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The Crazies (2010) DVD Review

The Crazies (2010) movie poster The Crazies

Theatrical Release: February 26, 2010 / Running Time: 101 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Breck Eisner / Writers: Scott Kosar, Ray Wright (screenplay); George A. Romero (original film)

Cast: Timothy Olyphant (Sheriff David Dutten), Radha Mitchell (Dr. Judy Dutten), Joe Anderson (Russell Clank), Danielle Panabaker (Becca Darling), Christie Lynn Smith (Deardra Farnum), Brett Rickaby (Bill Farnum), Preston Bailey (Nicholas Farnum), John Aylward (Mayor Hobbs), Joe Reegan (Pvt. Billy Babcock), Glenn Morshower (Intelligence Officer), Larry Cedar (Ben Sandborn), Gregory Sporleder (Travis Quinn), Mike Hickman (Rory Hamill), Lisa K. Wyatt (Peggy Hamill), Justin Welborn (Curt Hamill), Chet Grissom (Kevin Miller)

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Remakes and sequels abound in Hollywood, but in no genre are they as prevalent as horror. Maybe there are fewer scary stories that can be told, but modern horror filmmakers seem a bit overeager to recycle. Most recent horror remakes fall into two classes: those that anglicize Asian supernatural tales and those putting contemporary spins on plenty familiar titles.

The Crazies doesn't fit into either of those groups, because its source, George A. Romero's 1973 film of the same name,
hardly could be considered well-known or well-loved. Such a project isn't without precedent; the 21st century has also given us remakes of such relatively forgotten flicks as Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, and The Stepfather. Despite the lower expectations and less intimidating legacies, none of those redos made a huge impression on audiences or critics. But few horror films do, and since budgets are so low and the target audience so narrow, most don't have to soar to be considered a success.

With that in mind, the overall middling numbers put up by The Crazies -- a domestic gross just shy of $40 million, a 72% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, and perhaps, most impressively, a respectable 6.8 rating from the fairly cynical teen-heavy IMDb votership -- establish it as something of a standout among its class.

Pierce County sheriff David Dutten (Timothy Olyphant) tries to make sense of the situation that has gripped his small Midwest town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa. With her temperature raised by her unannounced pregnancy, Dr. Judy Dutten (Radha Mitchell) finds herself bound into quarantine with other citizens suspected infected.

Life stops being ordinary in the sleepy, small town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa (population: 1,260) when a man calmly walks into the outfield of a local baseball game with a rifle in his hand. Silent but seemingly determined, he points the gun at the sheriff, who reacts just quickly enough to eliminate the threat. The deceased was presumed to have returned to the drinking ways for which he was once known, but his toxicology screen comes back negative. In fact, the husband/father is simply the first of many residents to exhibit deadly, erratic behavior.

The puzzling pattern that began with that outfield incident is of understandable interest to the film's leads, sheriff David Dutten (Timothy Olyphant) and his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) the town doctor. Like any film's leads, the Duttens are attractive, affluent, and good-natured, at least compared to their neighbors. They're also expecting their first child, a fact they believe gets them separated when gun-toting government officials arrive in never-comforting contamination suits.

We can deduce that the town has been stricken by some remarkable phenomenon, potentially airborne contagious and at the very least deadly serious. Our lead couple manages to reunite and to team up with their respective seconds in command, David's faithful deputy Russell (Joe Anderson) and Judy's young nurse Becca (Danielle Panabaker). As far as we can tell, it is these four against the world. Armed with some weapons but in need of an unlocked car, the group tries to avoid both the extreme quarantine measures and townsfolk rendered hostile by this mystery disease.

David (Timothy Olyphant) and his deputy Russell (Joe Anderson) are intrigued by the strange behavior exhibited by their imprisoned crazy farmer. Though he doesn't claim much screentime, this man (Larry Cedar) provides the bloody pitchfork on which the film was marketed.

The Crazies has a pretty interesting story that brings a doomsday to the middle-of-nowhere Midwest. Most of the fear comes from not knowing, so the movie leaves us and its few focal characters in the dark to play out worst-case scenarios in our minds. Meanwhile, whatever is going on delivers homicidal instability, transforming any citizen into a potential killer. Unsurprisingly, we bear witness to several people insanely infected by the outbreak, wielding knife, gun, gasoline, and pitchfork and willing to use them on decent everyday folks.

The film's biggest shortcoming is that it opts for these immediate scares,
even as it displays restraint (for a while at least) in how much carnage it shows. The greater interest, for me, lies in the larger mystery. What has happened? Why this dramatic response? Is there any hope for a happy ending? Answers are delayed as long as they can be, and when they come, they don't really satisfy our curiosities. They're not shocking and any implications they might hold for the heroes are minor, since we don't really get a chance to warm to them beyond wanting them not to die gruesome deaths.

Did the warm critical reception elevate my expectations for The Crazies? Perhaps. I'm no sucker for horror films, but I can tell you that this one, straddling the gore/suspense divide and leaning to the former, is only a bit better than the genre's average output. That's more than enough to tickle fright flick devotees, but it didn't leave me more than moderately compelled.

Nearly doubling its modest budget in domestic admissions alone, The Crazies became the third highest-grossing film in the 2-year history of Overture Films, which is somewhat expected since it is also the young studio's third widest release to date. Four months after opening in theaters, The Crazies comes to DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday from Overture video arm Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Buy The Crazies on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Foil Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc with Digital Copy ($39.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The film's rather stylized look -- dark, grainy, and occasionally approximating satellite imagery -- is represented in utterly satisfying fashion in the DVD's solid 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is less praiseworthy. It's not that any component is lacking in quality, but the volume levels vary wildly. The dynamic range may be suitable for play theatrically and I assume this mix reflects the film's design. But it's no fun to be constantly reaching for the remote to adjust from larger-than-life gun firings down to hushed, muttered dialogue and then back to flaring score or the quietude that precedes jump-in-your-seat moments. Maybe viewers with their own insulated home theater rooms appreciate this, but for me it just takes me out of the film's universe.

Striking a slightly different tone than his father's Wonderful World of Disney introductions, Breck Eisner discusses his experiences directing "The Crazies." A discussion of George A. Romero, maker of the original 1973 "The Crazies", invites sampling of the uncopyrighted horror classic "Night of the Living Dead."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The Crazies has been fitted with a large slate of DVD extras, including a requisite commentary and well over an hour of supplementary video. All of it is enhanced for 16:9 displays and encoded in Dolby Surround; some of it is dated by mentions of the seemingly relevant H1N1 pandemic from production time.

First is the Set Up menu's easily-missed audio commentary by director Breck Eisner, for whom this is his second big credit, following 2005's Sahara. Eisner proves to be an engaging speaker with lots to share.
He talks almost constantly throughout and touches upon all the topics you'd want covered: scouting and shooting locations (he has an interesting pronunciation of "Virginia"), the actors cast in the lead parts, scenes considered but scrapped or revised, and paying tribute to the original. He also describes the different stages of the illness, repeatedly points out that this is not a zombie movie, and dispenses specific information behind what's on screen. If you liked the movie, this is worth a listen.

"Behind the Scenes with Director Breck Eisner" (10:32) doesn't limit its view to the son of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, also gathering comments from cast and crew members about working with one another and the movie. It's a promotional but fine overview.

Pooling from the same interviews, "Paranormal Pandemics" (9:39) zeroes in on the film's disease and the real-life ones that inspired it and the film's make-up.

"The George A. Romero Template" (9:53) provides a welcome look at the work of the writer/director of 1973's original The Crazies. Romero, credited as executive producer on this remake, is absent, but we get comments from admiring crew members on his brand of political horror and plenty of clips from the public domain classic Night of the Living Dead.

"Make-Up Mastermind" shows us Rob Hall in action, as he and his staff turn Brett Wagner crazy. Episode 2 of The Crazies motion comic series conveys the central judgment-clouding sickness from the infected's point of view.

In "Make-Up Mastermind: Rob Hall in Action" (11:25), Hall and his fellow Almost Human make-up artists demonstrate some of the techniques they used to create the veiny look of the film's sick characters.

Next we get the first half of The Crazies' 4-episode motion comic series. Each installment shares the perspectives of the film's supporting characters. Episode 1 (14:38) spends time with the ex-alcoholic outfield intruder and rowdy hunters. Episode 2 (12:40) centers on the farmer whose cow is stricken and the bad influence that arises from his infection and fuels (no pun intended) his actions in the movie. These are sort of interesting, but I have trouble warming to the gruff tone and motion comics' lifeless animation. While I won't be downloading the others, it's cool that the first two episodes are provided here for those who dig them.

"Visual Effects in Motion" (3:40) briefly and effectively shows us the many layers of CG effects added to a handful of challenging shots, all but one taken from the film's climax.

The Crazies' theatrical marketing campaign is preserved in a Trailers section, which serves up a 40-second teaser and three 2-2 minute previews (two for the film, one for the motion comic series).

"Visual Effects in Motion" breaks down the film's computer-generated work that enhances a few shots. Thanks to the magic of DVD-ROM, the film's full shooting screenplay is included. More visual fans may prefer seeing how the storyboards' pencil sketches foresaw the staging of many sequences. Look closely in the goggles of the gas mask to see the DVD main menu's faint montage.

A Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery holds 40 production images (most of Eisner at work) and lets you notice on your own when you've seen them all.

The "Also on DVD" menu provides the easily-skipped disc-opening trailers for Brooklyn's Finest and "Spartacus: Blood and Sand"
plus previews for Pandorum, Law Abiding Citizen, and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) DVDs.

A nifty Easter egg found on the Set Up menu gives us a 4-minute look at the film's impressively themed Silver Lake premiere.

On the DVD-ROM front (a front that lately has been used exclusively for digital copy transfers and kid-tailored printables), we get two final bonuses. First, the full 107-page final screenplay used. It's a welcome (and unfortunately rare) inclusion, whether or not you've got screenwriting ambitions. If what you really want to do is direct, then you might prefer the storyboards provided for much of the film. Each page holds four pencil drawings with camera/stage directions and the 18 PDF documents run from 3 to 47 pages long. It certainly illuminates how extensive the planning process is, in case you haven't encountered a similar feature elsewhere.

The main menu runs montage in the gas mask of a fallen soldier we stay on. Further relying on the film's unenlightening theatrical ad campaign, the DVD includes a sleek slipcover that embosses the title, central pitchfork, and blood trails while giving Radha Mitchell the extra spine. The Eco-Box keepcase includes an ad for The Crazies motion comic and Facebook app and another for "Spartacus" and other Starz programming.

The 2010 remake "The Crazies" takes its four leads (Danielle Panabaker, Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, and Joe Anderson) through one wild car wash.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Despite its interesting premise, The Crazies plays out too much like a conventional horror film, relying more on the bloodshed of kills than survivor sympathy and seeing its mystery outbreak through. Its able setup is easy to forget by the routinely gory second half.

Aside from the unusual lack of deleted scenes, the DVD's extras are pretty much all that a fan could hope for both in quantity and quality. Anchor Bay has really loaded this package up with valuable extras that delve deeply into the film's creation. The effort is especially noticeable now when other studios are content to give a few standard morsels and likely withhold a few more from DVD. The movie merits a look from horror fans.

More on the DVD / Buy The Crazies from Amazon.com: DVD, Blu-ray / 1973 Original: DVD, Blu-ray

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Reviewed June 25, 2010.



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