simon’s Cam and Lucy’s Cam—are basically a few minutes of hand-held footage shot behind the scenes by actors Simon Pegg and Lucy Davis. Some of it is pretty funny, and you get to see the cast and crew fooling around, as well as footage of the zombies ‘chilling’. Joe’s Diary is a lengthier piece that goes behind the scenes with Joe Cornish (of The Adam & Joe Show fame) as he prepares for his bit part in the film. We get everything from his late arrival to his eventual demise, taking in the make-up process and stunt training along the way. Fans of the The Adam & Joe Show will be particularly delighted with this bit!

Edgar and Simon’s Flip Chart is a short presentation of the guy’s original hand written/drawn outline of Shaun of the Dead. This would be a pretty boring feature on most discs, but the guy’s humour really helps to make this an interesting little addition. The SFX Comparison and Make Up Tests are pretty self explanatory, but they’re enjoyable nevertheless. Finally in this section with have the EPK Featurette, which is probably the most promotional item on the entire disc. However, it’s still a hell of a lot better than the majority of these things.

Next up we have the Missing Bits menu. The first item in this section contains fourteen Extended Bits, each of which are offered with optional commentary from director Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg. These scenes are mostly trims rather than actual cuts, but there are some absolute gems among the scenes. Check out Pete’s line about dressing up as Frank-N-Furter, drinking snakebite and black, and sleeping with a fat girl!  Just over ten minutes of Outtakes follow, and they feature the cast and crew fluffing their lines and generally getting up to all sorts of on set mischief. Some of the outtakes—especially those between Shaun and Ed in the pub—are absolutely hilarious, and made me laugh almost as much as the film itself!

Shaun of the Dead
Funky Pete is a look at the studio’s rather humorous attempt to tone down the swearing in the scene where Pete (Peter Serafinowicz, a.k.a. Darth Maul) confronts Shaun and Ed as they blast hip-hop (“it’s not hip-hop, it’s electro”) at four in the morning. Funky stuff indeed! The Man Who Would Be Shaun is a throwaway thirty second clip in which Simon Pegg and Nick Frost read their lines in the style of Sean Connery and Michael Caine. The Plot Holes section features three hilarious hand-drawn sketches that give more insight into exactly what went on off-camera during a couple of key scenes.  The segments are entitled ‘What Happened to Shaun When He Ran Off?’, ‘What Happened to Dianne When She Left the Winchester?’, and ‘How Did Ed Get from the Cellar to the Shed?’, and each is narrated by their respective actors in full character. This is typical of the sort of silly, yet extremely amusing feature that one would expect from the Spaced team, and I for one was glad to learn the fate of the lovely Lucy Davis!

The TV Bits menu contains extended versions of the TV shows that Shaun and company watch throughout the film. There are extended versions of Trisha, the complete Fun Dead sketch with narration by Keith Chegwin, a Remembering Z-Day piece with Jeremy Thompson and, best of all, the entire Coldplay on T4 skit. This features cameos from both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and is by far the best of the TV segments.

Trails of the Dead features three trailers: the Fight Fest 2003 teaser, the official teaser and the theatrical trailer. Everything is pretty much as you’d expect here, but it’s nice that they’ve been included for the sake of completion. Also on the disc are a couple of TV Spots, one of which ran before the film’s release, the other afterwards.

The penultimate item in the extras menu is the Zombie’s Gallery. This includes a number of standard features, such as a Photo Gallery and Poster Designs, but it also includes the 2000 AD Strip ‘There’s Something About Mary[/i]. This little tale gives the female zombie from Shaun and Ed’s garden a back-story, and makes for interesting reading.

Finally we come to the Storyboard Comparison and the Zomb-O-Meter. These are actually found alongside the subtitles in the options menu, and selecting the first track will cause a pair of red zombie eyes to appear on screen at random intervals during the film. When selected these take the viewer to—you guessed it—storyboards for the scene in question. The second feature is similar to the Homage-O-Meter found on the DVD release of Spaced series two. This pops up numerous facts throughout the film, such as music cues, film and popular culture references. When compared to Spaced I found this track a little disappointing at times, especially when it misses out on some rather obvious references. As with the commentaries, it’s impossible to switch between the tracks on the fly!

Shaun of the Dead

Overall


Every now and again a disc arrives on my doorstep that makes all the long hours working on the site worthwhile. Shaun of the Dead is one such disc. The film itself is a little gem—one that will probably find its way into a lot of reviewer’s top tens come the end of the year—and both Universal and the filmmakers have outdone themselves when it comes to the DVD. In addition to the very respectable audio-visual presentation, the huge collection of interesting, informative and above all, amusing, bonus material adds untold worth to the package. There really is little point in me going on any more than I already have, so I’ll just say this: if you buy one DVD this September, buy the Star Wars trilogy. If you buy two, make sure you pick up Shaun of the Dead.


Links: