An excellent package. A beautiful HD presentation of this timeless work of art, with three audio tracks (original 2.0 mono, 2002 remixed stereo, 2002 remixed 5.1, I like the latter best), the huge and brilliant MORE BRAINS documentary in HD, three smaller but interesting documentaries in SD, features on the first two sequels, a behind the scenes booklet disguised as Ernie Kalfenbruner's notebook (modelled on Anchor Bay's 2004 Day of the Dead Divimax booklet, which was made up as Doctor Logan's notepad), all wrapped up in a beautiful steelbook.
The presentation is outstanding, I can't imagine ever watching the film another way now. The 5.1 might put some people off as it's not director approved and is made from the director approved (but oft detested by fans) 2002 remixed soundtrack, but I was in awe. I can actually hear parts of the score I did not know existed and make out the melody, I can hear atmospherics and details never revealed before! Wow! I recommend you do what I did and pump up the rear (audio channels that is, not an Elton John kind of "pump up the rear") and the bass and be very impressed.
If there's any negatives, it would be that the disc is missing some of the extras from the US releases (2002 MGM DVD, 2007 DVD Collector's Edition, 2008 Blu-Ray), but I don't mind since they are on discs I already own and the information covered in it is almost all here anyway in one documentary or another. The documentary on those discs with the cast and crew pales in comparison to More Brains, believe me, so really it's just the Dan O'Bannon commentary, cast commentary and Dan O'Bannon interview missing.
The booklet is quite superfluous - it's nice and I like it, great illustrations etc., but it's basically distilled from the early chapters of the excellent THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, which I already own and you should too. It's by the same authors so I didn't feel cheated and most of you will probably, uh, EAT IT UP! Plus, it features the first two pages of Don Calfa's exciting script for a sequel called REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD, set the moment the first film ended, here rendered in serviceable comic book form.
Well worth your dime, people.
As for the movie, well if you like eighties horror films (John Carpenter's, for example), or zombie movies in general, this is definitely a must see. It's a terrifically written film, one which still has a lot to offer and reveal on repeat viewings (I should know, I've seen it hundreds of times!). Performances and characters are atypical for the genre - the film seems to both love and loathe rebellious punk types, and makes a rather novel point of turning an older gentleman (think a Southern, foul mouthed Jimmy Stewart) in penny loafers and a baige jacket into a poor excuse for an action hero. Funny thing is, it works! Clu Gulager is actually my favourite part of the movie. The film allows for a lot of comedy and irony - I would argue irony is the film's strong point (and Dan O'Bannon's, too) and it can prove both grim and hilarious, often at the same time.
The real genius stroke of the film, if you'll excuse me using the "G" word, is to so relentlessly push adversity into the character's (and audience's) faces, to the point of absurdity, so that it becomes both funny and intense. The villains are zombies, of course, but unlike Romero's more gothic zombies, these are born of science and spread much more virulantly. Much like John Carpenter's THE THING, this villain's threat comes from a lot more ways than just reaching out to grab and kill you. (Come to think of it, Dan O'Bannon's other famous monster, the ALIEN/Xenomorph from the ALIEN films was also a multi-faceted threat). These zombies can not only not be "killed", their destruction will almost certainly bring forth more of the same (like the mythical Hydra's heads). This relentless attacking really does get to you and bring the audience a lot of intensity, if not fear. However, these zombies also scream "brains!", use police radios like calling for takeaways and make begging/pleading speeches to loved ones, trying to reason why they should be allowed to eat their brains. The funny strokes are funnier because the absurdity is being played more for dramatic power more than pure comedy, and the intensity is funnier because it keeps piling on irony after irony. When they made the first sequel to this picture (and I do like parts 2 and 3 more than most), they did the more obvious thing of playing it all for laughs - and it doesn't work at all. Unlike Romero's heroes in, for example, Dawn of the Dead, who dealt with the end times at the hands of zombies with humour and courage, the heroes of ROTLD behave like you and I. Some of them scream, panic and get hysterical. Some of them need a slap. What makes it so much fun is the contrast between this ridiculous situation and a well-reasoned and intelligent response.