Warm Bodies (US - BD RA)
Gabe is charmed by this family friendly tale of dead boy meets living girl...
After a zombie epidemic, a highly unusual zombie named ‘R’ (Nicholas Hoult) encounters a human survivor named Julie (Teresa Palmer), and rescues her from a zombie attack. Julie sees that R is different from the other zombies, and as the two form a special relationship in their struggle for survival, R becomes increasingly more human – setting off an exciting, romantic and often comical chain of events that begins to transform the other zombies and maybe even the whole lifeless world. (From Summit’s official synopsis)
Neither zombie movies nor supernatural romances are new concepts, but we haven’t seen a greater saturation of either at the bookstore or box office since the last decade. It’s only natural that two of the most popular flavours on the menu would eventually be cobbled together into a single entrée. Unfortunately, financial eventualities like this usually breed bland products. With that in mind, I’m happy that the eventuality we ended up with was as harmlessly entertaining and genuinely sweet as Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies. Levine doesn’t exactly excel to the point of accidental masterpiece, but he more than makes due with a less than perfect mish-mash of a source concept. I realize I’ve never seen any of Levine’s films, which puts me in a particularly bad place to judge him as the studio’s choice for adapting Isaac Marion’s original novel. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane still hasn’t seen an official release (I missed a chance to see a preview screening years ago) and 50/50 strikes too close to home for me to ever want to endure it. I have no excuse for not seeing The Wackness, other than I just haven’t had the chance. Still, even without actually seeing any of these movies, a look at the extent of that brief filmography seems to imply that Levine is a man ready to deal with the genre-mixing requirements of Marion’s horror/romance hybrid.
Right off the bat, Levine is forced to fight an uphill battle against conceptual originality. He has to find that sweet spot between ignoring and acknowledging the genre’s tropes. He knows we know Warm Bodies isn’t an entirely unique concoction, but he also knows that Twilight series spoofs like Vampires Suck and Breaking Wind, don’t work for critical or mainstream audiences. Zombie films have already been plenty satirized throughout the decades – some of the genre’s best films twist the conventions George Romero set forth in the original Night of the Living Dead. Heck, Romero himself made a brand on recognizing and redeveloping his own rules and Warm Bodies’ ‘evolving zombies’ owe an awful lot to Day of the Dead’s and Land of the Dead’s zombie saviors, Bub and Big Daddy. Comedy and satire aren’t the only mainstays of the zombie genre – twisted romance also has served an important role in films, like Return of the Living Dead, Braindead ( Dead Alive), and, most recently, Shaun of the Dead. I’m also tonally reminded of Andrew Currie’s sadly forgotten Fido, which also features a sweet-natured living dead man rediscovering his humanity. Before these comparatively sweet/tragic love stories, Italian smut peddler Aristide Massaccesi (aka: Joe D’Amato) made a couple of movies where zombies and humans engage in graphic sex ( Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and Porno Holocaust), but there isn’t much of a market for similar hardcore horror in the Hollywood mainstream, so unrequited love and stolen kisses will have to do.
Warm Bodies is unique among zombie romances in that it sources the basic themes of its love story from Romeo and Juliet, which, oddly enough, marks it as particularly unoriginal, otherwise. There’s even a balcony scene – not to mention that the character’s names are awfully close to ‘Romeo’ and ‘Juliet.’ In the Romero (not Romeo) tradition, Levine and Marion infuse the story of Warm Bodies with social allegories. There’s the obvious ‘us vs. them’ mentality with modern political/social parallels spelled out for the intended teen audience. The film’s zombie and apocalypse mythology is not anything new, but the zombie narration and melancholy-meets-sarcastic tonal choices help set it apart from the average gut muncher and the average supernatural romance. The one thing Marion has added to the equation is the idea that a zombie gains a victim’s memories when he/she eats their brains. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this used in a another zombie flick and also don’t think I’ve seen a zombie movie deal directly with the brain-eating thing since they stopped making Return of the Living Dead movies. Unfortunately, as the third act begins, the script runs out of surprises and events begin to turn predictable or at least familiar. The human survivor side of the story also isn’t as interesting as the ‘slow humanization of zombies’ side of the story (especially when Fido did the same thing better) – though Levine does do pretty well with a limited budget when it comes to the brief military action type showdowns.
Levine’s direction is actually very impressive and impressionistic. His visual choices recall straight horror when needed and his slow-motion action is adept without betraying the established tone. His pacing and smooth movement between sequences is his strongest asset as he captures the difficult sense of gloom without overwhelming a PG-13 audience, who isn’t here for horror, but an ultimately uplifting love story. Speaking of PG-13, it is clear that certain sequences have been clipped to maintain the rating, which is always a disappointing part of non-R-rated horror fare, but Levine does a good job not making the violent scenes about the violence, so it rarely feels like a rip-off, even to this particular committed gore-hound (a shot of Blue Underground’s Zombie Blu-ray is a nice acknowledgement that the filmmakers know what they’re missing). The performances are pretty strong, especially Hoult, who basically plays two characters between his on-screen representation and his more whip-smart narration. Palmer is a nice, warm antidote to the likes of Kristen Stewart’s frowny, empty Bella from the Twilight movies. She has her melodramatic moments, but is plenty likable without being a typical damsel in distress. Rob Corddry gives possibly the best dramatic performance he’s ever given on film. He doesn’t play his zombie, M, as silly; he plays him as genuine.
Levine and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe opted to shoot Warm Bodies on traditional 35mm film. This 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray transfer is a nice, clean representation of the source, though there’s been so much digital grading instituted that it kind of feels like they should’ve just shot using digital HD film. The overall look is slightly soft, but not at the risk of sharp foreground details or somewhat complex background patterns. Textures are slightly flat in favour of general softness and those background patterns are a bit ‘bloomy,’ but these are intended stylistic choices and don’t feature any blocking or noticeably low-level noise issues. The colour palette is mostly dark and cool. There’s very little outside of blue, black, and grey, except for R’s ever-present red hoodie and the occasional slathering of blood. It is a nice subtle touch that living skin tones are noticeably warmer than dead skin tones, even in this nearly monochrome environment. The bulk of the film is very dark, in some cases dark enough to absorb the finer details. The exceptions are contrasting ‘happy’ or pre-apocalypse flashbacks, which are warmer with lush greens and warm yellows. Despite being (apparently) shot on film, there’s almost nothing in the way of edge enhancement or noticeable grain. What grain there is remains plenty consistent, no matter how dark or light the frame is at any given time.
Warm Bodies is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound, though the additional channels aren’t exactly what I’d call ‘necessary,’ because so much of the movie is so quiet. Dialogue is clean and understandable, though the whispery qualities of many of the performances (none of the zombies can really speak up) makes it difficult. There isn’t a lot of directional influence, but zombie attack scenes are plenty stylized in terms of growling/roaring living dead, firing weapons, and general mayhem, which leads to some zippy and immersive sound. Basic ambience is left very light in favour of dialogue and music, but there are some scenes that capture the basic hubbub of the airport and the human-hiding compound. The film’s score, by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, is nice mix of pop, rock, and theatrical concepts and fills out the stereo and surround channels when things are particularly dry. The occasional chase themes are particularly strong, considering the film’s general lack of action. The source pop music choices are surprisingly clever and not exactly era-specific. There’s often an onscreen source for the music, usually R’s record player, but the music itself usually bleeds into the stereo and surround channels pretty quickly.
The extras begin with a commentary track featuring Levine and actors Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer (who embarrasses herself with her boisterous laughs). Like most director/cast commentaries, this one is generally more playful than fact-filled. Levine is the man in charge, but everyone kind of interviews each other throughout the track when a different point of view is required. Focus is slightly lacking as the discussion rolls off on tangents or is interrupted by something on-screen that the commentators would rather be talking about, making for a generally jumbled, but pleasant enough experience. The most informative bits involve the process of pulling back the gore from an R-rating to the intended PG-13.
Things continue with Boy Meets, Er, Doesn’t Eat Girl (9:50, HD), a general look at the film’s pre-production process, from Marion’s original story to optioning the book pre-publishing, hiring Levine, and adapting the book. R&J (16:20, HD) covers the film’s romance and character interactions, including casting and creating the zombie language. A Little Less Dead (16:40, HD) covers auditioning the rest of the cast. Extreme Zombie Make-Over (10:10, HD) is all about zombie make-up design and effects processes. A Wreck in Progress (15:00, HD) covers filming in Montreal locations and the production design processes. Bustin’ Caps (10:10, HD) covers the film’s more difficult action sequences, including stunt choreography and weapons work. Beware the Boneys (7:00, HD) is about the film’s grotesque ‘extreme zombies’ and the special effects processes that brought them to the screen, along with other CG processes. Whimsical Sweetness: Teresa Palmer’s Warm Bodies Home Movies (12:30, HD) and Zombie Acting Tips with Rob Corddry (4:40, HD) both kind of speak for themselves. Interviews include Levine, author Isaac Marion, producers Bruna Papandrea and Todd Lieberman, executive producer Laurie Webb, special make-up effects tech Adrien Morot, production designer Martin Whist, second unit director Stephen Woolfenden, special effects tech Adrien Morot, VFX supervisor Dan Schrecker, and cast members Nicholas Hoult, Analeigh Tipton, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich, and Dave Franco.
The disc also features ten deleted scenes with optional commentary (11:10, HD), a blooper reel, a trailer, and trailers for other Summit/Lionsgate movies.
I went into Warm Bodies expecting the worst, but am pleasantly surprised by its simple charms. It’s a nice little family-friendly companion piece to better films, like Fido, Shaun of the Dead, and even Braindead ( Dead Alive). Surprisingly, I realize I can’t recall a single definitively bad romantically-tinted zombie movie. Even lesser teen-themed pictures like Stephen Bradley’s Boy Eats Girl and Gregg Bishop’s Dance of the Dead, are relatively entertaining little movies. I’m sure I’m forgetting something terrible, though. Anyway, fans have a nice Blu-ray to look forward to with solid A/V and a nice collection of fun, if not a bit fluffy, extras. Non-fans: keep your expectations low and you may surprise yourself.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 4th June 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Director and Cast Commetnary, Boy Meets, Er, Doesn't Eat Girl, R&J, A Little Less Dead, Extreme Zombie Makeover, A Wreck in Progress, Bustin' Caps, Beware the Boneys, Whimsical Sweetness: Tereasa Palmer's Video Diary, Zombie Acting Tips with Rob Corddry, Delted Scenes, Gag Reel, Trailers, Digital Copy, UltraViolet Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, Analeigh Tipton, Cory Hardrict, John Malkovich
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror and Romance
Length: 98 minutes
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