Written by: Michael Den Boer on September 9th, 2015
BluRay released: August 17th, 2015
Approximate running times: 89 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH
BluRay Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region B (UK)
Retail Price: OOP
Synopsis: An unscrupulous television executive named Max Renn has seen it all, when it comes to programming content for television. And he is bored with the things which are being presented to him as possible new television shows. Then one day he makes it his goal to find the most depraved form of entertainment to present to the masses and in return his is introduced to a pirated television show called Videodrome where willing participants are tortured.
Content wise, there has always been an element of Sci-Fi when it comes to the films of David Cronenberg. With that being said, this has more to do with themes he explores and not so much to do with employing elements where are widely used throughout Sci-Fi cinema. And though today something like the Betamax tape which is featured prominently throughout Videodrome now feels like a relic from the past. When this film was released it was actually a technology that was slightly ahead of where the masses where at the time in regards to how they watched their favorite television shows and movies.
Right from the get go this film announces that it is unlike anything that you have seen or will ever see again. And though the film does follow a linear narrative, it is the way in which said narrative evolves goes against the norm. With every moment of this film is told via the viewpoint of its protagonist Max Renn. Thus making Max Renn’s perception now our realities.
From a production standpoint the Film Noir inspired visuals doe a pitch perfect job setting and maintaining the mood the film. A few of this film’s standout moments visually include, a scene where Max’s stomach opens up and he inserts a gun into the vagina looking orifice. Another standout moment is when Max discovers that his girlfriend Nikki has now become part of Videodrome. And of course the film’s finale when Max finally takes control back from those who have been manipulating him.
Key collaborators on Videodrome include cinematographer Mark Irwin who worked with Conenberg on all of films from Fast Company through The Fly. Other notable films that he has worked as a cinematographer on include, Night School, The Blob (1988 remake) and Scream. And composer Howard Shore, who composed all but one film Cronenberg film since The Brood. And that film was The Dead Zone.
From a casting and performance stand point there is not a performance that is lacking and in most instances one that excels. Headlining the cast is James Woods in the role of this film’s protagonist Max Renn. And Woods delivers an extraordinary performance that easily ranks among the best performances of his career. Other standout performances include Deborah Harry in the role of Nicki Brand a radio disco jockey and Reen’s love interest in the film and Sonja Smits in the role of Bianca O’Blivion, she is the daughter of Professor Brian O’Blivion. These two characters are also the women in Renn’s life, with Nicki taking up the earlier part of the film and after her disappearance Bianca filling the void she has left. It should be noted that these two characters serve different functions in regards to the Renn character. With Nicki’ character satisfying the flesh, while Bianca help’s Renn connect with his new flesh via cerebral interaction.
One of the main themes explored in this film is, content, who controls it and how can it be subverted. And when it comes to artistic ambitions verses commerce this battle for control is more relevant today than when this film first came out. Also culturally and technology wise, a lot has happened since Videodrome was first unleashed upon audiences. Fortunately despite there being a few things that give this film a dated look, the end result is extraordinary film that hasn’t lost any of potency after all these years. “Long Live The New Flesh!”
Videodrome comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. This is another solid transfer from Arrow Video that retains a film like look. And there are no issues with DNR or compression. Also Arrow’s transfer in on par with Criterion’s region A transfer.
This release comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in English and removable English SDH subtitles have also been included for this release. This audio mix sounds excellent as dialog is always clear, everything sounds balanced and robust when it needs too.
Extras for this release are spread over two Blu-Ray discs.
Extras on disc one include, trailers for the film (4 minutes 35 seconds), a short film directed by David Cronenberg titled ‘Camera’ (6 minutes 42 seconds), a segment titled ‘Pirated Signals’ which collections scenes which were shot for T.V. broadcasts of the film (25 minutes 47 seconds), interviews, cinematographer Mark Irwin (26 minutes 27 seconds), producer Pierre David (10 minutes 20 seconds) and author Dennis Etchison (16 minutes 45 seconds), ‘David Cronenberg and the Cinema of the Extreme’ a documentary that originally aired on the BBC (21 minutes 4 seconds), ‘Forging the New Flesh’ a documentary that explores Videodrome’s video and prosthetic make up effects (27 minutes 44 seconds), ‘Fear on Film’ a round table discussion from 1982 with Cronenberg, John Carpenter, John Landis and Mick Garris (25 minutes 40 seconds), the complete and uncensored ‘Samurai Dreams’ footage with optional audio commentary with Michael Lennick (4 minutes 47 seconds), a segment titled ‘Helmet Cam Test’ (4 minutes 45 seconds), ‘Why Betamax?’ is a brief segment about the now defunct home video format (1 minute 11 seconds), a vintage promotional featurette (7 minutes 52 seconds) and an audio commentary with author / film critic Tim Lucas.
Topics discussed in the interview Mark Irwin include, how since a very young age he has been interested in film and one of his first jobs was as a projectionist, film school, David Cronenberg and how their early collaborations evolved into what would become Videodrome, how Cronenberg as a filmmaker does not have a distinct visual style as much as he has a unique way of telling a story, the look of the film and how they achieved key shots in the film, special effects, improvising and how Cronenberg came up with the ending at the last minute and how the film achieved instant cult film status.
Topics discussed in the interview Pierre David include, the origins of Videodrome and how he became involved in producing the film, Cronenberg’s screenwriting process, the cast, how smoothly everything came together for Videodrome, how the film initial failed to find audiences during its theatrical release and how the film was years ahead of anything else being made in cinema at that time.
Topics discussed in the interview Dennis Etchison include, who influenced him to become an author, how he got involved in doing book adaptions of films, adapting Videodrome and how he was able to spend time with him during the filming of Videodrome, his thoughts on Cronenberg’s screenplay and it is important for him to be emotionally involved in everything that he writes.
The extra tilted ‘David Cronenberg and the Cinema of the Extreme’ has comments from David Cronenberg, Alex Cox and George Romero who discuss the horror film genre, its evolution from a costume drama genre and censorship. Other topics include the films of Cronenberg and Romero.
Horror films is the topic which anchors the extra titled ‘Fear on Film’. Each of the three participants discuss what it is that they like about Horror films and censorship. Other topics include various films that they have worked on.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary include, how he spent about two months on the set during the making of Videodrome, the cast, locations that were featured in the film, the differences between the theatrical and uncut version of the film, the look of the film and things that inspired the look, Cronenberg’s ability to foreshadow things that would become the norm in the future and he gives a thorough analytical breakdown of what is occurring onscreen.
Contents on the second Blu-Ray disc includes, four short films / films – Transfer (6 minutes 27 seconds – 1.33:1 aspect ratio 1080 Progressive), From the Drain (12 minutes 48 seconds – 1.33:1 aspect ratio 1080 Progressive), Stereo (62 minutes 43 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen) and Crimes of the Future (62 minutes 37 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen).
Extras included on this disc include, ‘Transfer the Future’ a featurette with author and critic Kim Newman who discusses Cronenberg’s early works (16 minutes 52 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen).
Rounding out the extras for this limited edition release is a illustrated 100-page hardback book featuring new writing including Justin Humphreys on Videodrome in a modern context, Brad Stevens on the alternate versions, Caelum Vatnsdal on Cronenberg’s early works, extracts from Cronenberg on Cronenberg featuring Cronenberg’s reminiscences of getting started in filmmaking and shooting all the films in this collection, plus more, illustrated with original archive stills. Also included with this release are two DVD’s that has the same content included on the Blu-Ray included as part of this combo release.
Overall there are special editions and then there are releases like Arrow Video’s limited edition release for Videodrome which in terms of packing and content put it in a class all of its own, highly recommended.
Note: This limited edition release is now OOP and a standard edition Blu-Ray’s and DVD’s are scheduled for release on December 7th, 2015.