Night of the Living Dead - 50th Anniversary Digital
Blu-ray + Digital
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The nation is overcome with panic as all of the dead suddenly come back to life, searching for human flesh to devour. A group of individuals searching for safety are followed on their journey to an abandoned farmhouse in attempts to remain protected, but their attempt begin to dissipate as zombies find their way inside.
Cast includes: Duane Jones, Judith O Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman
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This review has been updated to include information on the forthcoming but unannounced Criterion release as well as more specifics about the print sources for the various Blu-ray editions, as I have received requests for more information. Because the update considerably lengthens this Blu-ray review, here is the short version: this release is not worth the money if you can wait for the Criterion release and afford it but, in opposite, is worth the money if you can't wait or if you don't want any of the other Blu-rays currently circulating around the globe. I shall explain....
To begin, this review is specific to the Mill Creek Blu-ray release, ASIN B074JQKX2X and details what is known at this time. To be clear, the Mill Creek release is not the remastered edition nor is it from some novel source. This is the same print that has been floating around for years, full frame, missing visual information, not even as good as the Millennium DVD we all bought fifteen years ago, with all of those special features, or even the budget German and Japanese Blu-rays that came out a few years ago, which provided features and subtitles. (As an aside, when Mill Creek says "Digital", please be aware that they do NOT mean that you will get a UV code to redeem with the vendor of your choice. "Digital" for Mill Creek means that it comes with a copy via their own, private, streaming service which streams their own, private, transfers, of the type and quality you see on their sets of 50 and 100 films.)
To expand this review, as some have written to me in a state of confusion, it is important that you understand that celluloid film worked in a very specific way. There was one, and only one, original celluloid film strip, cut together by the director and the editor, from all the original celluloid strips of all that they had filmed, into one cohesive film. Then, that master original was taken to a facility where prints, identical prints, were copied off of this one master. Then, for this film, non-identical prints were made of the copies of the original, as it fell into public domain immediately, due to an accidental failure to include the copyright mark. And so, again, this is the same print that has been floating around for years. Mill Creek has claimed it is from an "original print", not the master and not a copy of an original print, which means one of the original identical prints made from the master original, of which there were so very many, was used to make this transfer. All of the prints of the film were the same, or as near as was possible back in the day, and the difference lies in how the celluloid was handled and cared for from then to now as well as in how the digital print is encoded onto the Blu-ray itself. Mill Creek has clarified that they did their own unsupervised transfer of the film off of one of the original PRINTS with no statement as to the quality of the print, where it was housed, how it was stored, etc, and has, in making that statement, confirmed that it was not the master original, which we already knew since Janus owns that one. And so, to my understandably confused questioners, as to the quality of the Mill Creek release, this will look much like the other transfers from that source (that source being one of the best available of the identical prints floating around the world in various states of decay). The German release, the Happinet in Japan, the British and so on and so forth, all used original prints (the copies made way back when) and did their own unsupervised restorations with varying degrees of success. Most people prefer the Happinet release at this point, in case you are wondering.
That having been said, the forthcoming 4K remaster which was completed by Romero himself, for Janus Films, the company that owns Criterion, will be released by Criterion on Blu-ray in the foreseeable future. Romero completed his restoration on the ORIGINAL, that is to say the master, not a print, be it an original print or a copy of a print. After Janus Films' theatrical release of the restoration, this October, and after the special features Romero also supervised and participated in creating have been combined with the old restored features to complete the Criterion Edition, you can expect one big, beautiful, Night of the Living Dead masterpiece, absolutely guaranteed to be the definitive edition of the film.
If you simply can't wait and must have a Blu-ray right now, by all means, wait for Mill Creek's to hit seven or eight dollars and pick up your bare-bones Mill Creek release, absent features, and enjoy it while you wait. It will surely suffice in the interim, as I have found their technicians' skill level to be more than adequate and even surprisingly good, occasionally excellent, on most of the films they have released, especially when you factor in the low budget and similar levels of applied DNR. If you have a litter more money, and absolutely can't wait, I recommend that you go for one of the other available editions, one that uses a BD-50, rather than Mill Creek''s standard BD-25, and one which has been encoded at at least 25 mbps, rather than Mill Creek's standard 15 to 18.
Basically, if you can spare the money, I say go for it. I, not being well off, will wait the two months to one year for the Criterion release and Romero's personal restoration. I should point out that some insiders have hinted that it will actually be 2017 and not 2018 while others have said the opposite. Both are distinctly possible, as Janus may do the theatrical release for Halloween and then put the Criterion Blu-ray out for Christmas or they may do the theatrical for Halloween and wait until the next Halloween to release the Blu-ray, even though some of the fanfare will have died down. Given how many will have purchased the bare-bones print transfer from Mill Creek by Halloween 2018, not being able to wait, and how many of those will have realized that, now, they aren't really in such a hurry to get the spectacular Criterion release, it is entirely possible that Janus will rush to get their release out by this Halloween, on Blu-ray, via the beautiful Criterion label we all love so much.
For the record, and for anyone who cares, Mill Creek is not a bad company, in fact I am pretty much in love with Mill Creek and purchase nearly everything that they release. There is always a place for a good budget label putting out HD transfers on BD-25s at 15 mbps in good old AVC. However, this release is not even in the best aspect ratio currently available, unless they found a print that was uncropped, which is unlikely. This is what you buy if you have a terrible DVD and can upgrade for $3. If you love this film and can't wait, I still say get the Millennium DVD others have written about and await the magic of a Criterion release or, if you can wait, simply delay gratification and wait for the Romero restoration to be finalized by Janus and released by Criterion. Criterion takes a while to get off their collective you-know-whats and release something we all actually want to see, but, every few months, they manage to do it. The Philadelphia Story is finally being released this fall.
Good luck making your choice.
New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director George A. Romero, coscreenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner
New restoration of the monaural soundtrack, supervised by Romero and Gary R. Streiner, and presented uncompressed on the Blu-ray
Night of Anubis, a never-before-presented work-print edit of the film
New program featuring filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez
Never-before-seen 16 mm dailies reel
New piece featuring Russo about the commercial and industrial-film production company where key Night of the Living Dead filmmakers got their start
Two audio commentaries from 1994, featuring Romero, Russo, producer Karl Hardman, actor
Judith O’Dea, and more
Archival interviews with Romero and actors Duane Jones and Judith Ridley
New programs about the editing, the score, and directing ghouls
New interviews with Gary R. Streiner and Russel W. Streiner
Trailer, radio spots, and TV spots
Hey, its 2.50 to buy, that is all I have to say.