Directed by David Cronenberg
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec Running Time: 89 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: December 7, 2010
Review Date: December 2, 2010
Director David Cronenberg’s ability to morph social commentary into the confines of the horror/thriller genre is quite unique among world class directors, and that ability is on full display in Videodrome, his 1983 excursion into the notion of television’s insidious ability to burrow into our brains and implant ideas which might make us act with uncommon irregularity. Many of the tenants of his film’s theme seem oddly prescient now in 2010, and though special effects wizardry wasn’t quite advanced enough at the time to handle perfectly his vividly weird visual ideas, the effects are still good enough now to retain for the film an effective impact both visually and philosophically. In its day, no one had ever seen anything quite like Videodrome, and it remains a one-of-a-kind exercise in psychological horror.
Max Renn (James Woods) owns a low grade cable channel CIVIC TV and is constantly on the lookout for pirated programming of a provocatively violent or sexual nature that he can use to lure more viewers to his little cable channel. He and his engineer Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) stumble across a scrambled program called “Videodrome” which is, in effect, snuff TV with violent, sadomasochistic images that are so addictive that he is eager to discover more about them. Once he learns they’re emanating from Pittsburgh and being produced by Dr. Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley), first a reporter (Deborah Harry) that he’s dating and later he himself go investigating only to find out that watching the programs manufactures a tumor in the brain which causes such vivid hallucinations that a person loses all control of his own bodily functions. As freakier and freakier things begin happening to him, Max wonders if what he’s experiencing is real or merely convoluted dreams from which he’ll eventually awaken.
David Cronenberg has written a diabolically clever and adept comment on television obsession and yet he’s made it so compulsively viewable that notions of torture and murder as entertainment get somewhat overwhelmed by his other-worldly visual sense. The movie contains so many bizarre illusions and outrageous ideas that it’s better to surrender wholeheartedly to them than to nitpick at some of the irregularities from shot to shot or ponder over the effectiveness of some of the visual effects while lamenting some of the other ones which look cheesy or don’t convince as well. The movie might have made a greater impact with a more hypnotic tone and a less realistic approach to the horrors that befall our antihero, but there is no denying Cronenberg shoots the hallucinations vividly whether the effects quite come off or not.
James Woods is the perfect actor to play the sleazy producer angling for more ways to make a mark for his company, and the actor, always game for anything, is admirably committed to the vagaries of the piece and his role in it. Deborah Harry certainly goes for her own unique character with a taste for the wild side and is very effective. Peter Dvorsky’s Harlan evinces a nice transformation during the course of the movie, and Sonja Smits and Les Carlson as two people who know much more about “Videodrome” than they’re willing to tell initially also register well.
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully executed in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The film’s grain structure has been admirably retained, but that doesn’t prevent color quality from being first rate with mostly accurate and appealing flesh tones and nicely saturated hues. Sharpness, apart from a couple of slightly soft, digital-looking shots, is nicely delivered, and the high definition image commendably portrays the analog television broadcasts in all their mushy, scan-lined glory. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.
The PCM (1.1 Mbps) 1.0 sound mix offers a clear and clean audio track which mixes the dialogue, music (a very spare but effectively moody score by Howard Shore), and sound effects together beautifully without undue distortion or a lack of fullness. It’s a very typical sound design for its era, but that doesn’t stop it from being completely effective.
There are two audio commentaries. Both have been edited together from separate speakers to make whole commentaries. The first offers director David Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin and the other features James Woods and Deborah Harry. All of the participants are lucid, well spoken professionals, and this makes each of the commentaries genuinely interesting and worth hearing. Woods repeats some of the observations which can also be found in the bonus featurettes, but fans of the movie will enjoy and appreciate both tracks.
Unless otherwise noted, the features are presented in 1080i.
Camera is a 2000 short mood piece directed by Cronenberg featuring Les Carlson in the story of an aging actor enduring some children’s obsession with a newly found camera. It runs 6 ¾ minutes.
“Forging the New Flesh” is a 27 ¾-minute documentary by special effects artist Michael Lennick about the make-up and visual effects teams that worked on the movie discussing the challenges they faced and what it’s like to work with a visionary artist like David Cronenberg. Oscar-winner Rick Baker is also on hand to give his insights into the effects work.
“Effects Men” is a compiled set of audio interviews with special effects technicians Rick Baker and Michael Lennick about working on the film. It runs 19 ½ minutes and is divided into four sections.
The bootleg video section of the disc offers three short pieces of video shot for the TV-within-the-movie sequences. “Samurai Dreams,” the softcore porn program, runs 4 ¾ minutes. “Transmissions from ‘Videodrome’” runs 7 ¼ minutes (and contains commentary from Irwin and Lennick). “Helmet-Cam test footage” runs 5 minutes.
“Effects” is a visual essay featuring a montage of photographs and text pages by Tim and Donna Lucas which features images of the movie’s sets, props, and prosthetics which runs 19 ¼ minutes. It’s in 1080p.
Among the best features on the disc is “Fear on Film,” a 1982 television interview with three of the most influential directors in the business at the time: John Carpenter, John Landis, and David Cronenberg. The three men discuss their own work (and each other’s on occasion) making for a wonderful conversation, and it’s especially interesting to hear Cronenberg and Carpenter talk about their latest works in progress: Videodrome and The Thing knowing those films now as well as we do.
The disc offers three theatrical trailers which run 1 ¼, 2, and 1 ¼ minutes respectively.
“The Making of Videodrome” is a rather fluffy featurette on the (then) upcoming film which runs for 7 ¾ minutes.
An image gallery features a collection of posters, one sheets, and lobby cards for the film from around the world which the viewer can page through.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentaries that go along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
The enclosed 37-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some provocative shots from the movie, an appreciative essay on the film by critic Carrie Rickey, and separate observations on the film by critics Tim Lucas and Gary Indiana.
4/5 (not an average)
Like most David Cronenberg works, Videodrome is one of a kind. It’s funny, haunting, and ultimately stimulating. The Criterion Blu-ray presents a glorious high definition transfer which is full of color and texture and a more than ample array of bonus material that’s well worth investigating. Recommended!