Review Date: July 30, 2001
Released by: Universal
Release date: 9/28/1998
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: No
Long live the New Flesh! Yes, Americans are familiar with Canadian products. Why, they've given us everything from Moosehead lager to the Phoenix Coyotes (nee Winnipeg Jets). But one export for which they still owe us an explanation are the films of David Cronenberg. Cronenberg burst on the scene in 1975 with his bizarre sexual parasite film Shivers, and has continued to create even more outlandish films. In 1982 he wrote and directed Videodrome, a depiction of a future where television and reality blur as one, that in many ways envisioned the 90's fascination with reality TV (Survivor, anyone?). Videodrome was released on DVD in 1998, and while not exactly a reference quality DVD, is a pretty high quality version of one of David Cronenberg's more popular films
Max Renn (James Woods) is a program director at a small cable TV station, searching for new programs for his fledgling channel. Channel 83 pushes the boundaries of good taste with it's line-up of sexually explicit and violent content. Max is introduced to Videodrome, a pirate broadcast that consists solely of violence, torture, and murder. The show is addictive, luring in both Max and his new girlfriend Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry).
Max begins to search for the origin of the broadcasts. His quest leads him to the Cathode Ray Mission, a soup kitchen that provides the destitute with televisions instead of meals. There he meets the brains behind Videodrome, one Professor Brian O'Blivion, a literal "talking head" who only appears on a television screen. As Max watches more Videodrome telecasts and tapes of Professor O'Blivion, he begins to have hallucinations, which only get weirder as the film goes on.
Max soon becomes entangled in a world where reality and television become interchangeable, and Videodrome may actually be more than just a television show. The creators of the program and the people to whom it was first shown use Max in an attempt to destroy each other. Meanwhile, Max slides further and further into increasingly bizarre hallucinations, or maybe they're not hallucinations after all...
There's always a few things you can expect when watching a David Cronenberg film: Commentary on modern sexuality, social commentary, and different interpretations of human flesh. And you get all three, in varying degrees, in Videodrome. Cronenberg throws in some sexual references early in the film, in particular a scene where Max pierces Nicki's ears, but doesn't go much further in that department. However, the social commentary is in effect big time. Television addiction is brought to a new level, with a skid-row mission that provides TV "fixes" to down-and-out "junkies". Max's obsession with reality TV is incredibly prophetic of today's fare of police chase videos, Survivor, and Big Brother. Professor O'Blivion (Jack Creley) remarks "Public life on television is more real than private life in the flesh."
When we first see Professor O'Blivion, it is an appearance on a talk show, but the professor never appears anywhere in the flesh. Instead, he is literally a talking head on a monitor. This foreshadows later events in the film, where characters only exist on television screens (yet interact with Max), and televisions (and videotapes) take on the form of living, breathing, organisms. Soon, Max develops an orifice that videotapes can be inserted into, thus "programming" him into various types of behavior. In one very obvious metaphor, a tape is inserted into Max, and when he reaches in to remove it, he instead finds a gun that becomes a permanent part of his hand. Video goes in, violence comes out. Is Cronenberg suggesting movies and television lead to violence? Usually that's the very idea filmmakers try to refute. Maybe Max's "new flesh" is a living television show than can be "programmed" by the network executives. I don't know. Cronenberg always does leave himself open for various interpretations. I wouldn't be surprised to find that there's intent of sexual overtone in Max's new orifice as well. It's at this point of the film however (about one hour in), that the narrative begins to wander, and is the real weak point of Videodrome. At least the narrative lapse is more than made up for by Rick Baker's incredible special effects. Despite that weakness in storyline however, I still find Videodrome to be a well-made and thought-provoking film, and a worthy addition to anyone's video library.
The video quality of Videodrome is a mixed bag. The biggest downside is the lack of an anamorphic transfer (it is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen format), though this is not unexpected for a 1998 disc. Also, there are white speckles that appear throughout most of the film. Not distracting or annoying, but they are there. Other than that, the video transfer is actually quite good, especially to those of us without anamorphic monitors. Early in the film, Deborah Harry wears a very vibrant red dress, and the color is quite vivid. Details and black levels remain constant and good throughout the movie. Overall a very good transfer, but a new cleaned-up anamorphic print would improve this film even more.
Sound is a plain 2 channel digital mono. This could use major improvement. Sound qualities vary throughout the film, and I think some of that variance may be intentional by Cronenberg. Characters' voices can go from a real sound to a tinny television sound, and I think Cronenberg would like those differences in sound to be made more obvious to the viewer. So while a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix isn't completely necessary, a truer representation of the original sound Cronenberg wanted might be another major improvement.
This is another bare-bones edition from Universal. There's a few extra items on here, but this is far from being a special edition. We get cast and filmmakers' bios, a short text essay on David Cronenberg, and the theatrical trailer. The trailer is actually quite interesting, as it is about 97% animation. Seeing the trailer would give the impression that Videodrome is an animated film. Sure, it's misleading, but it's better than today's entire-movie-in-three-minutes trailers. There's no deleted scenes, and since there are supposedly other scenes used for broadcast on the A&E cable network, there does appear to be enough extra material for a special edition. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for one.
I'm a David Cronenberg fan. Not a huge Cronenberg fan, but a fan nonetheless. I confess that I prefer his more "mainstream" efforts like The Dead Zone and The Fly. But I also appreciate the significance of films like Shivers, The Brood, and Videodrome. This is by far not an ideal home version of Videodrome, but it's good enough for my taste. The more ardent Cronenberg fans (and you know who you are) will find Universal's release of Videodrome to be lacking, but to the casual fan like myself, you really can't go wrong with this disc. Sure, anamorphic enhancement and some more extras would be nice, but that shouldn't keep anyone from buying Videodrome.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - B-
Sound - C-
Supplements - C
- Running time - 1 hour 29 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 2 Channel Mono
- French Dolby Digital 2 Channel Mono
- English, French, and Spanish subtitles
- Production Notes
- Theatrical Trailer