The Criterion Collection is releasing the unrated version of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome on high-definition Blu-ray, and I am curious what the director’s reaction is considering one aspect of the film deals with man’s relationship with technology. The film is very visceral in its visuals and its ideas. It is not for the squeamish.
Max Renn (James Woods) is a president of channel 83, Civic TV, which offers softcore pornography and hardcore violence to its viewers. Always looking for to push the boundaries, he learns of a pirate satellite broadcast called “Videodrome,” a program that has no story and just shows people being tortured.
Radio host Nicki Brand (Debbie Harry) and Max begin to date, although they don’t have sex. Apparently, for her to feel anything in this desensitized world requires pain, so we don’t see them have sex. Instead, Max pierces her ears. “Videodrome” intrigues Nicki and she wants to appear on it. Max is concerned for her, especially after he learns it isn’t a show. What’s happening is real and has political underpinnings. Dr. O’Blivion (Jack Creley), who only speaks through videotape or camera, thinks “Videodrome” is altering human physiology. Max experiences hallucinations, which help reveal what is happening.
Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a fascinating film that comes across as contemporary in its subject matter regardless how out of date the technical devices within it are. One character refers to society being overstimulated back in the early ’80s. I can’t imagine what the reaction to the plugged-in world we find ourselves in three decades later. I am not clear if the politics within are commentary or part of a hallucination, but if the former, I didn’t find the ideas are clear as the other subjects with which the film deals.
The entire crew does a great job. The actors are very trusting of Cronenberg to allow him to present them so raw. Rick Baker and his team deliver very impressive special makeup effects. Objects like a videotape cassette and TV set breathing, the changes in Max’s body, and TV screens that can protrude or swallow things are iconic. Director of Photography Mark Irwin and his team do a great job shooting the film with its unusual sets and the mixing of mediums.
The video has been restored and given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer. The image retains a light grain, facial detail is evident, and there doesn’t appear to be any unintentional issues with the picture. The colors are strong and well rendered, and blacks are solid. The monaural audio does a fine job. Dialogue is always clear and understandable and Howard Shore’s synth soundtrack, while very evocative, is never overpowering.
As expected with Criterion, there are plenty of features to help immerse the viewer in Videodrome‘s creation and meaning. There are two commentary tracks created in 2004. Cronenberg and Irwin recorded one, and actors Woods and Harry recorded the other, yet none of the pairs were together. Their perspectives are fascinating and help make illuminate the film’s intentions.
“Camera” (6 min) is a Cronenberg short created in 2000 for Preludes, an installation for the Toronto International Film Festival’s 25th Anniversary. “Videodrome: Forging the New Flesh” (28 min) was created in 2004 by special video effects supervisor Michael Lennick. It presents a look at how the film’s make up and video effects. It pairs nicely with “Effects Men,” a 2004 audio interview with Lennick and Baker.
“Bootleg Video” offers video clips created for the film. “Samurai Dream” (5 min) has no audio but comes with two commentary tracks, Cronenberg on one and Lennick and Irwin on the other; “Transmissions from ‘Videodrome'” (7 min) has commentary by Lennick and Irwin; and Helmet-Cam Test with commentary by Lennick. “Effect Visual Essay” (20 min) is photos from the magazine Cinefantastique‘s set visits. The article they accompanied is included in the booklet.
“Take One: Fear on Film” (26 min) is a really great find and one most likely to please horror fans as it shows a 1982 roundtable moderated by Mick Garris with Cronenberg, John Landis, and John Carpenter talking about films. Under “Marketing” are three trailers and “The Making of Videodrome” (8 min) from 1982. There is also a photo gallery.
For those who enjoy being pushed out of their comfort zone, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a provocative piece of work about society. The Criterion Collection does a great job preserving it, especially for today’s iGeneration, who more than anyone should take it in.