When Max Renn goes looking for edgy new shows for his sleazy cable TV station, he stumbles across the pirate broadcast of a hyperviolent torture show called Videodrome. As he struggles to unearth the origins of the program, he embarks on a hallucinatory journey into a shadow world of right-wing conspiracies, sadomasochistic sex games, and bodily transformation. Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry in one of her first film roles, Videodrome is one of writer/director David Cronenberg’s most original and provocative works, fusing social commentary with shocking elements of sex and violence. With groundbreaking special effects makeup by Academy Award®-winner Rick Baker, Videodrome has come to be regarded as one of the most influential and mind-bending science fiction films of the 1980s.
David Cronenberg’s cult favourite Videodrome makes its debut on Blu-ray from Criterion, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
Criterion’s original DVD presented a fairly strong digital transfer, topping Universal’s original DVD presentation, but their new Blu-ray clearly outdoes both editions. Fine details are clearer and film grain is more prominent, though not at all intrusive. Colours look to have been improved upon and saturation looks better, most noticeable in the reds present. Black levels look strong and deep overall, but I thought they could look a little crushed during some of the darker sequences in the last act.
I can’t say I noticed any problematic digital artifacts that interfered with viewing, the image remaining incredibly film-like throughout, and the condition of the materials are in stunning condition (similar to the DVD’s appearance) with only a few minor blemishes occurring here and there, almost unnoticeable. In all it’s a striking presentation, sharp and clear, with excellent depth.
The lossless linear PCM mono track also offers a fairly noticeable improvement over the DVD’s Dolby Digital mono track. Volume levels are excellent, range is surprisingly robust, and the soundtrack is clear, presenting sharp, discernable dialogue, and of maybe gooey, fleshy sound effects that sound a little too natural.
Criterion ports just about everything from their 2-disc DVD edition for the film, starting with the two audio commentaries found on the first disc of that set. The first one presents David Cronenberg and Director of Photography Mark Irwin talking about the film. Cronenberg has the bulk of the track, Irwin only chiming in once in a while (his biggest segment is talking about lighting Deborah Harry.) Cronenberg talks a lot about writing the film, and putting it together, including the tight schedule. He touches on the themes of the film and helps the viewer make more sense out of it, though doesn't fully explain it (I somehow doubt he completely gets it, and does admit it was sort of made up as it went.) He touches a lot on Marshall McLuhan, who was obviously a big influence on the film, and even mentions other influences like the Canadian station CityTV, and also talks a bit about how this film came to be a bigger studio film having only done independent features. As with all Cronenberg commentaries it’s an intelligent and engaging track.
The second commentary features James Woods and Deborah Harry recorded separated, Harry only coming on once in a while, while Woods handles most of it. Woods admits that he isn’t completely sure what the film is about but does offer his own opinions and thoughts. Harry doesn't speak up enough to leave a real impression, but Woods really enjoys talking about the experience of making the film and working with Cronenberg. Occasionally he comes off sort of egotistical when he veers off into other directions, like how he sees himself in movies, but he usually catches himself and brings himself back to the film. He also has a habit of throwing in other thoughts and opinions not necessarily related to the film but this all at least keeps the track going. Despite some of the shortcomings I rather enjoyed it, Woods being an exceptionally engaging speaker.
The remaining supplements are found under the “Supplements” section of the disc. The first feature is the short film Camera, made by Cronenberg for the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival. This roughly 7-minute short has Videodrome co-star Les Carlson giving a monologue about life, acting, and photography, as a group of children bring an old camera into the house. It's an odd, and almost kind of creepy piece despite the actual innocence of it. The whole thing except for the last 30 seconds was shot using standard-def digital. The last 30 seconds is shot using film, and it looks pretty good.
Forging the New Flesh is a 28-minute documentary about the making of the film, specifically the special effects by Rick Baker. The documentary was made exclusively for the Criterion Collection. It includes new interviews mixed in with actual vintage footage. Some of the material here is covered in the commentaries but the real appeal to this piece is the footage of the many effects, which were made using older techniques that are infinitely more interesting than CGI effects (especially since one of them used sheep guts.) An excellent making-of, and thankfully more than a talking-head feature.
The Effects Men is an audio conversation (which I sort of suspect was originally to be put into one of the commentary tracks) with the two responsible for the clever effects, Rick Baker and Michael Lennick. Lennick actually has a majority of the 20-minute piece, but they both talk about the experience, working with Woods and Cronenberg, and making the “organic” effects that appear in the film. An excellent extension to the commentaries and the documentary. It has been divided into 4 chapters.
"Bootleg Video" video presents some video clips that were shot for the film. The first one is the entire sequence of Samurai Dreams, the soft core porn presented early in the film, running about 4-minutes. A commentary is included by Cronenberg, and Mark Irwin and Michael Lennick, who talk about making this segment and the troubles they had with the MPAA (and others) because of it. The second clip is called Transmissions From Videodrome which are the sequences shot for the “snuff” show known as Vidoedrome in their entirety. Lasting over 7-minutes a commentary is your only audio option provided by Mark Irwin and Michael Lennick yet again, talking about urban legends and actually shooting the sequences (and Lennick provides a rather odd anecdote about an ex-boyfriend of one of the women calling, wanting a copy of the video footage shot for these torture sequences.) And in a cute little disclaimer Criterion insures their viewers that all tumor/hallucination causing Videodrome signals have been removed. And then finally we get the Helmet Cam Test, which is the footage shot for the helmet camera sequence, showing the unfiltered footage and then the different altering processes the footage was put through. An optional commentary is given by Michael Lennick and the footage lasts about 5-minutes.
Effects Visual Essay is a new presentation of an old feature found on the original DVD. The DVD presented a gallery of photos and notes on the film’s special effects. Here Criterion presents them as a slide show with the notes (and some sound effects) but it’s essentially the same thing. It gives a close look at the various props and prosthetics used during the production, including the model that was to be used for an abandoned scene involving a television rising out of the tub. There’s a closer look at the prop television used throughout, and it’s controls using a keyboard. We also get an extensive number of photos surrounding a certain character’s gruesome death at the end. I’m not sure why Criterion changed the presentation, though there were a lot of photos and maybe they figured this would be better. The feature lasts a little over 19-minutes.
Fear on Film is a great 26-minute program shot in 1982 hosted by Mick Garris who interviews the then-hot horror directors, John Landis (for An American Werewolf in London), John Carpenter (for The Thing), and David Cronenberg. The four pretty much just sit and talk about horror films, their way of making movies, and even touch on test screenings. While all the participants have interesting things to say, Cronenberg actually comes off the most knowledgeable of what can be scary, he's also obviously the most laid back and quiet of the bunch. Nice little piece of nostalgia.
"Marketing" presents a few supplements. Three trailers are presented, and it's obvious Universal didn't know what to do with it. The first trailer is okay, but the other two are terrible and worth watching if you want a good laugh just for the awful use of computer graphics. There is an 8-minute vintage featurette about the making of the film. It contains your typical interviews and behind-the-scenes stuff, but doesn't compare to the other documentary on this disc. Still, for a featurette, it is better than most PR stuff.
Gallery presents lobby cards, poster art (for different countries) and even a novel cover along with a pamphlet for a Canadian contest surrounding the film (giving away a new 20” colour television of course!) I was quite amazed how much they pushed Deborah Harry's presence, since she's only in the movie for maybe 10-minutes. Missing are the various home video covers that were found in the DVD’s gallery. I’m not sure why they’re not here.
Criterion includes a 37-page booklet containing essays and articles about the film and the making of it. First there’s an essay by Carrie Rickey on the film and Cronenberg that is apparently updated from an article written originally in 1983. Tim Lucas provides a lengthy essay on the film, its various screenplay drafts, and crazy effects. Gary Indiana then deconstructs the themes present in the film. The packaging should also be mentioned, and many will be pleased it imitates the DVD’s. It comes with a clear Blu-ray keepcase that Criterion has used with most of their Blu-rays, and it’s placed in a cardboard sleeve. The sleeve cover art is exactly as you see it above, but it's almost made up in some ways to look like a video tape box (the colour bars at the top.) The keep case art is made up to look like a Beta Cassette, and it is actually rather convincing, even looking like a cheap sticker label is on the side (with masking tape with the spine number 248 written on it) and the back made up to look like it contains the cassette reels. Though it doesn’t look as realistic as the DVD’s presentation (it’s too small and thin here) it’s still a clever presentation.
Disappointingly I couldn’t find a couple of Easter Eggs that were present on the DVD. TV spots were hidden in the poster art gallery, and there was a quick segment featuring Lennick talking about the use of Beta tapes in the film. They could be here, but I couldn’t find them.
The supplements were strong on DVD and they’re still strong here. While they don’t completely decode the film, they’re enjoyable and incredibly fascinating, specifically for the creative effects.
The video transfer is a very strong improvement over the DVD’s presentation, which was still pretty good on its own. And though a couple things are missing (or I couldn’t find them) the supplements are still top notch and something any fan will be thrilled with. Overall it’s a strong upgrade from Criteiron.