Full disclosure: I am a fan of George A. Romero. I love him. I love his work. As I sit here at six in the morning typing all of this out, I'm wearing my Land of the Dead t-shirt.
I love ALL of the Dead cycle, including Day of the Dead (possibly my favourite of the sequels) and Land of the Dead, but I also love Knightriders (possibly my favourite of the non-zombie stuff), Creepshow, Martin, The Dark Half, and The Crazies. I liked Bruiser, but I wouldn't own it and I'm not sure I'd watch it again, and it's been so long since I've seen Two Evil Eyes and Monkey Shines that I can't really give an honest remark about them.
If I were to want to emulate a filmmaker, he would be one of them. Not his mistakes, of course *cyber-kicks Richard P. Rubinstein repeatedly and forcefully*, but Romero's movies are slices of fried gold.
That said, let's move on to the review:
George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead (released on DVD this past Tuesday) is about a crew of filmmakers, students at Pitt (University of Pittsburgh), who begin shooting a documentary (called The Death of Death) when reports come in that the dead are returning to life and attacking the living. It's first-person, like many films these days, with the footage coming from the camera of the film's director Jason Creed (played by Josh Close) and various other cameras throughout the movie.
Diary is the master's attempt to reboot his franchise, if you will. If this film were to be shoehorned into the Dead cycle's timeline, it would be at the very beginning; this would be around Night and the first hour or so of Dawn (GAR's version, please, not Zach Snyder's.) While we've been inundated with first-person movies, this one rises above the rest of the "Found Footage" lot for two reasons: no motion sickness and it's George A. Romero.
The script is a little heavy-handed. Romero has so much to say, and I agree with pretty much everything he's said, but in this film he's done it without the subtlety found in his other Dead flicks...yet, somehow the message will still go flying over some fans' heads. Whatever.
I also found the film a bit hard to get into at first, but that was probably my excitement at watching a new Romero movie, one that's he's so proud of, and the hour -- I watched it around two thirty in the morning, after work.
Though I've called attention to those problems, they're very minor when held against how really spectacular the film is. It grabs you and whips you around and around. The characters are all relatively intelligent -- the director's smart and yet isn't at the same time, but he's my only character problem -- the effects (by a Canadian company called Gaslight under Greg Nicotero, who had the credit of "Special Effects Make-Up Producer" as well as "Zombie Surgeon") were great, the cinematography was fantastic (I have to stress this because it didn't feel like I was watching Blair Witch or Cloverfield, those flicks had nauseating camerawork), and the acting was pretty near top notch. The lead actress, Michelle Morgan, who played the director's girlfriend, seemed a bit self-conscious at times, but otherwise she was spot on.
If you're a fan of Romero's Dead cycle, you'll hear some familiar voice overs to help tie the film into Night and there are at least two on-camera cameos that will bring joy to a fan's heart.
Also, I'm pretty good with voices, but I could not pick out the voices of Simon Pegg, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Craven, Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and Tom Savini who were all newsreaders in the film. Luckily, three of them are replayed in the Familiar Voices part of the special features, but not the others...and so far I think Stephen King's is the best.
I highly recommend this flick, but not if it's your first Romero movie or you haven't seen the rest of the Dead cycle. If either of those things apply to you, stop reading and go watch the '68 version of Night of the Living Dead, the '78 version of Dawn of the Dead, the '85 version of Day of the Dead, then the '89 version of Night of the Living Dead (it's one of the few remakes I've seen that lives up to its predecessor), and lastly Land of the Dead. It's a lot of movie watching, but well worth it.