March 8, 2011

Cashing in on gallons of gore

Whether you’re a zombie lover or not, catching AMC’s latest serialized sensation should be a no brainer

Also this week: Excalibur, ReBoot, Jackass 3

While not as worn-out as the vampire fad, zombies were beginning to show signs of decay. That is, until AMC's The Walking Dead (Starz, Anchor Bay) came to life. Based on Robert Kirkman’s superb graphic novels about survivors living amid a zombie apocalypse, series developer Frank Darabont’s panel-to-small-screen translation became the runaway hit of 2010 when it premiered last Halloween.

The pilot kicks off with Rick Grimes (a cop, natch) emerging from a coma in an abandoned hospital with zero knowledge of what he slept through. We’re treated to the classic where-are-my-wife-and-son routine as he searches for them whilst keeping his entrails intact. The show hits its sweet spot when Rick reaches the big city and is soon introduced to a posse of toughies that includes his former partner Shane and a white supremacist played by Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’s Michael Rooker. And yes, his family is there too.   

Both Walking Dead iterations borrow from virtually every zombie movie that came before. While the franchise doesn’t exactly reinvent the undead wheel, its character-driven structure provides a Lost-ian backdrop that’s fairly refreshing. Then again, like Lost, in just six episodes the series has already dabbled in TV-calibre theatrics. Fortunately, these snags are few and far between. 

For horror buffs, things would be infinitely less pleasing if the creators failed to deliver cutting-edge zombies and gallons of gore. In the hands of special effects wizard Greg Nicotero, Walking Dead succeeds on both fronts, with minimal CGI-tinkering and maximum makeup effects. 

Like AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad, Walking Dead is tops in the looks department, and this Blu-ray earns high marks for presentation. Less impressive are the special features. Apart from a solid 30-minute making-of that includes a few choice quotes from Darabont and Kirkman, the remainder is more or less dead on arrival. 

Also Available
Spinning John Boorman’s bonkers retelling of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table on pristine Blu-ray is nothing short of magical. 30 years after its release, Excalibur (Warner) has never fared well on home video. Even its HD-DVD (wazzat?) incarnation appeared flat and faded. If you haven’t seen this hugely entertaining swords and sorcery epic on any previous video format, consider yourself ignorant and blessed. Don’t be fooled by the iffy cover (click for way better poster art), this is as savage as fairytales get, and also as good as any I’ve ever seen. Who do I have to talk to for high-def Zardoz? Extras: recycled Boorman commentary. 

Warning: Incoming Review. Take a trip to the primitive mid-nineties by picking up this two-season set of the first ever entirely computer-animated TV series. Of course, I’m talking about the Tron-riffing, Canadian-made ReBoot (Shout! Factory), which aired on YTV back when it was cool to watch YTV. Bob, Dot and Enzo may appear rough around the edges by today’s polished standards, but revisiting Mainframe and all its memorable denizens is more than just a nostalgic hoot, it actually holds up as an engaging narrative, something that never gets old. Extras: short-but-sweet mini commentaries spread across the first three eps.   

They may have gotten older, but the boys behind Jackass 3 (Paramount) can take just as much pain and fling just as much poop as they did 10 years ago. Thematically similar to parts one and two, their sensibility hasn’t changed, even if the gags have somewhat evolved. And that’s a good thing because what makes these jackasses so amusing is their infectious enthusiasm and solidarity. That being said, I’ll never dig the toilet humour. But it wouldn’t be a Jackass joint if every viewer didn’t feel queasy at some point. Extras: Blu-ray boasts extended scenes, outtakes and a great making-of; DVD comes with 3D glasses.