Review by Michael Jacobson
James Woods, Deborah Harry, Jack Creley
Director: David Cronenberg
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: August 31, 2004
ain’t exactly sex.”
Cronenberg must have had some kind of prophetic vision when he made Videodrome
in 1983. At the time, the idea
of broadcasting real torture and murder as public spectacle seemed intriguing
but far too bleak to be true. Yet
look at what passes for filmed entertainment today:
reality shows where people put themselves through horrible and
humiliating situations for a few fleeting moments of fame, or programs depicting
the violent results of real police chases, or even a documentary that shows
actual slowed down footage of the kids being shot up at Columbine.
Once upon a time, civilized society would have been railed against that
as unacceptable exploitation of the worst kind.
But in our day and age, the film embarrassingly won an Oscar.
like his strange Marshall McLuhan like character Professor Frank O’Blivion (Creley),
Cronenberg was somehow tuned into the future of video entertainment.
If what we see on the tube today has truly taken the place of once great
shows like The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, All in the Family or others,
who’s to say whether we’re really one step away from Videodrome?
Renn (Woods) is the somewhat sleazy director of a local cable station, Channel
83 Civic TV. Since he can’t
compete economically with bigger networks, his idea is to instead show things
that they can’t. His little
station therefore beams out things soft core porn and other kinds of underground
looking for the one show that will really push the envelope and put his channel
over the top, and the answer just might be Videodrome.
Picked up by his electronics guy with a descrambler, Max finds a show
that offers very realistic depictions of sadistic torture and murder, and
nothing else. He wants more.
is intrigued, but his new love interest Nicki Brand (Harry) is even more so.
She’s a talk show host who helps the distressed, but underneath her
normal exterior is the kind of woman who can respond to the depictions of
Videodrome in a deep, disturbing way. She
even expresses an interest in being on the program.
is there more to the show than meets the eye?
Max is eventually told that what he’s seeing is real…snuff TV!
He doesn’t believe it, but there are even more pressing
matters…namely, why is having strange and unsettling visions all of a sudden?
And what’s with that growing rash on his stomach?
has become the great one-sided communicator.
We stare at it for hours at a time, but when we do, we are only engaged
in monologue, not dialogue. Professor
O’Blivion had recognized it to the point where he hadn’t carried on a
conversation in 20 years. If he
wanted to speak to someone, he made a videotape and sent it to him or her.
Now, Videodrome is speaking to Max Renn in ways he never could have
dreamed possible, and soon, someone who might have eventually created a show
like Survivor is being re-created himself in the image of a new god
film was Cronenberg’s follow-up to the successful Scanners, and has
grown in reputation over the years as a bona fide cult classic.
It’s a typical Cronenberg offering in that it disturbs both viscerally
and subconsciously; bizarre and grotesque images play out in front of you while
nudging you to think about bigger and deeper patterns of the nature of our
world. Cronenberg has always seen
the evolution of man and the evolution of technology as almost inseparable, and
his movies frequently depict graphic images of man and machine becoming one, but
perhaps never so strenuously as in Videodrome.
The “new flesh” becomes what is worth fighting and dying
for…but does it represent a flesh that has broken free from the technology
that has bound it, or one that has finally dissolved into complete harmony with
are asked, and not all of them are fully answered, which is why I think
Cronenberg’s films tend to achieve cult status. More than twenty years after the fact, people are still
puzzling over Videodrome. Only
now, they’re also marveling over how in tune with the future it really turned
out to be.
has delivered a superbly remastered version of Videodrome that leaves the
former bare bones Universal edition far behind. Colors have been restored to their original brightness; image
clarity is crisper than ever, and no signs of aging seem to mar the
presentation. I really only noticed
grain in one particular scene, and it was one where the reality/fantasy lines
were particularly blurred, so I’m guessing the extra sharpness may have been
an artistic decision on the part of Mr. Cronenberg. The 80s remain a problematic era for films transferring to
DVD, but once again, Criterion is the studio that comes through in the clutch.
actually surprised that this is a mono soundtrack…it’s so lively and
engrossing that I frequently clicked my ‘audio’ remote button to see if it
had quietly changed to surround without my knowledge!
The dynamic range is strong, and the sound is amazingly ambient.
There were more than a few times when I could have sworn that the extra
speakers were kicking in, but they never did.
Dialogue is clean and clear, Howard Shore’s terrific score is striking,
and I noticed no noise or interference of any kind.
Short of remastering the audio for 5.1, this is about as good as it gets.
want to start in on this two disc set in a place I rarely begin with: the
packaging. The first thing I
noticed about this DVD was just that; it’s designed to look like an old
Betamax tape in a slip cover, with a handwritten “Videodrome” label on the
side. Slip the case out of its
sleeve, and the illusion continues: it’s
completely designed to look like a videotape.
Pop it open to find the discs and an excellent 40 page booklet.
One, in addition to the film, features two fantastic commentary tracks.
One is by David Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin, the other is
by actors James Woods and Deborah Harry (all recorded separately, but seamlessly
edited together). I particularly
enjoyed the latter; I’ve been a big fan of James Woods for a long time and
have never had the chance to hear him speaking so off the cuff about a film.
His humor and insights were a plus, combined with Ms, Harry’s
recollections about her first major movie role. The first commentary gives more background and technical
insights, along with Cronenberg reflecting on his many struggles with Canadian
censorship over the years.
Two has a new documentary “Forging the New Flesh”, focusing mostly on the
film’s effects, make up and style, and featuring among others new interview
footage with the legendary Rick Baker. There
is a new audio only interview with Baker and video effects supervisor Michael
Lennick. A section called
“Bootleg Video” shows the full uncut clips that were filmed for “Samurai
Dreams” and Videodrome, with commentary.
“Fear on Film” is a 1982 roundtable discussion with David Cronenberg,
John Carpenter and John Landis on the then current status of horror movies…a
out are three trailers, a promotional featurette, stills galleries with hundreds
of rare behind the scenes and publicity photos, and some extremely cool menu
TRIVIA: One of the earliest Videodrome
trailers was actually largely done with a classic Commodore 64 computer!