Videodrome (1983)

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Released 2-Aug-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1983
Running Time 83:48
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By David Cronenberg
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring James Woods
Sonia Smits
Deborah Harry
Peter Dvorsky
Les Carlson
Jack Creley
Lynn Gorman
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $19.95 Music Howard Shore


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Arabic
Greek
Czech
Hungarian
Turkish
Romanian
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis


"Soon all of us will have special names." – Brian O'Blivion

    No, patrón. Videodrome is not uncut!

    Censoring a film that explores the very nature of selling extreme imagery as entertainment is rather ironic. This is just one of the remarkable aspects of David Cronenberg's thoughtful horror satire Videodrome. Made in 1982 with the assistance of the Canadian Film Development Corporation, the movie uses the video and cable-TV boom as a platform for raising a number of questions, many of which have been levelled at David Cronenberg himself in relation to his earlier pictures Shivers, Rabid, The Brood and Scanners.

    Although these grotesque but popular films earned him poster-boy status in Fangoria magazine and unanimous praise from genre commentators, they also outraged conservative groups on several continents. The Brood, for example, was refused a classification in Australia until 40 seconds were excised; it still languishes on video and DVD shelves in compromised versions. Even recently, with films such as Crash, writer/director Cronenberg was forced to defend his artistic vision against charges of moral indecency, proving that the issues he raised in Videodrome are still relevant today. Furthermore, many see the protagonist of Videodrome as a mouthpiece for the director himself.

    Max Renn (James Woods) is the President of Channel 83, a small cable-TV vendor in a field dominated by larger competitors. Renn therefore targets the sleaze market, offering, in the words of fictional talk-show host Rena King, "everything from softcore pornography to hardcore violence." While on the programme, Max meets Professor Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley), a crusty eccentric who only ever appears in public on a video monitor, and radio counsellor Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry), with whom he develops a relationship of sorts. Back at Channel 83, twitchy gadgetman Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) has plucked a pirate signal from the airwaves that calls itself Videodrome. Although disturbed by this dubious snuff material, Max prepares to exploit its potential as a breakthrough product for his fledgling company. Unfortunately, he discovers too late that Videodrome represents a pernicious conspiracy involving Channel 83, his masochistic girlfriend, a white-collar ghoul called Barry Convex (Les Carlson), Professor O'Blivion's daughter Bianca (Sonia Smits), and a literally mind-altering ideology.

    According to the editor of Video Watchdog Tim Lucas, who spent time on the set and wrote an unpublished book about the experience, the movie was made without a completed script, and was only polished off in post-production by adding a sequence with Bianca and Max. Also, scenes not in the final released print appeared in an American broadcast version, perhaps to compensate for deleted gore and sadomasochistic elements. Considering an erratic production schedule, surplus footage, and indications that the last half of the film occurs inside someone's head, it is amazing that Videodrome holds together as well as it does. Cronenberg packs a lot into 85 minutes. His working method on this picture echoes that of fellow auteur David Lynch, whose non-linear narratives remain in flux until the editing process moulds them into a suitable structure (at least in his opinion). With stories this flaky, a good cast is vital.

    James Woods shines as the shrewd opportunist Max Renn. Acne-scarred and modelling a wardrobe of rat-coloured clothing, Woods is totally believable. This is acting, folks! Munching cold pizza for brekky in his depressing cave-like apartment, we feel sympathy for this ambitious loser who, despite all the bravado, is smart enough to know when he's in too deep. Debbie Harry oozes sensuality as the mystery woman who gets lost in the psycho-static of this deadly game, only to return drastically transformed. The supporting cast are also fine in minor but important roles, particularly Peter Dvorsky as Harlan, Les Carlson as Mr Convex, and Jack Creley as the gravel-voiced enigma Brian O'Blivion.

   Speaking of enigmas, it may seem strange that Videodrome – with its focus on torture, murder, disease, disfigurement, BDSM, delusions, deception and suicide – is a also a funny film. One example has Max and Nicki discussing a particularly nasty segment of Videodrome featuring a naked women being whipped. Aroused by the spectacle, Nicki enquires, "I wonder how you get to be a contestant on this show?" To which Max replies, "I don't know. Nobody ever seems to come back next week." The humour, consisting of dry witticisms and clever double entendres, humanizes its characters and plays against the horrific aspects of the tale, making the whole all the more convincing and entertaining. The excellent Wolfen also employed a similar recipe for its success.

    But wait, there's more. Videodrome boasts marvellous special effects by Rick Baker (aided by apprentice Steve Johnson) that illustrate various dysfunctional realities: hand guns, hand grenades, head jobs, branding, tumorous eruptions, and a transplanted orifice that brings new meaning to the term 'whoring for the industry'. Curiously, both Bianca O'Blivion and Nicki Brand do community work, and both help Max in different ways after he acquires his new organ – even his secretary Bridey assists him at a crucial moment. These surreal touches help to knit the film's disparate threads together, as well as indulging Cronenberg's Grand Guignol sensibilities (according to Splatter Movies, his father wrote pulp fiction and comic books). It is little wonder that Videodrome has garnered a cult following, making it the Peeping Tom of the video age.

    Videodrome never lets its master's voice or weighty subject matter overshadow the story and characters. You sense that it may all dissolve in an instant, like a TV plagued with bad reception, but this balancing act reflects and reinforces the uncertain realities depicted in the film itself. As with the wonderful frisson of the movie's final 'shot', it appears that Videodrome will live long in its New Digital Flesh.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Letterboxed at about 1.85:1 and disappointingly not 16x9 enhanced, Videodrome nevertheless looks crisp and vibrant. This is a huge improvement over the cropped and cut rental tape, although by now I'm sure frustrated Aussie fans of the film have already imported the UK or US VHS sell-thru tape, the UK PAL laserdisc, or the uncut US region 1 DVDs. The NTSC transfer was done by DVCC, while the PAL transfer was handled by Vid Film International Digital.

    After comparing the region 1 DVD with ours, it is clear that Videodrome is not 16x9 enhanced because Universal have recruited exactly the same source materials for the PAL master. Hence, sharpness is not as good as it could be with anamorphic enhancement, but at least the video is PAL, and the image offers a pleasing amount of detail. In fact this is the best that Videodrome has ever looked, since the US NTSC DVD is slightly coarser. The mild edge enhancement is easy to overlook, shadow detail is fair, and blacks are solid. Zooming the image to fit my 16x9 TV screen produced a perfectly acceptable display which, at times, could have been mistaken for an anamorphic transfer.

    Colours are nicely saturated and flesh, in all its bizarre manifestations, is rendered accurately. While there is no colour bleed, plenty of stage blood is spilt in the movie in lovely shades of crimson, which are even more gruesome on DVD compared to the Very Hazy System.

    Film artefacts are present in the form of white specks. These appear randomly throughout the feature, clustering noticeably around the first two reel changes, with a mini-snowstorm happening between 39:26 and 39:36. A white blotch at 42:35 was used to confirm that the NTSC and PAL transfers originated from the same master elements. On the region 1 DVD the blotch appears at 45:29. Both transfers also share the grainy shot of Barry Convex gloating over Max at 58:55 on our PAL disc. Aliasing on our PAL DVD is not as bad as the NTSC DVD, and the compression job appears to be a tad smoother.

    Subtitles on our DVD overlay the matte and the image (one line each), whereas the US disc may have all three lines on the image. Thanks to the slightly raised letterboxing, 16x9 displays should be able to show all subtitle text.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Like the video transfer, Universal have cut-and-pasted the same Dolby Digital 2.0 audio files onto our DVD.

    Dialogue is clear, which is important for a talky film like this one. Sync was good, too. Some dialogue suffers varying degrees of distortion and most sibilants are harsh.

    The hauntingly hybrid electronic/orchestral score by long-time Cronenberg collaborator Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings, The Cell and many others) seeps ominously into the narrative, keeping the mood sombre even when the humour cuts loose. Because the soundtrack is a mono mix, the music fails to envelope the viewer as a discrete 5.1 mix would. Again, with a raft of philosophical exposition to deliver throughout the story, the music had to stay in the relative background regardless.

    The sound design for this low-budget early 80s film is monaural. As such, it has limited separation, fidelity, and dynamic range. An audible hiss can be heard at times - another symptom of the recording facilities used on the set. The subwoofer pitches in to lend the mix some bottom-end. Nonetheless, for a soundtrack that is showing its age, this one is bold and sharp. On my equipment it worked best in two-speaker 'stereo' mode.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menus

    The menus are static 16x9 enhanced graphics with no sound. The design follows its US cousin.

Trailer (2:10)

    No wonder the film did poorly on its theatrical run. This trailer (letterboxed, Dolby Digital mono sound) has to be one of the worst ever created. Was Cronenberg involved? True to form, the distributor Universal had no idea what they were dealing with, a trend that would also give Dune and Brazil box-office knee-cappings in the following years.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 DVD misses out on:     The Region 1 DVD misses out on:     With its superior video transfer and low retail price, the region 4 DVD is a close second. The Region 1 extras are perfunctory at best, but it is the complete uncut version. Note that the cover art for the Region 4 DVD emphasizes the Max Renn figure and crops Nicki Brand's face, so it is not as faithful to one of the theatrical poster designs as the US DVD. With our DVD coded for regions 4 and 2, it is safe to say that the UK release matches ours.

    The R1 Criterion special edition contains several juicy extras as well as a 16x9 transfer, which does not seem to add more image detail. It includes:

Summary

    Videodrome is one of my favourite films. It never fails to mesmerize me with its performances, interwoven themes, self-awareness, splashy gore effects, and quirky demeanour. The censorship and S&M angles are handled intelligently, supplying enough content to allow the viewer to decide for him or herself, and James Woods deserved a bloody Oscar for his portray of the ferret-like Max Renn. Although, having watched the film a few times for this review, I now wake up with a headache, and I've been seeing some strange things lately . . .

    The most that can be said about our DVD is that it is almost uncut. The video transfer is good despite the lack of 16x9 enhancement (I assume the cost was prohibitive), and the sound remains stubbornly mono. Memo to Universal: like Dune and Brazil, this is one of the best films in your catalogue. It deserves a full restoration and special edition treatment, pronto. Alas, Criterion has pre-empted Universal with it's fabulous double-disc edition: a must-have item for collectors!

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Rod Williams (Suss out my biography if you dare)
Thursday, September 12, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-737, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Ergo (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderDenon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital decoder.
AmplificationArcam AV50 5 x 50W amplifier
SpeakersFront: ALR/Jordan Entry 5M, Centre: ALR/Jordan 4M, Rear: ALR/Jordan Entry 2M, Subwoofer: B&W ASW-1000 (active)

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Comments (Add)
This DVD is cut (compared to US version) - Miklos (my stinkin' bio) REPLY POSTED
The Videodrome Syndrome - Rod W (Suss out my biography if you dare)
Videodrome - God bless Criterion - REPLY POSTED
if you wanna update R4 vs R1 - REPLY POSTED