The Fords shot their movie on 35mm film and didn’t go down the digital route, and yet there are times during this transfer when the image does, in fact, look as though they did just. The blasted-hot contrast is the sort of thing that often looks digital, and this film is built from such a visual glare. In the main, though, the movie looks appreciably gritty, hot and raw as a result. It has been transferred to BD via an AVC encode. The 1.78:1 print has a very orange and red palette, as befitting the hellish environment and the situation we find ourselves in. The image looks dust-caked and sweaty. And, of course, it’s meant to.
Detail is great so long as we keep things close to the camera, with terrific facial clarity and skin texture. Once people, zombies and objects are found further back in the frame, they tend to lose distinction and clarity. Now, I think that you can certainly put some of this down to the source, what with the natural lighting and the dust and the sheer gritty atmosphere of the environment. Some elements can even seem quite blurred, but this is only a rare occurrence. Detail can be found in the clothing, the rusted body of the car, the various bits of radio equipment and in some of the grievous injuries.
As I’ve said, the colour scheme seems to have been dictated for the Ford Brothers already. By shooting in Ghana they have sought out not only a rich and unusual setting, but they have found themselves in one that has a very distinct natural aesthetic. Red rocks, scorched earth, a sweltering horizon, ochre being the dominant hue, with sick, jaundiced yellow running a close second. The disc handles this hellish scheme without any undue fuss or fallibility. The greens of the African military fatigues and their definitely red berets are nicely rendered and unboosted. The desert-cam of Murphy’s garb is, likewise, cleanly defined and separated. Blood is hot and livid, but of a darker sheen that is usually seen in a lot of horror movies. The eyes of the zombies have that milky semi-glitter that I mentioned, and there are definitely a few instances when this comes across supremely well, offering an eerily sick contrast to the surrounding dust-clogged wounds and faces. Contrast, as I say, is hot, but the image manages to avoid any blooming white-outs that aren’t intentional. Blacks are strong and could well be prone to some crushing, but they lend a deep swathe of menace to certain scenes.
Disappointingly, there are a few glitches with this encode, little digital aberrations that sully the image with pixel-pockets of mini-chaos. Noise is also boosted during some of the darker scenes, but although this is very noticeable I don’t believe that its presence harms the integrity of the picture or distracts too much. Edges are distinct, but largely free from artificial sharpening, although there are some haloes to be seen. Sometimes, though, this can be attributed to how the photography has captured the people, objects and the landscape in the scorching sunlight, and the hot, molten dusk. I didn’t encounter any banding or any DNR.
Overall, this offers a decent image of deliberately stylised and troublesome source material. Those encoding glitches shouldn’t be there, though.
Billed as being 5.1, this Dolby TrueHD track does very little with the surrounds to actually speak of and, on the whole, comes across as being quite surprisingly restrained. It might not make any errors and most of the effects come across well, but I didn’t actually have as much fun with it as I’d expected, I’m afraid to say.
Although we get some natural ambience, such as the wind gusting across the terrain and various insect noises, that is carried around the channels, the overwhelming majority of the sound-design is focussed towards the front, which means that a lot of anticipated suspense – zombies creeping through the long grass, moans and groans from all around, etc – is diluted because we hear it as we see it before us. Bass levels are satisfactory, though never especially bombastic, and the track isn’t as immediate or as dynamic as you might expect from a film that depends heavily upon firepower, violence and hit-and-run tactics. Thus, this is something of a missed opportunity when it comes to how the original mix was conceived.
But what we have is still good enough. There is never a problem with the dialogue, which always comes over with clarity and presence, even though there is a remarkable scarcity of actual spoken words throughout much of the film. We do get lots of screaming, confused mass babble and even more gunfire, however, and the track certainly gives the mayhem an agreeable degree of bite. Bullet-hits have a reasonably meaty thwack! to them, and the solid punch and crack of various calibre gunshots is carried well across the limited soundscape. There is a fine element of spatiality afforded the chaos. Distant screaming and gunfire sound appreciably deeper within the mix, or pushed further out, so the vastness of the environment is certainly taken into consideration at times. There is also a level of realism to the cacophony of the various rampages, and we get a fairly vivid impression of bouncing along the rough tracks in a beaten-up old van … but I would say that this is not a particularly memorable track on the whole.
The UK disc had some interview snippets and a screen test, the US disc ditches those in favour of a very brief behind-the-scenes look.
The Commentary Track from the two Ford Brothers reveals the hardship that they underwent in getting the film made. From malaria and typhoid to threats from guns and knives, robbery of equipment and personal items, to the full-on corruption of the local authorities who would impede them every step of the way and extort money out of them. They saw the death and poverty of the fearful conditions all around them on a daily basis. Poor Rob Freeman, something of a fitness fanatic, collapsed one day and went into convulsions. It turned out he had contracted malaria and needed immediate hospital treatment, ending up on a drip for two weeks, having almost died. Does this explain the curious lack of humanity, emotions and, well, life that he exudes onscreen? Well, very probably. The technical aspects of the film and the desired look that they were after, as well as consideration for the performances, are all covered by the duo, too.
Basically, this is a terrific track and one that is pretty frank and revealing in a way that most filmmaker chats aren’t. These guys didn’t have it easy, but they persevered and, against the odds, got their film made. I really wish I loved the end result a lot more.
Then we get a really rather poor look at Unearthing The Dead: Behind the Scenes. This looks at a couple of scenes and shows us some raw footage as to how they were constructed. Sadly, we don’t actually learn a great deal from them, though.
We also get a single Deleted Scene that offers up a little more possible background to the zombie outbreak.
The points gained here are really just for the chat-track.
Well, there’s been a BD of The Dead lurking around on UK shelves for a while now, but if you’ve been sitting on the fence about it, let me assure you that if you are a fan of zombies the film is certainly worth chomping into to see what, with better control and far better narrative structure, could be the start of a fine filmmaking duo for the genre. This US edition sports a largely adequate video transfer, which I believe to be identical to the UK disc, albeit with a couple of unwanted glitches, and skimps out on a couple of the extras found on the UK edition, whilst providing something new of its own. However, the real deal would be that the Ford brothers provide a thorough and very informative audio commentary revealing the difficulties and the dedication of getting the film made under such complicated circumstances.
Unfortunately, the film they managed to deliver is a frustrating blend of the very good and the very bad. With a couple of severe narrative trips, the whole thing reveals its humble origins and the inexperience of the duo of writer/directors. I would long to forgive such errors of judgement, especially given the difficulties they encountered during such an arduous shoot, but these are fundamental things that simply shouldn’t occur and, even being charitable for their obvious love for and enthusiasm of the genre, I cannot overlook them. Whilst there is plenty of claret being splashed around this unusual setting, and the whole road-movie vibe is quite refreshing, the constant repetition of action becomes quite tedious and almost as dry as the landscape, itself. A lead character that lacks any smidgeon of personality does not help either. And yet I still feel inclined to recommend The Dead … essentiallyfor those that adore their zombie-flicks.
In part a fawning love-letter to Romero and Fulci, and in part a neo-mood piece with an almost indie-vibe,The Dead is certainly a diverting enough addition to the bulging zombie-apocalypse vogue and one that is different from the norm just enough to make it stand out from the rotting crowd. But it remains an infuriating experience because we can see that with a bit more thought and narrative courage, the Ford Brothers could have come up with a real gem. There’s definitely something worthwhile about their seat-of-the-pants style, and I just hope that they can learn from, and build upon what was clearly a labour of love.
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