Dawn of the Dead (2004)

‘Dawn of the Dead’ (2004) Commentary D.O.A., and Stays That Way

(I doubt people would read a review of the commentary before seeing the movie itself, but just in case…. SPOILER ALERT!!)

The Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) was not only director Zack Snyder’s first big movie, but the first of a trifecta of solid movies, the others being 300 (2006) and Watchmen (2009). It hit theatre audiences fast and hard, with the first zombie attack coming a mere four-and-a-half minutes into the film. In a sense, Snyder’s zombies ate at both his characters and audience from the inside out (pun fully intended). The first attack takes place in the bedroom of protagonist Ana (played by Sarah Polley). She escapes by climbing out a window, only to find that the whole world’s gone to hell. With that world firmly established, Snyder wisely takes the time to introduce and develop characters that are worth knowing, if only so our cringe will be heartfelt when they bite the big one…or vice versa. At times the film possesses a sense of humour as morbid as it is hilarious, which is appropriate considering the situation these characters find themselves facing. That humour provides some insight regarding how notions of propriety might change in a post-zombie apocalypse world, and how these characters are coping with those changes.

Unfortunately, the commentary isn’t nearly as insightful or entertaining. Snyder and Newman apparently recorded the commentary the day before the movie was released in theatres, which seems rare; most commentaries are recorded months or years after a film’s initial theatrical run. Perhaps they chose not to go into depth about the creative process in case the film was poorly received, although they speak of it with justifiable pride. Whatever the reason, they stick almost exclusively with trivial information. Although some of that was definitely interesting – the way the film was influenced by both the SARS outbreak and the Toronto blackout of 2003 were of particular personal interest – this commentary fails to give listeners anything to sink their teeth into.

Entertainment

Snyder and Newman are clearly enthusiastic about their work and seemed to enjoy working together. They even speak the same language, literally. The thing is, that language gets kind of annoying after a while. I lost count of the number of times I heard “That’s real,” “Rock star,” “I’m into that,” “That’s what you wanna see,” and “That’s why you’re here.” On the other hand, it could be the foundation for the first-ever audio commentary drinking game….

Filmmaking Tips

00:05:48 – After Ana throws Vivian down the hallway, Vivian is able to jump up as she does because she’s on a wire.

00:08:17 – When her armed neighbour gets hit by an ambulance, it’s done using a match cut.

00:09:27 – The R1 is the rig used to attach the camera to the back of Ana’s Toyota Corolla.

00:12:02 – The opening credit sequence was intended “to sell the collapse of our society” and to give the audience all the information that the characters have about the state of the world.

00:27:51 – Sarah Polley takes some supplies from a medicine cabinet; originally it was going to be a full pharmacy, but that would have been too expensive.

Dawn of the Dead (2004), front cover

Dawn of the Dead (2004), front cover

Writing Tips

In the original script, the movie started later (in the bedroom scene). The hospital scenes were added later to “milk it.”

00:08:05 – The idea of the armed neighbour came about because they were looking for ideas to “sell some chaos”. Other ideas included helicopters machine-gunning the family across the street and many car crashes.

00:59:10 – The celebrity sniper game came up when they were trying to come up with some levity, but also wondering what people would do in that situation.

01:13:51 – There was a version of the script in which, no matter how people died, they eventually became zombies. Snyder and Newman felt that it took away from the drama – if it’s going to happen anyway, why fight it? A related concept from the original movie – “the recently dead are rising” – also presented problems: how recent is “recent”? So they kept things simple and decided to have it only be caused by bites.

01:22:50 – Originally, there was going to be a long sequence in which many dogs are trained to go over to help Andy, and eventually some of the dogs would be bitten and turned. This wasn’t filmed because it would have been too complicated and time consuming, and it didn’t involve putting any of the human characters at risk.

01:32:24 – In a story meeting, someone asked Snyder if it was realistic that the zombies stop at the bottom of the stairs. Snyder admitted that it probably wasn’t, but in a film which is meant to dramatize situations, it works.

Trivia

The first scene was shot first, which is rare. In fact, most of the first half of the movie (or at least up to “a point well into the movie”) was shot chronologically.

00:01:55 – Many fans have speculated that the guy on the gurney was the first zombie. Snyder and Newman state that this isn’t the case.

00:02:45 – Hannah Lochner (Vivian, the girl on roller skates) was featured in much of the Japanese marketing and was very popular there.

Except Panasonic and Roots, there was no help from any sponsors.

00:04:29 – Zack Snyder directed the Subaru commercial featured in the movie.

00:03:25 – Ana’s (played by Sarah Polley) bedroom was a set built in the back of the mall, in an abandoned department store.

00:06:00 – Ana reaches into her boyfriend’s neck wound to try to pinch off the artery.

00:07:56 – According to Snyder, Polley ran more in the scene in which she rushes to the car than in any other movie up to that point in her career.

00:09:19 – When Ana almost crashes into a police car, it was a genuine mistake, not scripted.

00:09:37 – The helicopter is a computer-rendered version of the helicopter from the original.

00:10:34 – The tree that Polley crashes into was planted for that purpose.

The audio commentary was recorded the day before the movie was released.

00:11:00 – The zombie shown in flashes during the opening credits was the first one filmed.

Many of the music choices came from Zack, including Johnny Cash’s “When the Man Comes Around”, Jim Carroll’s song at the end, and the Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine’s version of “Down with the Sickness.”

It was important to Znyder not to specify where or how the zombie plague started. He doesn’t say why.

00:12:38 – Snyder has a cameo; he’s on the left with a machine gun.

00:14:30 – In real life, this pedestrian tunnel is just down the street from the shopping mall.

00:15:08 – Ving Rhames asked to be in the movie “because the black guy lives.”

00:15:37 – Jake Weber’s line “We’re going to the mall” was originally intended to be a moment for the trailer only. On the day it was shot, Snyder actually thought it was too “on the nose” and cheesy.

00:16:10 – The zombie that rushes at the group while they try to break into the mall is played by an actor who was actually missing one arm.

00:17:50 – They built a mall inside the mall.

00:18:07 – The Hallowed Grounds coffee shop was named by Snyder because they couldn’t get any brand name sponsors.

00:18:55 – They tried to track down the 5 most significant players from the original Dawn of the Dead, including Gaylen Ross, but she wasn’t available, so they named the department store after her.

Dawn of the Dead (2004), back cover

Dawn of the Dead (2004), back cover

00:26:50 – Tom Savini, from the original Dawn of the Dead, appears in a news clip as a sheriff. That clip was filmed in the parking lot of the mall.

00:28:13 – Scott Reiniger, from the original Dawn of the Dead, appears in a news clip as a general.

00:29:02 – A real nurse was brought in to stitch the wound on Ving Rhames’ arm, but due to a miscommunication with Snyder, she actually stuck the needle through Ving’s actual skin.

00:31:37 – While filming the security guards throwing a body off the roof of the mall, there was an actual funeral taking place just behind the set. The funeral attendees were understandably thrown off by what they saw.

In the script there was a scene in which a helicopter landed and took a character who had been bitten to Fort Pastor. That was the end of Fort Pastor. They don’t say why it was cut.

A lot of the news clips were shot at the CTV building in Toronto.

00:35:54 – Ken Foree, from the original film, appears as a televangelist.

00:41:41 – During a scene on the roof of the mall, there is an atrium in the background. The movie lights used to illuminate the interior can be seen through the glass.

00:44:09 – The fat woman in the wheelbarrow who had been bitten is played by Ermes Blarasin, a man who was Chris Farley’s stand-in and stunt-double in Tommy Boy.

Snyder included references to the Alamo whenever he could, including a mention of Davy Crockett (00:45:22) and an Alamo-themed chess set (00:56:58).

00:53:15 – This scene between Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his girlfriend Luda (Inna Korobkina) was intentionally lit very brightly in order to contrast with later scenes in which she turns zombie.

The mall used for the shoot was the Thornhill Mall in Ontario. The SARS epidemic was in full swing during the shoot.

Nobody agreed with Snyder’s choice to include the Richard Cheese version of “Down with the Sickness”…until they heard it.

00:59:55 – The badminton net on the roof is there because Snyder is a fan.

01:02:00 – The “which job were you best/worst at” conversation came up through a conversation with a member of the crew who had had around 30 jobs.

01:03:40 – It’s never good when the lights go out in a horror movie, but it’s not so bad if they go out on the set of one. This scene was shot during the blackout that covered most of southern Ontario and New York State. The scene in the parking garage was also conceived when Newman walked four levels down into an underground garage during the blackout. It freaked him out enough that he decided to put it in the movie.

Snyder was the first director that the producers met with.

01:07:50 – This was one of the first scenes they shot out of sequence.

01:08:18 – Snyder filmed this pick-up shot on a Budweiser commercial that he worked on in Telluride, Colorado. It was real gasoline.

01:11:05 – Snyder played around with different versions of this. In one, a gush of blood sprayed Mekhi’s face. In another, about four gallons of brown, chunky fluid came out and flowed over the edge of the bed “like a waterfall.” Everyone thought it was too much…except for Snyder.

01:26:50 – These tunnels were built on set. This sequence was filmed during the Toronto blackout.

01:29:00 – This was filmed in a real gun store in Toronto.

01:40:32 – Neither Snyder nor Newman know exactly why the minibus crashes into the dock, but they like the effect.

01:41:47 – A real flare was shot with a blank gun and the flare actually ignited.

01:46:39 – The location for this shot is part of the Universal Studios tour. According to Snyder, when you’re going through the parting of the Red Sea, look to the right. That’s the spot. The structures were taken down after filming wrapped.

Scores:

Entertainment – 2.5/5

Filmmaking Tips – 1/5

Writing Tips – 1/5

Trivia – 3/5

Dawn of the Dead Unrated Edition (2004) | Directed by Zack Snyder | Written by James Gunn | Starring Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, and Mekhi Phifer | DVD Release Date: 2004 | Commentary by: Zack Snyder (Director) and Eric Newman (Producer)

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