A competent, character-driven remake of George Romero‘s original 1973 film of the same name, recently released on Blu-ray by Blue Underground, with an evocative cover, The Crazies is a fairly slickly made mid-level thriller of tickled paranoia, the type of movie one could see lots of Tea Partiers rabidly embracing, as a prophetic vision of the coming governmental jackboot pressed against the neck of average, honorable, small town gun-toting citizens.
When a string of quasi-catatonic rages and other violence rocks a small Midwestern town, the sheriff of Ogden Nash, David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), finds himself waging an uphill battle to convince the mayor and other powers-that-be that a mysterious toxin has accidentally infected the town’s water supply, and is to blame. Black helicopters (well, vans and other ground vehicles, really) soon arrive, and the secretive government round-up begins. Separated from his pregnant wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), Dutton breaks free from containment, reunites with his deputy, Russell Crank (Joe Anderson, quite good), and then sets out with Judy and teenager Becca (Danielle Panabaker), trying to jointly work their way past checkpoints and dangerous, marauding, infected loonies, out of town.
Rather admirably rooted in the interplay of its principal players, The Crazies is basically an intimately conceived and almost claustrophobic tale with a few big altercations and effects sequences thrown in to goose up the production value and thrill quotient. Some of these work, in a very gut-level kind of way, while others — like a screwy car wash scene — are less successfully conceived, and even more problematically executed. With almost any reflection, some of the movie’s basic plot points don’t really hold up. First, there’s the revelation that an airplane went down in a nearby lake, but only one person apparently noticed/heard it. Then there’s the more basic strategic command decision of an anonymous army swarming into a town, with all forms of outside communication rendered useless; if eradicating an entire town was always part of the possible agenda, why go in “soft” at all, with soldiers who are willfully misinformed about the threat? In regards to the outside threat — and even the potency of the viral communicability, which is never really fully explained — the filmmakers seem to want to leave a lot up to the imagination of viewers, but after a while some of these narrative hiccups and gaps start to come across as lazy.
What makes The Crazies mostly work, however, is its casting; all the main actors emotionally invest in the material, and Anderson in particular gets an interesting arc, moving from sympathetic to antagonistic and back again. This isn’t reinventing the wheel, and the dialogue in particular could use a little extra pop, but The Crazies is aided by the fact that its aims are fairly modest, and director Breck Eisner — Sahara helmer, and son of Disney honcho Michael — for the most part has a smart sense of pacing and involving visual style.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, The Crazies comes to DVD presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track, and optional Spanish and English SDH subtitles, which each offer up a few flubs. Its slate of bonus material is most impressive, though, kick-started by a superb audio commentary track from Eisner. In it, he talks about Olyphant getting an enthusiastic pitch for working with him from Steve Zahn (with whom the filmmaker had worked before) on the set of A Perfect Getaway. Eisner also chats about location shooting in both Iowa and Georgia, and some of the challenges, specifically, that a large controlled burn (see picture above) presented. Naturally, there is some spoiler talk, too, so don’t listen to this chat unless/until you’ve already seen the feature first.
Next up is an 11-minute making-of featurette built largely around Eisner, in which he talks about screenwriter Scott Kosar’s first draft focusing much more on the military response within the movie. A 10-minute look at the “politicized horror” of Romero features a couple talking-head web writers, and there’s a visual effects featurette to boot. Two episodes of the short motion comic are included, as well as a featurette which spotlights the contributions of make-up mastermind Rob Hall. There are also a clutch of Easter eggs, accessed with the left
toggle button on the first menu screen of supplemental material, which
showcase the choreographing of several action sequences with stunt folks
standing in for the actors. Three theatrical trailers and 10 TV spots round things out, along with storyboards and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery. Only a bit more by way of chats with the actors could elevate this 90-minute-plus collection of bonus material. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B- (Movie) A- (Disc)