EXCLUSIVE: While the carnivorous corpse attention at Comic-Con is on today’s The Walking Dead panel, here’s something else for zombie lovers to chew on. It involves George Romero, who is to zombies what Stan Lee is to superheroes. Richard P. Rubenstein, who produced Dawn of the Dead and owns the rights to Romero’s 1979 classic, tells me that he is in the homestretch of a 3D conversion of Romero’s groundbreaking followup to Night Of The Living Dead. Rubenstein started this crusade in 2007, and while he’s not sure what he will do with the refashioned film, he so far has one hour and 31 minutes converted of a two-hour, six-minute film. He expects the conversion to be done by early fall.
As you might recall, Romero’s pic took the zombies from the original’s small farmhouse B&W setting, and added a burst of color as the infestation became a wide-scale apocalypse of lumbering flesh eaters. Romero focused the action on a group of survivors who seek refuge in a shopping mall — where it turns out, the zombies also turn to out of a lingering consumerism instinct.Man Of Steel helmer Zack Snyder later made his feature breakthrough with a 2004 remake that added its own creative touches by giving the zombies the running abilities they also possessed in World War Z and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Rubenstein said he has been a fan of the possibilities of 3D since seeing House Of Wax, and that while the forerunner of zombie sagas like The Walking Dead and World War Z continues to sell well on DVD, Dawn Of The Dead might get a new lease on life with a technical overhaul.
“It is proving to be more 3D-friendly than many films, because George’s style was to compose within the frame, rather than across frames,” Rubenstein told me. “That means there is a lot of action within each frame, from front to back, and it makes the conversion process more friendly. It’s like you’re moving the audience closer to the movie. What I didn’t want to do is not edit anything George did in his original movie, and nothing has been altered in this process,” with the exception of a couple of technical credits of the conversion companies that became partners in this effort. They are the Korea-based Stereo Pictures Media Inc conversion house with backing from DNext Media. Converting the film has cost in the $6 million range, which is something considering the original cost around $685,000. How things have changed in the zombie pantheon, where Paramount spent around $215 million to get WWZ right before that film defied the doomsayers to become such a strong global hit. Rubenstein reminds that back when Dawn Of The Dead was released in April 1979, it was one of the first movies to get wide distribution without a rating. It opened in New York that April, and broadened until it got knocked out of theaters that wanted to play Ridley Scott’s Alien in June.
That included a gala opening at the USA Film festival in Dallas, where festival patrons began streaming out by the dozens shortly after the zombies began tearing chunks out of their human victims. “George, me and Roger Ebert were out in the lobby, as Roger was a big supporter of the film and gave it four stars,” Rubenstein recalled. “One well-dressed woman came out, choking with rage and screaming, ‘How could you do this to us?’ Roger looks up and asked what her favorite movie was, and when she said, ‘Bread And Chocolate,’ Roger said, ‘Well, I hated that movie.’ George, of course, was crushed, but we all knew he’d made something special.” The film grossed more than $14 million its first six weeks.
Rubenstein said the next step is figuring how to theatrically re-introduce the forerunner to zombie films to folks who weren’t born when Dawn Of The Dead came out. He is content to move as slow as a Romero zombie if necessary to do it right. “We want to get our partners’ money back, but since no financing came from distribution sources, we’re totally free,” he said. “It is getting the same kind of care, love and attention to detail that went into converting The Titanic,” Rubenstein said.
Related: QED Acquires Zombie Pitch ’19′
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.