Definitive Document of the Dead, The
Director - Roy Frumkes
Cast - George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Richard Rubenstein
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 1
Distributor - Synapse
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
Date - 11/29/12
The Film (4/5)
I'm going to start this review with a few minor assertions. 1. If you are a horror fan in your early 30's and older, you are more than likely also a fan of the films of George A. Romero, 2. If you are a fan of George A. Romero, you have seen the 2nd film in his Dead sequence (I wish I could still say trilogy) more times than you can remember. Which leads me to 3. You have probably seen Roy Frumkes film, Document of the Dead, which chronicles the production of Dawn of the Dead at least one time, if not more.
Document of the Dead started life as an educational tool created by Frumkes to detail the film production process from beginning to end. He just happened to partner up with a filmmaker whose film would become legend in the horror film community, and thus his making-of would become a much sought after commodity. When I was a teenager, it was a film I wish I could have had next to my copy of Dawn of the Dead, alas it was near impossible to find even after a 1996 VHS release of the film.
My first opportunity to see the film (and I suspect many reading this may have had the same experience) was when Synapse Films put out a Director's Cut DVD release of the film in 1998. Now 14 years later Roy Frumkes has gone back to one of his most famous creations (he was also one of the people responsible for the cult classic Street Trash) to create a more elaborately detailed version of the film.
The original Document of the Dead (which can be seen on the Ultimate Edition Dawn of the Dead DVD from Anchor Bay) covered the production of Dawn of the Dead, and gave some detail into the filmography of George Romero his prior films most specifically Night of the Living Dead, and Martin (although for some reason the excellent The Crazies was not mentioned), his style, and methods. The Director's Cut added some footage that Frumkes shot on the set of George Romero's The Case of M. Valdemar his half of the Poe Anthology film (with collaborator Dario Argento) Two Evil Eyes.
The new Definitive Document of the Dead (sort of the Blade Runner: Final Cut of this documentary if there ever was one) adds more footage this time detailing the latest 3 additions to the Dead Cycle. These films Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and Survival of the Dead while quality-wise do not touch their predecessors, the behind the scenes elements that Frumkes captures are quite interesting. He also interviews those closest to George now from actors, and producers, to his own daughter Tina who at one point discusses his writing process from the families kitchen.
It's elements like that latter element that really add a certain charm and depth to this new cut of Document to the Dead. In the original cuts we saw George, the director, the writer, the man who made Martin, Dawn of the Dead, Two Evil Eyes. This gives us a tiny glimpse into both the writing process, and home life of the man who gave us so many classic horror moments. It takes Document of the Dead from an educational tool that was thrust into the cult arena, and truly makes it the defintive documentary overview of George Romero, and the evolution of his processes.
I don't think anyone is watching Document of the Dead for it's stellar A/V quality, and for those that are interested. Synapse has been kind enough to run a limited edition set that includes a Blu-ray of the original cut of the film (which was shot completely on 16mm). The Definitive Document of the Dead itself, varies in aspect ratio from a 1:33:1 full frame transfer for the earlier footage, to a 1:78:1 widescreen ratio for the more newly shot footage. The footage varies in quality due to the age and source of the material, but overall the quality is decent to very good. Of course, because Document of the Dead is a documentary of the talking head variety, and not something like BBC Planet Earth, the A/V is perfectly suitable for this sort of release, and definitely gets the job done.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 in English. The dialogue is completely audible throughout, and I did not detect any issues with the track.
Synapse Films have included an audio commentary with Document of the Dead director Roy Frumkes who discusses the inception and production of the project in it's various stages. It is definitely an interesting listen, although I'll admit going in I did not expect it to be.
If you are a fan of George Romero, than Document of the Dead is a must-see if you haven't seen it already. The Definitive Document of the Dead isn't just a cheap addition to the title, this documentary really goes into the production of George's later films, and interviews the people closest to him to come up with something truly definitive. The A/V restoration works for the material, and the commentary included is a nice addition. Document of the Dead comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to any and all fans of George Romero.