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Blu-ray Review: Zombieland

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Prior to George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, zombies were vegetarians. As a matter of fact, the living dead on film used to do nothing more than stumble about Hollywood’s back-lots and obey their masters’ orders (see: I Walked With A Zombie, or White Zombie for further clarification). Following Romero’s reinvention of the animated corpses however, zombies became dangerous, flesh-eating monsters. You have to admit, they are a bit more terrifying when they’re after your brains.

My fascination with zombie movies began in the sixth grade, when I purchased a VHS copy of Romero’s original film and successfully managed to scare the shit out of myself one evening. In the years following, I sought out every zombie film I could find, examining and breathlessly beholding many oddities that came my way. By the ‘90s, however, my obsession with zombie movies started to wane. There were very little contributions to the realm of good horror films as it was — while the undead efforts that emerged turned the genre into nothing more than a shallow parody of itself.

I can honestly say that I am a jaded zombie fan. Sure, there have been a few films that have caught my attention since the ‘90s, including Michele Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore (better known as Cemetery Man in the US), and Edgar Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead, the latter of which was more of a comedy than anything.

Sadly, though, viewers and filmmakers alike must have forgotten that zombies movies don’t have to be funny to be effective. People started to joke about a zombie apocalypse. Hey, it’s inevitable, isn’t it? I think there’s something in that Bible book about the dead shall rising when the end is nigh, or something like that. Sure enough, as the genre started to rise once again in the 2000s. In all honesty, it almost looked as if the end was nigh: indie filmmakers cranked out one retarded direct-to-video flick after another; students (and some really bored kids) videotaped inane short films to post of YouTube; and MySpace applications appeared to bog down computers with spam.

Sigh. It appeared that the zombie genre had — pardon the pun — wound up eating itself to death.

Needless to say, when people started to tell me how much I would love the horror-comedy Zombieland, I became skeptical. “Can anything ever top The Return Of The Living Dead as the quintessential zombie horror-comedy?,” I asked myself. After watching Zombieland, I can honestly say that the answer to my question is “No.”

“No, no, no, no, no.” Big fat oodles of “no,” in fact. “Negative to the nth degree.”

Zombieland takes place in the days following the zombie apocalypse (which Mad Cow Disease was attributable for). The dead walk. And run. They’re also hungry for living flesh, too — so it’s in every living person’s best interest to get the hell out of Dodge. One such living person is a young college-aged nerd (Jesse Eisenberg), whose social awkwardness in the previous world has become an asset in this one. Surviving on his own, our young naïve hero (nicknamed “Columbus,” as that’s the city he hails from) has formed a list of rules that have enabled him to stay alive (rules that any regular zombie film fan will noddingly concur with).

One day, Columbus pairs up with “Tallahassee” (Woody Harrelson) — an uncouth ruralite with an abiding interest in slaughtering the living dead. Soon, the boys of the story encounter the girls of the story: “Wichita” (Emma Stone) and her pre-teen sister, “Little Rock” (Abigail Breslin). After several rocky starts at working together, our newfound band of heroes and heroines decide to make way for Los Angeles. Why? Well, for one thing, the Boulevard doesn’t reek of homeless vagrants and their respective excremental matter any longer — just the rotting walking corpses that they used to be (zombies don‘t have to go to the bathroom, as we all know). But more importantly, L.A. is the home of Pacific Playland, Twinkies, Bill Murray (who appears as himself in a cameo), and all of the other things that these four folks have determined will make their lives easier.

Basically, it’s like National Lampoon’s Vacation, only with zombies.

But nowhere near as good.

OK, so let me first say that, yes, I get how it’s supposed to be funny. I also get when it’s supposed to be funny. I even get why it’s supposed to be funny. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I found Zombieland to actually be funny. Most of the jokes that can be found in the film have been the staple of all-night zombie movie marathons delivered by devoted “old-school” (read: people born before 1980) horror lovers for the past twenty years or better, and so, well, I’ve heard them before. The gore effects are surprisingly good, but they’re no match for the witty script or wry social commentary Zombieland should have had.

The one thing I’ll give Zombieland is that the actors certainly looked like they were having a good time — especially Woody Harrelson, who even got away with punching a paparazzi following the making of this film by saying “I thought he was a zombie!”

Bless him.

But, apart from that, Zombieland just didn’t do it for me. Either the genre has become too youthful, or I’ve just grown to old to fully appreciate it.

Oh, well. I’ll stick to Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 any ol’ day.

Sony presents Zombieland on Blu-ray in a 1080p MPEG-4/AVC transfer with a 2.40:1 ratio. The movie was shot digitally, so naturally it transfers well here. Colors stand out remarkably well, while the contrast is damn-near perfect. Accompanying the movie is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track that compliments the film exceptionally well — offering plenty of auditory information for your front and rear speakers. Bringing up the read in terms of soundtracks are an English Audio Descriptive Service 2.0 track for the visually-impaired, and a French DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Subtitles are available in English (SDH), and French.

Sony has included a first-class selection of special features here for this new cult item. First off is a Picture-In-Picture track, which is followed by an audio commentary by actors Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, director Ruben Fleischer, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Rounding out the bonus materials are several featurettes, deleted scenes (which will give you an idea of how much of the movie was shot in front of a green screen), and a handful of trailers. Fans of Zombieland will definitely appreciate these goodies, but non-fans will probably just as soon forget them.

In short: Zombieland has its moments, but I ultimately fail to understand what all of the hullabaloo is about.

But at least it’s better than Automaton Transfusion.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.