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DVD REVIEW OF MGM's RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD

REVIEW OF THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD So-Called Collector’s Edition DVD released by MGM 9-11-07 Where were you in late August 2002? If you have checked this site around that time, then you’d remember that MGM released the ROTLD DVD with full screen and letterboxed options, a slightly modified soundtrack and removed Orion leader (Orion being the actual, original distributor). With the DVD also containing the trailers and TV spots, a commentary by the director and a featurette shot in 2002, what else would there be to release if MGM were to re-release ANOTHER DVD as they have in 2007 under the banner Collector‘s Edition? Well I could think of a few things that were intentionally left off the first DVD: Production Still galleries… Deleted scenes (at least a total of 18 minutes exist from the work print)… Pictures of Memorabilia… Two discs instead of one? More importantly: How ‘bout a corrected soundtrack restored back to the original version we all know and love? How ‘bout a coooler cover? How ‘bout a booklet for God’s sake? MGM weren’t interested in any of the above in 2002 and the same people aren’t interested in 2007. Before the announcement of a new DVD, I went out of my way to not mention it. I didn’t want to help the project, especially when I heard that the director himself had been screwed over yet again royalty-wise by MGM. To MGM, a collector’s edition is nothing more than a money grab. I should know all about collector’s editions having obtained mostly everything ever released to do with the film and supplementing the Romero Living Dead series’ discs for Anchor Bay. All MGM did was re-issue the same, soundtrack-edited version of the movie with a different cover, and add a new commentary and featurette by various cast members. Don’t you love those commentaries where everyone talks over each other? It’s safe to say that if you want information on the making of the movie, the first DVD’s commentary - by the director - would be a better listen/buy. Chances are, between this site and everything else you ever ran across about the making of the movie, you’d not learn anything you didn’t already know. Especially considering that idiots pretending to be zombies begin moaning and carrying on, ruining what little good the commentary had to offer to begin with! If you *have* to buy it, you’re probably interested in the featurette - seeing the cast speaking about your beloved movie on screen. You get that, but again, the commentary is enough for tidbits and recollections. We didn’t need both. Insulting the audience further is the section MGM added where when you watch the movie, you can see cartoon-like bubbles showing what the zombies are “thinking”…unnecessary and not funny. I don’t even want to repeat some of the corny lines here. Trailers to entirely unrelated movies are also unnecessary. With MGM’s new DVD for ROTLD, you get the trailers for Jeepers Creepers! Now advertising for other movies is standard practice for some companies, but this space could be used for other more important things pertaining to ROTLD. The only way to get a Collector’s Edition that is on the same scale as something Anchor Bay has done with various titles, is to take the rights away from MGM. With this attempt to make people double dip and/or replace their 2002 disc, they have proved once again they have no rights to the rights. You do it right the first time or forget it. This also will never happen. I want to say that the review here is not based on a copy I bought and I ask that you do the same. To exercise your right, and NOT buy the Collector’s Edition of ROTLD. If MGM is too broke to do it right, then we’re too broke to accept anything less than a proper Collector‘s Edition. Now if you don’t have the original 2002 DVD, get your ass out on eBay, amazon and get one, if you can’t find them new anymore. I have seen them on sale for under $10 - even on road trips at truck stops and plazas of all places! These may go up in value by the time MGM rolls out another ROTLD DVD - the Definitive Ultimate Special Collector’s Edition or something. Don’t make me come out again in 2012 to say I told ya so...

REVIEW OF 8-27-02 DVD THE CASE
It's amazing that MGM would hire people who have not even seen a movie to write a synopsis.  Consider this: "On his first day on the job at an army surplus store, poor Freddy unwittingly releases..." Yeah, over here is where we keep the combat boots, Freddy... And I could have sworn Frank was the one who released the gas..

That's my biggest gripe about the case but I should point out that not one still of any of the good character zombies made it to the artwork, and that the stills are of the much-maligned Munns background ghouls. Nice that they didn't quite understand what I wrote about undersupplied art departments in my Versions page. They had plenty of resources (myself included) for the stills that would have helped sell the disc, and they ultimately will not (mark my words) win any new fans' curiosities over this lousy job.
The credits from the Orion posters are replicated with the sole difference being Rudy Ricci's name changed to Rudolph J. Ricci, but that's no biggie. The Orion logo was kept, but not intact in the print they used...more on that later. Also no biggie, abut Rudy called himself Ricci Valentine when he co-wrote ROTLD. He was not exactly proud of spending time on it.

THE BOOKLET
Booklet? Mine didn't come with no stinking booklet! Must have been way too expensive to produce two lousy pages (or a chapter stop card a la Anchor Bay).

THE MENUS
A boring backdrop of the US poster art. That's it.

THE MOVIE
As I stated numerous times and to the disagreement with one fan only (who can now see I *was* right) ROTLD should have never been presented widescreen. Where else can one see Linnea's jiggling rear but in the full screen version (refer to the scene where she fondles actor Mark Venturini). I supplied full screen caps from the earlier transfers off the HBO Video and Hemdale Video on the Versions page near the bottom. So if you want to see how the top and bottom is indeed cut off and the letterbox in effect, set your DVD player up near the computer. By the way, not that I am a pervert or anything, but I thought that scene had the most going on to demonstrate loss of picture...and when I told Linnea about it, she was amused...

So the bottom line is there is no anamorphic widescreen transfer of ROTLD anywhere on Earth. Stick to the full screen (standard) version and remember the movie was lensed with a view towards TV format- regardless of what you hear or read anywhere else. Though I fought for both widescreen and fullscreen to be included on the disc, I partly did it to put this inane notion that it was meant to be widescreen to rest. Anyone who believes this to be what was seen in theaters is mistaken. I have a 35mm print of the movie and I can verify this. When you look at a frame, it has more top and bottom picture than the widescreen AND even a bit more than the standard. So the standard would be the true 'widescreen' and the open matte could be, well, your television. Besides, how many people actually have a rectangular TV anyway? 

So ultimately the Hemdale source print was used.  I want to stress the original negative was not remastered. The print is sharp, but artifacts time to time (read: gets grainy in dark areas). There are some parts where it is as clear as probably possible. Can it look better? Hell yes. But that involves money and time and as I said before, MGM wanted to simply get the movie out. Some parts are inferior to the laserdisc - the lettering appears to be faded in this Hemdale version, but then like the UK Vestron/Tartan job, it looks washed out and cyan in certain areas (the mortuary scenes for instance in the embalming room). I urge anyone to note the richness of the laserdisc colors, and even the trailers/TV spots. Sidenote: The teaser (same commercial I ripped the audio from on this site a few years back) is referred to as a G-rated trailer. Both the trailers were shown before R-rated features.

The differences noted immediately:
- Opening bass notes seem lower than the home video versions of old.
- "Fur Elise" replaced by a different classical piece as per the UK version on Tartan Video.
- "Dead Beat Dance" intro cackle and opening drum fill used then the Straw Dogs "Young Fast Iranians" is spliced in. THEN even dumber, the last part of the Dead Beat Dance returns! This is the same as Hemdale Video release (1991).
- "Take a Walk" lyrics removed in the scene where the punks at Uneeda decide to run back to the cemetery; dialogue track loud and clear while at Uneeda in front of the boarded up door
- Music of "Burn the Flames" lowered in the cremation scene. Frank's death scream is turned up louder - as Dan O'Bannon originally wanted. Sorry Dan, gonna have to go with the original version on this. That song seems so pitiful and cruel at the same time, so perfect, like a twisted music video. Turn it back up.
- Tar Man's voice redubbed. The "send more cops" radio corpse, too. I don't mind the latter but altering Tar Man's will be controversial!
- Helicopter stock footage voice over (by Dan )cut down a bit from the original.
- Sirens heard outside turned up louder when Burt grabs a baseball bat to kill Tar Man
- Original Tar Man and Radio Corpse voices in credits scene...forgot about that, didya guys?

THE COMMENTARY
Dan O'Bannon and Bill Stout, still friends today do take the commentary seriously and highlight some interesting things, nothing terribly apocryphal. Certain things like Mark Venturini's death, why Dan chose Ernst Kaltenbrunner as a name for the embalmer were not brought up. You may notice a pause in and around the strip scene; this was due to Dan's cruder terminology being edited out. Removed were his insults towards Bill Munns (makeup man hired then fired due to poor work). Those were heard in the warehouse scenes where you don't hear commentary.

Dan keeps cutting off William Stout's train of thought several times to point out minor things. I don't think Bill could finish saying certain things (the message on the eye chart comes to mind).  Dan also refers to the mortuary as a mausoleum numerous times, which is not accurate and not even in the scripts he wrote. A mausoleum is an indoor crypt.

Dan does admit a few shots don't look terribly convincing after all this time and in a self-effacing mood, comments that "today this would be done with better effects and better director". All in all, satisfactory job, and at least a dozen tidbits worthwhile to even frequent visitors to this site's FAQ and Production sections.

FEATURETTE- DESIGNING THE DEAD
This could have been so much more. Only Dan O'Bannon and William Stout were asked to discuss the film, even though they also had the whole movie to comment. I know for a fact that the cast and producers were willing to discuss the movie for free and were in L.A. at various points during the production of this disc. In fact, I even offered to make a documentary for MGM to no avail.

There are no production stills to enhance the talking (again MGM didn't want any from anyone). Instead the usual clips from the film. Using rare stills could have enlivened this mostly lifeless featurette. Stout does elaborate on the inspirations for the designs (something he couldn't have time for necessarily in the commentary).

Well, at least we got a featurette period.

CONCEPTUAL ART THE STORYBOARDS)
Probably the best feature of the disc. William Stout always wanted to release a book of his pre-production sketches and paintings, but this is as close to that as possible. Represented are early ideas for the Resurrection Cemetery, Yellow Man, Legs (Trash), even a floor plan of the mortuary set.

THE TRAILERS AND TV SPOT
The same trailer from the UK DVD was included, the same three minute red band trailer circulating on 35mm. The teaser was welcome as were the two American TV spots, which repeat five or six times more. The only difference is that some are for "opening August 16th" or "Friday" ...

THE VERDICT
Perhaps I am a perfectionist? Perhaps I am incapable of being satisfied? Wrong. All MGM had to do is release the same old version and clean it up. Print a booklet. They had offers to incorporate the deleted scenes. Had they foregone the widescreen layer they'd have room for more goodies like gag reels, collectibles gallery, another featurette on the production, scripts electronically reproduced, still gallery, you name it. But somewhere out there, someone is happy with this - a casual fan who's not quite as critical as I may be - and has secured a cozy place for it on their DVD shelf.

What it means now is that hopefully someone in another company will sweep up the rights and bring a definitive, electrifying special edition that the fans will have to wait for and buy once again, after selling off their old MGM DVD. Perhaps in 2004 or 2005, a 20th Anniversary Edition will be produced in a limited edition tin military canister? Who knows? One thing for sure, it ain't a bad question, Burt.

And in their prophetic entirety here is my original write-up which I formerly devoted to instructing MGM how to make a good DVD. In yellow are comments I made after the DVD had been designed. In green the details I warned MGM about back in Oct. 2001 before they even worked on the disc.

MY ORIGINAL CONCERNS OVER THE DVD  (Rev. July 2002)
Last October I wrote up what an ideal collector's edition DVD would contain. 

A decent cover 
In other words, no crazy fonts and undersupplied art dept. kid stuff. Refer to the Night of the Living Dead DVD from Columbia for the Goodtimes Halloween II and III for an idea of what can go wrong. What will work is either a reproduction of the poster artwork or a nice photo collage with the original logo design. Something that will catch the eye of newer, uninitiated horror fans who find it on the shelves while browsing Suncoast...

As you can see they went with the original poster design which may not catch any newbie's eyes...but will satisfy the old school fans. As of this month, the cover has not been finalized and still may change.

A decent booklet/liner notes

Again, crazy things can happen. Either a half-hearted booklet or no book at all, or a booklet filled with the same old stills or awful synopsis. A good model to go on on an excellent booklet is MGM's Phantasm DVD. It even compared the widescreen and full screen versions and proved that the WS presentation is the definitive one. Maybe they can do the same for ROTLD.

A friend at MGM said this will not be a great booklet, more like a two page insert.

Deleted scenes
At least 15-20 minutes worth as seen in the work print; a complete work print on DVD would be ideal but a collection of sequential outtakes would be acceptable and just as watchable. Got to have that ending, got to have the alternate angles of Tar Man, etc.


MGM was unable to locate the elements for these scenes, and didnt include any work print footage.

Collectibles Gallery
 
Storyboards, posters, promo items, ad slicks, alternate art, props, you name it.


No collectibles but Stout's storyboards and drawings were utilized in a featurette that runs about 15 minutes. 

Dan O'Bannon running commentary
Need I say more? A lot of people are wary of group commentaries (and companies don't like the expense and hassle they are to arrange and record).  But hearing Dan narrate the film would be enlightening no doubt and probably hilarious. Maybe William Stout can join as well, as he has a number of stories to tell.


They went with this idea so both Stout and O'Bannon comment through the film. Some of Dan's harsh comments and cruder terminology had to be edited in fact. The skeleton rising out of the cemetery Dan wanted edited out completely! But don't worry it is intact.

Featurette 
Since no home video footage was shot on the set, a fifteen minute featurette would be great. Interviewing key cast and crew (with rare stills thrown in for spice) and perhaps glimpses into storyboards and such, this would be something of interest to even casual fans.

Something like this was done but no current cast interviews, soundbites, etc. There ARE however stills from Stout's collection.

G
ag reel 
The one thing most fans have not seen. It exists and this would be the perfect time to showcase it.

This exists but was according to MGM, they could not include it in time.