THIRTIETH BIRTHDAY WRAPUP...
(including a mini-review of the Dawn of the Dead Ultimate Edition DVD boxset)
As I tried to drill into your head throughout September, last Saturday was my thirtieth birthday. (Interestingly enough, Montreal blogger Paul Jané, who runs the more consistently political All Agitprop, All the Time blog, also is a fellow member of the October 2nd club.) Since we're in the final stages of selling our house in Pincourt to move to Ottawa around New Year's, we had to have a building inspector and several other people, including Justin M. from my grade school (now a Re/Max agent), come around to our place on Saturday morning to assess the condition of the house for mortgage purposes (for the people buying the house; we'll just be renting a place until we can get proper jobs). So, I had to get up inhumanely early for me, 8:30 a.m., to get out of the house by 9:30 a.m. so that I could accompany our two big dogs as my mother drove us around for a couple of hours. (Yes, almost two decades ago, I did use to wake up on Saturday at 6:30 a.m. to watch the hour long Robotech block on WVNY-22 (ABC) from Burlington VT, but, back then, I usually went to bed before 10 p.m. But, eh, I watch TV very, very late now, and, since we have 24/7 children's stations, Saturday morning just doesn't have the same cachet as it used to.)
We took our dogs to the same vacant lot in Baié d'Urfé, near the Hydro Quebec substation and the railroad tracks, we took them the previous Saturday to run around for 15 to twenty minutes. Luke actually "performed", so my mother had to scoop it up. I was kind of in the mood for an Egg McMuffin, as I haven't had a McDonald's breakfast since the era when I was at that computer animation college which had an ungodly schedule that forced me to be at some classes by 8 a.m. (and I often had to stay at that place overnight while working on assignments that, despite my best efforts, still looked crappy and unfinished), but, yes, since I was handling Luke's chain and rope, my hands were probably contaminated in a minute way, so, if I wanted to eat at McDonald's, I would have had to get out of the car and wash my hands in the washroom first, and, if I had gotten out of the car anywhere where there were enough people around to excite the dogs, they would have gone running. And even if I did take a chance with potential fecal contamination from my dogs and got my Egg McMuffin, hash browns, and a breakfast Coke from the Beaconsfield McDonald's drive-thru, the dogs would have gotten so rowdy when we're at the drive-thru that the chances they wouldn't knock my food and drink out of my hands and all over the back seat of our Hyundai Sonata was minimal.
So, after the dogs had their little run and tug of war (their leashes were both tied to the same rope), we drove up Chémin Saint Marie road and then tried to find our way through the rabbit warren of suburban streets of Beaconsfield and Kirkland between Saite Marie, parallel to Highway 40 and Elm, parallel to Highway 20, and then down Woodland, across highway 20, to Beaconsfield boulevard to take a couple of books back to the Beaconsfield Library, however, when we got to the library, we notice a soccer game being played on the main Beaconsfield soccer field across the street from the library/town hall complex, and the library parking lot was completely jammed, and, with our dogs, parking on the much larger community centre parking lot a little way up City Lane and then walking to the library wasn't really a viable option, so we had to abort that little mission. We drove east along Beaconsfield boulevard and then took Saint Charles boulevard all of the way north to Gouin boulevard, the long road that follows the entire northern coastline of Montreal island, and drove west along Gouin, enjoying the lovely scenery of the Lake of Two Mountains near Cap Saint Jacques park, which my mother got melancholy about since we have such beautiful scenery within 15 minutes drive of our house but we won't be able to drive there often once we're in Ottawa, and then continued along after the point where Gouin becomes Senneville Road. taking in all of the big mansions on leafy estates. My mother asked me then if I wanted to go to McDonald's anyway, but, at that point, it was past 11 a.m., and I don't think they serve breakfast after 11:30 a.m., so it wouldn't have been worth it.
After that, we went home and I started watching the Dawn of the Dead boxset I received:
I'm not reviewing Dawn of the Dead as a film, but, needless to say, I think it's the best horror movie ever made and is also great as a dark comedy.
The four disks are in a "gatefold"-type case which folds up and is put into a sleeve with the bald "peeking" zombie head that is the signature image for this film and Dawn of the Dead written in embossed red metallic letters, and a silhouette of the four main characters on the back (behind the peel-away sheet with the information about the set). As you unfold the gatefold, there are two-tone (red-on-black) images of three of the zombies from the film, an image of the four main characters ready to fire, an image of George A. Romero himself, and the four DVDs, each of which has some sort of publicity image from the film on them and a picture of one of the cast members behind them.
Inside, there's a booklet presenting the features of this DVD edition vaguely in the form of a mall guide, complete with maps of Monroeville Mall (though with store names not included) and a 22-page mini-comic book covering the first third of the film that's really just an ad for the complete graphic novel from IDW Publishing.
The movie itself is spread over three disks, which each contain a different cut of the film: Disk One has the 127-minute theatrical cut of the film, with four different audio options besides the commentary track (5.1 DTS Surround, 5.1 Dolby Surround, 2.0 Dolby Surround, and the original monaural soundtrack), Disk Two has the 139-minute extended edition of the film and mono sound, and Disk Three has the 118-minute European edition of the film in 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby plus mono. I just have a normal Sony Trinitron television with no additional speakers, so I can't really tell you how different each audio option sounds. The transfer is very good; it still looks like a low-budget film shot in the 1970s, but it was cleaned up very nicely and I don't see much in the way of annoying, picture-ruining, "edge enhancement". Honestly, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you the difference between the Theatrical and Extended cuts; I think the extended version mostly has longer versions of the same scenes, with about the only additonal thing I noticed being a shot that showed that the zombies could indeed get around the trucks to bang on the glass doors, but it's safety glass, so, with the truck there, they couldn't get enough leverage to actually break the doors.
There are various trailers, TV spots, and radio spots from the United States, on disk one, and the United Kingdom and other European markets, on disk three, as well as various sorts of images and biographies. The king of all special features for any DVD as far as I'm concerned is the commentary track, and we're treated to three excellent ones. The first one is a Director's Commentary George Romero, who tells us all about his creative process and what it's like directing with input from make-up creator Tom Savini and Assistant Director Chris Romero, moderated by DVD Producer Perry Martin. The second one, also moderated by Perry Martin, is from producer Richard P. Rubenstein and it's a dry commentary track that will bore a lot of people unless you're actually interested in the logistics of filmmaking, like raising money, making a schedule, getting insurance to shoot at a mall, and so on, but I am increasingly interested in the business side of show business, so this sort of thing is very interesting to me. The third disk has commentary from cast members David Emge (Stephen Andrews), Ken Foree (Peter Washington), Scott H. Reiniger (Roger DeMarco), and Gaylen Ross (Francine Parker) and is much more laid back and fun, so relaxed in fact that David Emge apparently fell asleep for a little bit of it and they have to wake him up. They also point out some of the more absurd elements of the film, like how Peter knows how to perform an abortion (which police academy teaches that?).
Two documentaries are included on the fourth disk, The Dead Will Walk, which is interviews shot for this box set with the case and crew, and Document of the Dead, a documentary shot mainly in 1977-78 during the filming of Dawn of the Dead at Monroeville Mall with a portion shot in 1989 tacked on to the end. I'm not sure if I've ever talked about my problem with modern behind-the-scenes documentaries on DVD, and why I increasingly don't bother watching them. Prior to the introduction of DVD, most behind-the-scenes documentaries were shot mainly for members of the entertainment press, and, occasionally, the very rich high-end viewers who bought the "Special Edition" versions of major films on CAV-format LaserDisc1 which usually cost at least a hundred dollars, and that's in American greenbacks, not Canadian "Monopoly Money", and which came in boxes often well over an inch-thick, just to hold the film, which was spread out over two to four discs, and then another disk with the behind-the-scenes stuff. While I wouldn't want to give the impression that no care went into production of behind-the-scenes documentaries prior to DVD taking over the home video market in the late 1990s, the fact is that, at the time they were made, the movie studios believed that only a handful of people would ever see these things and, as a result, they didn't put too much money or effort into their production. As a result, you got documentaries that are very rough, very unpolished, usually edited and narrated in a completely amateurish way. The female narrator in the "old" documentary, Roy Frumkes' Document of the Dead, has a monotonous "You're listening to the Delicious Dish, on National Public Radio" sort of voice straight out of a student film. And I love that kind of behind-the-scenes documentary because it feels completely honest and natural, with nothing going on backstage feeling "staged". And, since it was produced to be viewed primarily by people within the entertainment industry, there is no pandering to a general audience, so it can dissect and discuss George Romero's cinematic technique, using scenes from primarily Martin, a vampire movie Romero did prior to shooting Dawn of the Dead, as well as a few scenes from the original Night of the Living Dead, in a level of detail which would be mind-numbingly boring if you're not really, really interested in actual technique. The bulk of the film is footage shot in 1977 and 1978 with George Romero doing his director stuff and talking about the film in natural-sounding conversations, walking around the set, and Tom Savini doing his gore S/FX thing with latex, buttons, fishing lines, "squibs" (tiny explosive charges), and prophylactics filled with red dye. Not that this documentary is faultless; a segment from the 1989 portion of the film showing Romero and Savini's team setting up a practical effect for the film Two Evil Eyes wherein a diamond-shaped trophy-like thing I think is supposed to be a clock-radio impales a sleeping bare-chested hunk, where, for each take, and there are several, they have to patch up the fake chest with latex, or whatever material they use for the skin, drags on much, much too long, but, overall, this is a fascinating look at both the film itself and the general process of moviemaking.
My problem with most behind-the-scenes documentaries shot these days is that they are glib puff-pieces that are basically just extensions of the press junket, down to filming the interviews with the director and actors, using the exact same sets or hotel rooms in which they film the junket interviews with the soft lighting and the fixed camera angle with the actor sitting in an armchair, with the round pedestal table with the vase and the fake flowers and the movie poster on the wall, talking to the unseen interviewer, usually the entertainment reporter from network affiliate stations from various large and medium-sized markets or from syndicated entertainment news programmes like Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood, who asks a few scripted questions to which the actor gives the same scripted answer he's already given dozens, if not hundreds, of times that day. The problem with those type of interviews is that, since the actor has to pretty much memorize his answers and only has a few minutes per reporter to give them, the answers they give are usually short, superficial, dumbed-down for the general audience, and not terribly insightful. It's all sickengly artificial. Worse than that, I find the fakeness is seeping into the actual behind-the-scenes footage which is all shot now with the full knowledge that hundreds of thousands, if not millions or even tens of millions for the big summer movies, would see it on DVD, so even everything that you see happening "off camera" feels like it's staged for the second set of cameras and the actors are in press junket mode every second they're not acting in the actual film, and, as such, they don't feel like they're being casual but rather actors playing characters who share their names, like Arnold Schwarzenegger playing himself towards the end of The Last Action Hero. Even the ostensibly spontaneous moments with the actors goofing around and "being themselves" come across as being staged.
And new documentaries about older movies made now specifically for the release or "double-dipping" re-release of the DVD version often suffer from the tendency of talking about the continuing popularity, whether cult or mainstream, of a film as though it was some sort of amazing phenomenon, and, as someone who is allergic to excessive hyperbole, especially for things I like, it rubs me the wrong way. Plus, these things always have tributes to "the fans" which I know are well-intentioned, and I'm not saying they're insincere, but it encourages fanboy navel-gazing amongst all of the Ain't It Cool News dot com Talkback fankiddies when, ultimately, we didn't do anything special other than that we watched your film and liked it enough to buy it on DVD. I don't need to be thanked, I already know I'm great. And these documentaries frequently say condescending bullshit like, "This film would have never become popular if it wasn't for you, the fans!" Well, yes, that's kind of the point of calling something "popular", isn't it? Getting back to the Dawn of the Dead boxset, The Dead Will Walk is by no means even close to the most egregious example of such retrospective documentaries I have ever seen, but, still, you get the junket-type interviews, this time with backdrops I think are colourful king-sized bedsheets pinned to a wall and a few tacky horror props spread around, and, sometimes, they commit the cardinal sin of actors taped independently of one another finishing each other's sentences. Most of the information in the interviews is redundant, already covered in the commentary tracks on the three versions of the film, though the interviews with the Italians like Producer Dario Argento and Claudio Simonetti of "The Goblins" are worth watching. Also, you get to see how old everyone looks, with David Emge looking the most... umm... "advanced", while Scott Reiniger looks almost like he's the older brother of Robert Patrick, the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day and agent Doggett from the later seasons of The X-Files. Ken Foree, while bald now, still looks very good for a guy in his sixties (he's aged about as well as Chuck Norris, who is around the same age), and Gaylen Ross has aged quite gracefully and is still recognizable. And George Romero himself, who is briefly seen at the beginning of the film itself as the director of the TV station, has glasses that almost look like two five-inch television screens.
My biggest pet peeve with the "new" documentary about Dawn of the Dead is that it is preceded by a ten-second "spoiler warning" (which you can't skip through!). Like I've told you all many times before, I think this business of spoiler warnings has gone way too far. It used to be that you didn't simply blurt out a major twist like how Bruce Willis's character is actually a ghost for a reasonable, limited amount of time after The Sixth Sense was released, but these days, the anti-spoiler crybabies want you to wallpaper anything you write about any plot details, no matter how minor the detail is or how old the movie you're writing about is, with massive spoiler warnings, even if it's in a location, like, say, an article that will obviously be discussing details of a movie where anyone with any sense of discretion should be able to tell that spoilers will be discussed without seeing the "magical S word". 90% of spoiler warnings are the equivalent of "Do not drink" labels on cans of paint, and I refuse to play that game for the sake of not spoiling things for those people who lack the discretion to keep themselves from getting spoiled in the first place. Who is the spoiler warning for? The people who bought the DVD? But it's a four disk set containing three slightly different cuts of the same film, so I don't know who would buy this thing besides those of us who were obviously already big fans of Dawn of the Dead. I'm not one who believes in blind buys for movies, but, if you're that desperate to buy Dawn of the Dead completely blind, there are editions of the film that are only about half the price as the Ultimate Edition. Maybe it's meant for those people who rent "blind" from online rental services like Netflix, but, even in that case, I think the idea that a supplemental disk for any movie would contain spoilers is a "Well, duh!" proposition. So, in my view, having a spoiler warning on disk four of the most expensive DVD edition of a movie you obviously really, really liked if you were willing to spend so much on it is pointless and a new low for basic common sense.
The other extras on disk four are home movies made by Robert Langer, an extra who played a zombie and who shot around the mall, including many shots of Tom Savini creating zombie effects, often having to innovate from scratch, and you also see an incident where the special effects guys used a little too much explosives and shattered a couple of mall windows, and someone else's video footage of a recent tour of Monroeville Mall with Ken Foree and David Emge and the guy who played the escalator zombie. Monroeville has been heavily-renovated since the 1970s and only a couple of the stores seen in the film, most notably JC Penney's, still exist at the same location. Also, a minor pet peeve of mine is when you buy a bare-bones DVD and then you later "double-dip" and buy the special edition, which is complete except for one tiny thing the "bare bones" has which the special edition lacked, but this edition also has the "If you're fashion-minded, watch out! Big time shopping is finally here at Monroeville Mall." commercial with the very Seventies drawings and music that is found on the old Anchor Bay bare-bones disk, so you can sell the old one or give it away or use it as a beer coaster or whatnot.
All in all, for all the things you can see, Anchor Bay's Ultimate Edition of Dawn of the Dead is the greatest multi-set special edition of a single film I have ever experienced, and is now tied with the Toy Story: Ultimate Toy Box in terms of being my favourite movie DVD box set in my possession.
END OF REVIEW
I also received the Star Wars Trilogy boxset, but I've only seen the first disk, so, if I feel like doing a DVD review of that, it won't be for a while.
Anyway, on Saturday evening, I went around to a "Mexican Night" party over at the house of one of my mother's church friends. They had about a dozen people there and I talked with them a bit, though I was a little melancholy that I was no longer in my twenties. There were appetizers like these pastries with cheese on them thant I think were called "cheese puffs", but not the same as cheesies like Cheetos, and nachos, and some other thing with goat cheese and olives. For dinner, there was meat and taco shells and burrito wraps and various other ingredients, so I just made myself a couple of burritos, since I wasn't really in a taco mood. After supper, the people holding the party did a Mexico quiz, which we self-graded, and my parents and I swept the top three... quite honestly, I might add. My prize? Three Ferrero Rocher chocolate-hazelnut balls, which I have a funny story about, but I'll write that in the next paragraph. Then there was a surprise; since it was my birthday, some people got plastic eggs filled with metal confetti and poured it over my head while they sang "Happy Birthday", and I got a very fluffy cake, like a softer version of a spongecake, and a card signed by everyone there. That was nice! They were going to do the Mexican hatdance, but my parents didn't want to leave too late, so we left. That was a nice way to end a somewhat melancholy birthday.
Unfortunately, the next day, I decided to try one of those Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Funny thing is, the past couple of times I ate Ferrero Rochers, which is a rare occasion (I'm talking about experiences going back to at least the autumn of 2002), my throat got all sore and swollen and I had difficulty swallowing, and this alimentary ailment lasts for about half an hour or so before going back to normal. I wrote it off as some sort of illness or maybe a bad batch of Ferrero Rochers, but, on Sunday, I wasn't feeling sick for a change before eating the Ferrero Rocher, but, seconds after putting it in my mouth, the swelling and soreness returned, so, this time, I went on the Internet looking for information, and, yup, Ferrero Rochers contain hazelnuts and hazelnut proteins are apparently a major allergen, so I guess I do have some sort of tree nut allergy after all, which is a little weird, since I can eat peanuts and chocolate containing peanuts or almonds, like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, peanut M&Ms, Oh Henry, and Crispy Crunch (a Canadian chocolate bar which is chocolate-covered peanut brittle) without any problems. So, I guess what I was feeling was mild anaphylactic shock, but nothing serious enough to see a doctor about. I don't want to know what would happen if I ate the other two at once, though. It's a goddamn shame, since I liked the taste and I think there was a time when I could eat Ferrero Rochers without incident.
Monday, I received my quarter-annual gift from the benevolent Receiver General of Canada, the Honourable Scott Brison, and the Deputy Receiver General, David Marshall. And what did they send me? My GST/HST rebate check! Woo-hoo, $56 Canadian! I'm almost certainly going to go downtown this weekend and get another volume of Super GALS!, or, dare I dream, maybe they'll actually have a volume or two of Kimagure Orange Road in stock, because it's about goddamned time that someone take me (back) to "Summer Side"!
Finally, my brother, Nick, came home for Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. He didn't get me any birthday presents yet, but I did mention that, besides the DVDs I asked for, I wouldn't mind receiving an old Sega Dreamcast, so he brought his own Dreamcast back from Toronto. You see, he was in England at university for about two years a couple of years back, and he left his Dreamcast at home, so it was kind of like "my" system and I bought several games for it, including, among others, Ferrari F-355 Challenge, a supertough driving simulator with gorgeous graphics, Metropolis Street Racer, the original game in the series which became Project Gotham Racing on the X-Box (it has London, Tokyo, and San Francisco in gorgeous detail, but the cars aren't nearly as exotic as they are in Project Gotham Racing), Sonic Adventure 2, which I liked pretty much as much as the first Sonic Adventure, World Series Baseball 2K1, where the Montreal Expos won't ever leave town, and Mobile Suit Gundam Side Story 0079, which is an impressive mecha simulator, though you could only pilot a GM (RGM-79) or a "Guncan" (GRC-80), not the Gundam RX-78 proper, however, he moved back to Canada at the end of 2001 except now he was at University of Toronto and he took his Dreamcast with him. So I had a lot of Dreamcast games, but nothing to play it on, and there is this one emulator I found except I could not get it to work properly on any of my computers because it pretty much requires Windows XP and I don't have it, and I tried installing it on the computer I have with Windows 2000, but it needed a bunch of graphics-related DLL files to work and I don't think we have the proper hardware. The game I was most looking forward to playing again, was Crazy Taxi, a pixel-perfect port of the popular Sega Naomi-board arcade game wherein you pick up and drop off as many fares as you can in a coastal city loosely modeled on San Francisco within a limited timespan while Offspring's "All I Want" plays in the background. I don't have that game but Nick does, and he brought back a whole pile of his Dreamcast games, however, Crazy Taxi was not among them. Nick explained to me that his friend had borrowed it a long time ago and never gave it back, which I find a little intolerable.
Bottom line, America? Nick's friend should give Crazy Taxi back to Nick or just send it straight to me at my house in Pincourt.
(Hmm... that reminds me: they should do another installment of "Pierre Bernard's Recliner of Rage" on Late Night with Conan O'Brien at some point, since it's been a couple of weeks, and I appreciate the spikes in Google hits.)
1 For those of you non-LD fans, CAV is the LaserDisc format which allowed instant access to any frame and had the sharpest picture, with the downside being that each side of the disc could only hold thity minutes of video compared to the much more common CLV LaserDiscs, which had a slightly less-sharp picture and which you couldn't freeze-frame without special equipment but which allowed for up to an hour of video per side.