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The Burning

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Document of the Dead


  • Initial Version
  • Original Cut
Release: Jun 08, 2021 - Author: Muck47 - Translator: Mike Lowrey - external link: IMDB

Comparison between the initial version (contained on the 2012 Blu-ray from the US by Synapse Films or in shortened form on the Scandinavian DVDs) and the 1989 cut on the German DVD by CMV Laservision (identical to, among others, the bonus material on the British Blu-ray of Dawn of the Dead by Arrow Video or the 1998 US DVD by Synapse) and the "Original Cut" on the British Blu-ray of Dawn of the Dead by Second Sight (identical to, among others, the US DVD by Anchor Bay or the Australian DVD by Umbrella Entertainment).

A few additional master errors with a duration of less than 0.5 sec each were not listed in the report.

History of the best known Romero documentation

1) Roy Frumkes' legendary documentary Document of the Dead has undergone a curious release process. Originally, Frumkes only wanted to create a kind of educational film series about independent filmmakers for his New York School of Visual Arts. Producer Richard Rubinstein, who had already worked with George A. Romero on Martin, gave Frumkes the opportunity to accompany the 1977-78 filming of Dawn of the Dead. The material was edited into a 66-minute original version, which was first shown at festivals in 1981 and is included as a 16mm HD sample on Synapse's 2012 US Blu-ray. On the Scandinavian DVDs, a 63-minute version of this "initial version" is included, which, however, has apparently only been reconstructed from the version now mentioned under point 2 and therefore lacks 3 minutes of material.

2) Since no deal was made with a distributor for commercial release in the 1980's, Frumkes accepted an offer from his former student Len Anthony in 1988 to distribute the film on VHS via his label Off Hollywood. To spice things up a bit with current shots, over 20 minutes of interviews and other material were shot on the set of the Romero/Argento collaboration Two Evil Eyes, while at the same time 3 minutes of the original version were cut. This is how the 1989 "original version" or first, widely published version of the film was created. However, it is possible to distinguish more precisely between these two versions of the film:

a) 84min NTSC / Blu-ray: First shown on the 1998 US DVD by Synapse and e.g. available on the UK Blu-ray by Arrow Video

b) 92 min NTSC resp. Blu-ray: This version shows some more "Deleted Footage" after the credits. However, on e.g. the US DVD by Synapse or the UK Blu-ray by Arrow Video this is also largely stored in the bonus material and there are no deviations in the film itself. By the way, this doesn't contain all shots of the 3 minutes omitted from the initial version - some moments can still only be found there.

3) But the version history did not end there: In 2012, the 101-minute "Definitive Cut" was released for the first time on another US DVD. The last third of the film contains new scenes of Romero at a 2006 convention, various comments on the follow-up films or an interview with Romero's daughter Tina. At the same time, over 20 minutes were removed again, which were present in all previous releases.

So if you want to see it all, you won't be able to avoid adding several versions to your collection. Fortunately, on the British UHD/Blu-ray box set to Dawn of the Dead by Second Sight, available in the UK since November 16, 2020, both the "Original Cut" and the "Definitive Cut" are included together in the bonus material. Synapse's 2012 BD/DVD combo in the US again included the "Definitive Cut" along with a new HD scan of the 66-minute initial version.

The first two extensions of the initial version

In this report, we devote ourselves to the path from both the "initial version" to the original cut, as well as the differences between versions (a) and (b) of it. Obvious, of course, is the long extension in the form of 20.5 minutes of additional footage from the Two Evil Eyes set, which was simply tacked on at the back. Later, this block of scenes was significantly streamlined in the Definitive Cut. But as already announced above, at the same time more than 3 minutes were also removed, some of which can still really only be seen in the "initial version" and were also not included in the bonus material of newer releases. The reason for this is not really apparent.

First deterrent and also responsible for the misleading classification as "cut" is the fact that the extended "Original Cut" was only available in a shorter version (a) in Germany. The difference, however, is really only in the rather unspectacular deleted scenes and a few more credits, which were quite bluntly appended in the back. Actually, these were simply a featurette in the bonus material back in 1998 when Synapse Films first digitally released the film.

Sloppy PAL/NTSC conversions are responsible for additional running time differences between these releases worldwide and the lion's share of the documentary itself has been identical 1:1 in all versions before the radically changed "Definitive Cut".  All in all, for the sake of completeness, interested parties are advised to take an additional look at the initial version of Synapse, as it is the only true HD release worldwide and contains a few exclusive moments. The "Definitive Cut" is also included as a DVD supplement. Otherwise, the British Blu-ray from Second Sight, which contains the "Definitive Cut" and "Original Cut", is a good choice.

The UK Blu-ray has 4 sec more black screen to start compared to the German DVD. The US Blu-ray with the initial version is 1 sec shorter and the Scandinavian DVD with the shortened initial version is 3 sec shorter than the UK Blu-ray..

The opening credits have been revised: All releases from 1989 onwards have new credits.

Initial version"Original Cut" from 1989

Runtimes are ordered as follows: HD scanning of the initial version / "original cut" UK Blu-ray

01:06-01:11 / 01:07-01:12

The first clips from Night differ somewhat. In general, they have a much better quality in the HD scan of the initial version.

No time difference.

Initial versionOriginal Cut from 1989

13:13-13:31 / 13:14

The scene in the hallway from Dawn is much longer, plus further off-screen commentary comparing Romero's style to that of D. W. Griffith. In addition, we see various well-known directors, most recently Roman Polanski and there is further commentary that genre conventions would only be a starting point for true artists.

+ 18.1 sec

14:54-16:30 / 14:37

You can see from Night how the television is reporting on the zombie outbreaks. As an off-camera commentary, it is pointed out that the media is a frequent theme in Romero's films. George himself says in addition in between also in the off that this could be because of his first steps with TV productions. Last one sees him also with it: He notes critically that the comments in the TV are mostly alarming and confusing with reports about disasters, instead of reassuring the viewers.

+ 95.7 sec (= 1:36 min)

17:16-17:40 / 15:23

Producer Richard Rubinstein points out that George has never had as much budget as he did on this film.

Note: This scene was reinserted in its entirety in the Defintive Cut.

+ 24.6 sec

19:55-20:21 / 17:37

More scenes with Ken Foree from the shoot.

Note: This part is included in the "Deleted Footage".

+ 25.8 sec

23:02-23:34 / 20:19

David Emge's commentary is considerably longer.

Note: In the Definitive Cut, the first second of this can be seen, or rather, with it can still be guessed that the cuts were made at this point. The remainder of this scene is however nevertheless completely put in the "Deleted Footage".

+ 31.7 sec

36:34 / 30:19

A cut to the interview with George in the mall halls starts a little earlier.

Note: Also just as longer in the Definitve Cut.
0.8 sec

38:53-40:12 / 35:37

A longer commentary on the difficulties of proper lighting. Accordingly, you can see some rehearsals behind the camera. Lastly, George earlier in a long take on the bench describing his vision of the shot to follow.

Note: This is also seen in the "Deleted Footage". In addition, the back portion of this scene block is included again in the Definitive Cut.

+ 79.8 sec (= 1:20 min)

US Blu-ray initial version 62:02 or 65:33-65:45 / Scandinavian DVDs 57:21 / DE DVD CMV 55:00-55:12 / UK Blu-ray Second Sight 57:25-57:37

After the shot of the big banner for the film in the city, the credits immediately follow in the initial version. In all later versions of the film, George and Roy are seen walking through a corridor right here, with George commenting that Dawn of the Dead was not the end at all, but only the middle part of his intended trilogy. This came up on the initial version as well, but only at the very end after the credits. On the Scandinavian DVDs, this was omitted altogether.

12 sec

US Blu-ray initial version 62:02 / Scandinavian DVDs 57:17 / DE DVD CMV 55:12-75:58 / UK Blu-ray Second Sight 57:37-78:23

This is followed by a fade-in of what then happened 10 years later. After that, the 1989 reshot footage begins. The German DVD runs at NTSC speed here, despite being PAL, and thus the difference in runtime from the correctly running British Blu-ray is jumbled from here on out. Otherwise, this scene block is 1:1 identical or just only missing from the 63-minute initial version. The credits afterwards runs also with CMV again normally in PAL.

It starts with another conversation with George on the set. Then Tom at work and George with a yoyo. The effects scene on the bed is presented in great detail. Christine Romero gets a word in, whose scene on the set is also seen again after various other interviews. Various impressions from the set and comments from Gahan Wilson as well as Steve Bissette and the "Phantom of the Movies" follow. Thereupon, finally, various curious spots are shown, which demonstrate the far-reaching influence of Romero's work.

1246 sec (= 20:46 min)

Over the credits, only in the 66-minute initial version can you hear further commentary at the beginning. This is about the fact that only a few directors are granted the "final cut" and thus full control over the film editing. In addition, the credits again deviate in color.

Initial versionOriginal Cut from 1989

Scandinavian DVDs 63:03 / DE-DVD CMV 81:27 / UK Blu-ray Second Sight 84:06-91:36

After the credits, the longer version of the "Original Cut" begins the Supplementary Section as part of the film file: A compilation of Deleted Footage. After just under 4 minutes, more credits and more footage follow here in between.

450 sec (= 7:30 min)