Extra, Extra: ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP
As sales of physical discs (Blu-ray and DVD) decline, the idea of bonus features becomes less and less essential for new, mainstream films. There will always be a market for library titles with extensive retrospective commentaries and documentaries (see: Criterion, Scream Factory, etc), but for new films it's a dying trend. "Extra, Extra" is an attempt to encourage the studios not to give up on us disc champions, by mostly skipping over the film itself (which by now most have seen and you can find reviews for anywhere) and focusing on the bonus features they were kind enough to include. Viva la physical media!
You can accuse Zombieland: Double Tap of a lot of things, but being a rushed sequel isn't one of them. Ten years (!) passed before they finally got everyone back together for a followup, which allowed for different story ideas than they could have used in 2011 or whenever Sony was probably originally planning to continue the franchise. Abigail Breslin's Little Rock, for example, spends the movie hoping to get high and find a boyfriend, which would have been kind of gross if they immediately went back to "Z-world" when she was only 14. Luckily, the first film's fans were happy to spend another 90 minutes with the quartet of heroes, and despite the lengthy delay, Double Tap ended up grossing an almost identical amount to the first film in the US, an impressive feat considering how much of a shrug most non Marvel sequels have been greeted with as of late.
But it's also fitting, because the movie itself is a bit too much like the original for my tastes. Granted it's more of a comedy than a horror movie, but I can't deny that I was disappointed that it fell into the trap of so many other comedy sequels in that it was closer to remake than continuation. The story beats and even a number of the jokes were all recycled, sometimes to its detriment as it would only remind me how much funnier and fresher the original was (this film's version of the driving montage is nowhere near as good, for example). It had its fair share of laughs, and the new female characters, played by Rosario Dawson and Zoey Deutch, were welcome additions (the less said about Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson's "doppelgangers", the better), but here was an instance of the lengthy wait for the film actually hurting it: in ten years, they couldn't come up with enough new ideas that they had to copy so many from the first one?
However, it got plenty of good reviews and high audience scores, so it seems I am in the minority there. That said, I am pleased to see that the Blu-ray is pretty well-packed - more than the first film's in fact, which is nice to see in the streaming era. Unfortunately, the big draw is the commentary track, and while it's a decent enough listen on its own merits, it's hard not to miss director Ruben Fleischer's cohorts from last time (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick). Fleischer is solo this time, and while he rarely stops talking he also can only really bring his directorial perspective, so having actor or writing insight is missed, especially since he is primarily fixated on pointing out what elements of any given shot are digital (to sum up: a lot of them!), and curiously noting gags that don't really work without offering an excuse. For example, there's a shot in the movie where Little Rock fires her mounted gun at an overturned armored truck, chewing up/scattering the (useless) money, and Fleischer admits the gag doesn't really land because we never see that it's an armored truck anyway as the shot was too tight to establish it - why didn't he, the director, notice that on set? And if he did, why did they choose to film it so tight in the first place?
He also will likely draw the ire of any horror fan by praising the film's digital blood (it's not that good, my man) and - worse - claiming it's just as good and you can't really tell the difference anymore. Thankfully he does take the time to note the one legit perk of confining the splatter to the digital realm (they don't have to waste time cleaning it up for a second take), but come on - we CAN tell and it looks bad, so it's a choice of time or quality and nothing more. But there are a number of other interesting moments, such as noting that preview audiences bristled when Deutch's Madison was "too" dumb (like asking why it was called the "Oval" Office), and that even though it's a Sony movie as well, they couldn't get the rights cleared to get a Paul Blart poster in order to take a soft crack at it (Columbus would have wondered aloud if, depressingly, Paul Blart was the last movie someone saw before the zombie outbreak). It's worth a listen, especially if you're curious about why this seemingly small-ish film had a comic book movie length list of CGI artist credits, but he definitely could have used someone in the room with him to make it a little livelier.
The bonus supplements kick off with a gag reel, in which we learn that the other cast members had the hardest time keeping a straight face when talking to Deutch's character (her mispronunciation of "Tallahassee" in particular had them rolling), and that Emma Stone may be an Oscar winner but could not sell the absurdity of "When you love someone you shoot them in the face" without cracking up. I don't care much for these things, but it looks like everyone had fun, so that's nice. The deleted scenes collection is next, and honestly I wish some of them were included, in particular a funny bit where we learn that Tallahassee's hatred of their new ride (a Pontiac Trans Sport) stems from the fact that he drove one himself in his old life, and a little more bonding time between him and Dawson's Nevada - one of the issues with the movie is that the new characters didn't get much development, so it's nice to know there was more at one point before hitting the cutting room floor.
Then there's a lengthy piece called “The Doppelgangers”, focusing on the aforementioned Middleditch and Wilson characters. Everyone involved with the movie seems to think the idea of two guys who act and even dress a lot like our two heroes is the funniest thing in the world, but quite frankly I thought it wore out its welcome fast (saved only by a few of Stone's reactions to it), so a ten minute piece celebrating their sequence isn't exactly thrilling to me. That said, it gives us a peek at the process of creating the epic long-take fight sequence between all of them when the two men become zombies, so it's not all bad. "A Day With Bill Murray" highlights his surprise cameo as himself, as the original zombie outbreak apparently occurred while he was doing press for Garfield 3. It's an amusing bit of fluff about the creation of what wasn't that funny of a scene, highlighted by someone noting that in real life Murray doesn't do TV junkets for his paycheck kind of movies (indeed, it looks like they couldn't even get him to sit down for this piece, as when he speaks to the camera it appears to be in between takes on the set of his fight scene).
“The Rides of Zombieland” takes a look at the new cars in the film, from Tallahassee's "Beast" (a souped up Presidential limo that the crew got from White House Down's production) to the Trans Sport, and finally the big monster struck that Dawson's character uses to save the day at the end, though Dawson notes she never actually got to drive it. There was a piece like this on the Once Upon A Time In Hollywood blu too, and I hope to see it more often, as the vehicles are just as much part of a character's look as their makeup and clothing (both of which are often spotlighted), and it's a relatively unsung part of the filmmaking process. Similarly, “Rules of Making a Zombie Film” takes a few moments to give props to craft services for keeping all of the poor zombie extras supplied with coffee (speaking from experience - being a zombie in a movie like this is QUITE thankless and with no end of waiting around, so coffee is indeed essential), as well as the greensmen who were tasked with making all of the roads and locations look overgrown and dirty from years of neglect. Somewhere in there we also hear the original concept for a sequel, which honestly sounded more interesting, where the group heads to Texas and finds a football stadium that has turned into a community, as well as a human villain - something the movie perhaps could have used if only to differentiate itself from the first one a bit more.
One of my favorite gags in the movie is that the hippie commune Babylon was not named after the biblical city but the David Gray song, so “Making Babylon” is worth including simply for spotlighting the source of one of its best laughs. As with most things in the movie the location had a lot of digital enhancements (surrounding areas replaced to either hide standing buildings or make their fake one look bigger), but it seems it was their biggest practical creation, with the art department having a field day creating things like bicycle wheel canopies and endless weed stashes (imported from 2008's Pineapple Express, apparently - Sony never throws anything away I guess). “New Blood” highlights the new characters a bit, though again since the movie can't be bothered to tell us too much about them most of the piece is basically just about how much everyone likes the actors playing them.
The last two supplements are a little unusual. The "Doppelgangers" piece covered its production, but “Single Take Doppelganger Fight” shows you the raw footage without any of the digital cleanup that hid the cuts, so you can see each time they actually did have to stop/start rolling in order to swap a stunt double or reset something. Fleischer also pointed out the cuts on his commentary, so I'm not sure why they want to keep explaining the magic away (it has a lot more cuts than you'd expect given that it's not a particularly long sequence), but I appreciate the honesty! And then finally, of all things, there's a "Be prepared" ad that uses Columbus' famous "rules" and footage from the movie to encourage readiness in case of an emergency, brought to you by the folks at FEMA. A government agency using an R rated horror movie as promotion? Now I've seen everything!
Overall, it's an excellent release for an OK movie, the type of disc I wish I saw more often regardless of how I felt about the film it was supporting. It's got all of the features you'd expect (commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes), solid picture quality, and - since I love it so much and feel I need to stress how much I appreciate it - subtitles on all the supplements, including the commentary track. I wish I liked the movie a little more, but I'd be more disappointed if I was a big fan and got a bare-bones release for the same price. At least this way I can be stoked for the film's big fans who are getting plenty of supplemental material to entice them into splurging instead of settling for a streaming rental, and that will only increase the likelihood of the studio putting this much effort into a movie I really do care about down the road (Bad Boys For Life, maybe?). It took me nearly three hours to go through everything (including the commentary), and that's the perfect amount - enough to justify the cost, but not overloading it with dead weight that I'd never want to make the time for, either.