Zombieland (UK - BD)
Chris checks out the Blu-ray release of the recent zombie movie. Brains, etc, etc
Nerdy, obsessive-compulsive college student Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is one of the last survivors of a plague that has turned mankind into flesh-eating zombies. While attempting to reach his hometown he encounters the gun-toting, Twinkie-loving Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), with whom he forms and uneasy alliance as they cross the post-apocalyptic landscape. On their journey the guys encounter sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who con them out of their weapons and ride and leave them to fend for themselves. However, it’s not long before the boys and girls meet again and are forced to band together in order to defend against the vast armies of the undead.
It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that any zombie movie with any sort of comedic element is going to be compared to 2004's British rom-zom-com, Shaun of the Dead. The comparisons are generally less than flattering and usually wholly undeserved, but that’s not really the case with Zombieland. Okay, so it’s not as funny as Shaun, but it is a lot funnier than most of the comedies I saw last year and the comedy never seems at odds with the gorier moments (unlike Dead Snow, another recent zombie film with 'comedic' elements). A lot of Zombieland's humour derives from the situations the characters find themselves in, rather than traditional gags, but that actually works in the film's favour. With that said, some of the sight gags are very amusing, especially Columbus' 'rules for surviving Zombieland' and the way in which they are cleverly integrated into the action.
However, the film's strongest point is probably its cast. There are only around six speaking roles in the film including the cameos, so the principal cast had a lot of work to do in carrying the film. Jesse Eisenberg makes for a likeable lead, even if he does seem to be channelling Michael Cera, while Woody Harrelson gives a performance that's only ever-so-slightly removed from his utterly psychopathic turn as Mickey Knox in Natural born Killers. However, its the girls who steal the show, with the two young leads delivering remarkably assured performances. Okay, so Emma Stone was twenty and not exactly a baby, but this is only her sixth feature in five years and she continues to impress with yet another totally endearing performance (even when she's being a bit of a dick towards the guys). I think it's fair to say that I have a bit of a crush on her. Abigail Breslin is one of those scary 'Dakota Fanning' child actors who is mature way beyond her years, and it's hard to believe that she's only twelve or thirteen years of age. of course the cameo is also well worth the wait, but I won't come right out and spoil that one for the uninitiated (although the clues are there in this review).
Zombieland arrives with a 2.40:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC) that actually looks surprisingly good. Well, maybe surprisingly is the wrong word to use, but the quality certainly belies its relatively humble origins and smaller budget. The image is impressively detailed throughout in both long shots and close-ups, with the slow-motion shots during the title sequence looking particularly beautiful. Colour rendition is also impressive, although the palette is slightly stylised, lending many scenes an unnaturally warm tone. Contrast is also slightly amped up, but it remains consistently excellent throughout, while blacks are inky and rich, preserving plenty of shadow detail. I didn't actually realise that Zombieland was shot on digital video until I came to write this review, but that certainly accounts for the total absence of film artefacts. Even digital artefacts are few and far between, and occasional instances of minor posterisaion and aliasing could just as easily be attributed to the source material as anything else. To cut a long story short, Zombieland looks fantastic on Blu-ray, as evidenced by the accompanying screen captures.
Zombieland features DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks in both the original English and a French dub (there’s also an audio description track in Dolby 5.1). Although not quite as impressive as the visuals, I found the 5.1 mix pretty engaging for the most part. It handles atmospheric effects well, with some particularly effective audio stings in the rears during the jumpier moments. Gunshots are satisfyingly punchy, and there's enough discrete surround action by way of zombie snarls and growls to keep you looking over your shoulder throughout. Dialogue is also perfectly balanced in the mix. The film's soundtrack is one of the more prominent elements and includes some awesome songs from artists such as Metallica ('For Whom the Bell Tolls'), Van Halen ('Everybody Wants Some'), and even Ray Parker Jr. ('Ghostbusters'). All things considered this is a pretty good effort given the source material, even if it's not a contender for 'best on format'.
Beyond the Graveyard': Behind the Scenes Picture-in-Picture Track: Yes, there's a PiP track, but as usual there are extremely long gaps between video segments. What little footage there is consists of visual effects breakdowns, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with cast and crew. It's okay for what it is, but there's just not enough of it. At least the PiP window is larger than usual...
Audio Commentary with Actors Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, Director Ruben Fleischer, Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick: Unfortunately the female members of the cast are absent from the commentary, but the guys provide a reasonably interesting chat track all the same. It's fairly light-hearted and focuses on the origins of the project and the actors' respect and admiration for one another, that sort of thing. There are numerous periods of dead air, but all things considered it isn't a bad effort, even if I have heard better lately.
In Search of Zombieland (15:57 HD): This is a fairly typical making of featurette that includes a little bit of background information about the production along with cast and crew interviews. It's reasonably interesting for what it is, but I've seen better.
Zombieland is Your Land (11:59 HD): This is another making of featurette, but it focusses on set-design and location shooting. We get to see how the various locations were scouted and sets constructed, including the 'Pacific Playground' amusement park where the climactic scenes take place.
Deleted Scenes (05:28 HD): Seven deleted scenes come next. They're all pretty short (some of them are blink and you'll miss them affairs), and to be honest none of them would really have added anything apart from perhaps one scene where Wichita and Little Rock debate returning for Tallahassee and Columbus after they've stranded them.
Visual Effects Progression Scenes (02:08 HD): The are four of these in total, each showing has digital elements were used to enhance everything from backgrounds to zombie gore.
Theatrical Promo Trailers (06:04 HD): Five of these are included, and they do a pretty good job of enticing the viewer to come and see the finished movie (well they worked on me anyway).
Trailers (06:04 HD): As per usual the disc includes trailers for Blu-ray Disc is High Definition!, along with a selection of Sony Blu-ray titles. We get trailers for 2012, Year One, Zombieland itself, and The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day.
movieIQ: This is a BD-Live enhanced trivia track that provides real-time cast and crew info, production information, soundtrack details, and more. I did actually learn a thing or two from this track, and it was quite useful to have a complete list of all of the music and the cast and crew's screen credits.
BD-Live: There's no Zombieland-specific content, but it's here if you want it.
Playstation 3 Theme: It's unadvertised, but the disc includes a Zombieland theme for your PS3 (should you own one). You'll find the installer under the game menu.
Zombieland is a great little feature that blends comedy and horror extremely well. Much of the film's success can be attributed to the universally charming performances by the cast, not to mention a crowd-pleasing cameo from a certain Ghostbuster. While the Blu-ray is technically impressive in the audio-visual departments, that only goes so far towards compensating for the somewhat disappointing extras, which look a lot better on paper than they actually are. Even so, I've been quite lucky with my review material of late and this one is another easy recommendation for fans of the film, especially if they're unconcerned with bonus material.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 15th March 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French, Audio Description 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English HoH, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: Beyond the Graveyard PiP Track, Audio Commentary, In Search of Zombieland, Zombieland is Your Land, Deleted Scenes, Visual Effects Progressions Scenes, Theatrical Promo Trailers, Trailers, movieIQ, BD-Live
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin
Genre: Comedy and Horror
Length: 88 minutes
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