When Max Renn goes looking for edgy new material for his sleazy cable TV station, he stumbles across the pirate broadcast of a hyperviolent torture show called “Videodrome.” His attempts to unearth the program’s origins send him on a hallucinatory journey into a shadow world of right-wing conspiracies, sadomasochistic sex games, and bodily transformation. Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry, Videodrome is one of the most original and provocative works from writer-director David Cronenberg, and features groundbreaking makeup effects by Academy Award winner Rick Baker.
The Criterion Collection upgrades David Cronenberg’s Videodrome to 4K UHD, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer BD-66 disc. Criterion is using Arrow’s 4K restoration, taken from a scan of the 35mm original negative. It is presented here with Dolby Vision and a 2160p/24hz encode. The release also includes a standard Blu-ray featuring all of the release’s video features and a 1080p film presentation. The disc, outside of its artwork, is a replica of Criterion’s 2010 Blu-ray edition, meaning it makes use of the older restoration.
The presentation is a delightful surprise following the mess of an encode that plagued Criterion’s 4K edition of Walkabout. Due to this film's dark photography and how Walkabout’s encoding seemed to flatten out areas where detail wasn’t exceptionally high, I was prepared to find that same heavy macroblocking or "smoothing effect" in this presentation, yet that thankfully doesn’t occur. I don’t own Arrow’s edition to compare, but Criterion’s presentation looks very impressive and significantly improves over their previous Blu-ray, handling fine object detail and textures superbly, with the film’s grain retaining a natural and clean look throughout. I was especially impressed with how cleanly the grain is rendered against brighter and darker backgrounds, lacking the buzzy texture that I was expecting to be present. I was also pleased to see how well reds and blacks are rendered together, as Criterion’s encodes can usually have a little bit of trouble in this area and come off a little blocky, but that doesn’t occur here, or at least isn’t apparent.
Dolby Vision and HDR also help things a bit, though I can’t say there’s anything all that “showy.” The film’s darker sequences expose far more detail than the previous Blu-ray, thanks to the broader range helping in the shadows, while smokey interiors render a bit smoother. Reds look fantastic with cleaner gradations, with blues and greens even showing more of a pop. Highlights look okay, and there are a few sequences featuring brighter areas within the screen (lights, sparks, fire, etc.), but they don’t come off as excessive.
The restoration work looks fantastic, but that wasn’t too much of a surprise considering Arrow’s track record. The film elements appear to be in excellent shape, and I don’t recall any blemishes popping up at any point throughout the film. It looks terrific and delivers a significant boost over Criterion’s previous high-def presentation.
(The SDR screen grabs are taken directly from the source disc. They have been converted from PNG files to JPGs. While they should provide a general idea of quality, they should not be considered reference quality.)
The film’s monaural soundtrack, presented yet again in lossless single-channel PCM, also appears to have been restored. I think it sounds sharper and cleaner, maybe less filtered, but I could be fooling myself into thinking that. At any rate, the range is surprisingly broad, and voices sound very clear and sharp, as do the slimy-sounding sound effects. Overall, it’s still a very effective mono presentation.
Since Criterion includes the same disc used for their 2010 Blu-ray edition, all features have been ported over, with all video supplements found on the standard Blu-ray disc alongside the 1080p presentation of the film.
The two audio commentaries are also included with the 4K presentation of the film. 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 most significant segment is where he talks about lighting Deborah Harry.) Cronenberg talks a lot about writing the film and putting it together, which includes working around the tight schedule. He touches on the film's themes and helps the viewer make more sense of the story, though he doesn't fully explain it, admitting that he was just making up things as he went. He touches a lot on Marshall McLuhan, who was a significant influence on the film, and even remarks on others, like the Canadian station CityTV (the mention of which takes me back). How this film became a bigger studio film also comes up, Cronenberg having only done independent features prior. As with all Cronenberg commentaries, it’s an intelligent and engaging track, well worth listening to, and possibly one of the more significant selling points for Criterion’s edition.
The second commentary features James Woods and Deborah Harry, recorded separately with Harry only coming on occasionally and Woods handling most of it. Woods admits that he isn’t entirely sure what the film is about but offers his opinions and thoughts. Harry doesn't speak up enough to leave a real impression, but Woods enjoys discussing the experience of making the film and working with Cronenberg. Occasionally, he comes off as egotistical when he veers into other directions, like how he sees himself in movies. Still, he usually catches himself and brings himself back to the film. He also has a habit of throwing in other thoughts and opinions unrelated to the film, but this keeps the track going, at least. Despite some of the shortcomings, I rather enjoyed it, Woods being an exceptionally engaging speaker.
Moving to the supplements found on the standard Blu-ray, the first video 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 to a group of children who have brought a camera into his home. 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 are shot using film.
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 natural appeal to this piece is the footage of the many effects, which were made using older techniques infinitely more interesting than CGI effects, especially since one of these effects called for the use of sheep guts! It's an excellent making-of, and thankfully, more than a talking-head feature.
The Effects Men is an audio conversation (which I suspect was originally to be put into one of the commentary tracks) featuring the two responsible for the film’s clever effects, Rick Baker and Michael Lennick. Lennick takes up a majority of the 20-minute piece, but they both cover their experiences working with Woods and Cronenberg and creating the “organic” effects that appear in the film. It is an excellent extension of the commentaries and the documentary and has been divided into four chapters.
The "Bootleg Video" section presents some video clips that were shot for the film. The first one is all of the material shot for Samurai Dreams, the soft-core porn shown early in the film, running about 4 minutes. A commentary track is also included, featuring Cronenberg, Mark Irwin, and Michael Lennick discussing the making of this segment and the troubles they had with the MPAA (and others) because of it. The second clip is Transmissions From Videodrome, the sequences shot for the “snuff” show known as Vidoedrome in the film, presented in their entirety. Running over 7 minutes, a commentary is your only audio option provided by Mark Irwin and Michael Lennick. This commentary proves a bit interesting, thanks in part to a creepy story Lennick shares on how he received a phone call from the ex-boyfriend of one of the film women in these sequences, looking to obtain a copy of her footage. Ick. In a cute little disclaimer, Criterion also ensures their viewers that all tumor/hallucination-causing Videodrome signals have been removed.
Finally, the section ends with the Helmet Cam Test, which is the footage shot for the helmet camera sequence, showing the unfiltered footage before going through the different filtering processes the footage was put through to get the final look. Michael Lennick provides an optional commentary, and the footage runs about 5 minutes.
Effects Visual Essay is a reworking of an old feature found on Criterion’s 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. 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, along with its controls. We also get many photos surrounding a particular character’s gruesome death at the end. I’m not sure why Criterion changed the presentation, though there were many photos, and maybe they figured this would be better than forcing viewers to navigate through them. The feature runs a little over 19 minutes.
Fear on Film is an excellent 26-minute program filmed in 1982 and 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 (Videodrome). The four talk about horror films, share their respective ways of approaching and making movies and even touch on their experience with test screenings. While all the participants have interesting things to say, Cronenberg comes off as the most knowledgeable (or at least sure) on what is scary; he's also obviously the most laid-back and quiet of the bunch. The program proves to be a nice little bit 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. 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.
The 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 amazed at how much they pushed Deborah Harry's presence since she's only in the movie for maybe 10 minutes, but I guess they had to appeal to as big an audience as possible.
Criterion includes a 37-page booklet containing essays and articles about the film and the making of it, replicating the Blu-ray’s. First, there’s an essay by Carrie Rickey on the film and Cronenberg that is updated from an article written in 1983. Tim Lucas provides a lengthy piece on the film, covering its various screenplay drafts and original effects. Gary Indiana then deconstructs the themes present in the movie. The packaging also replicates the previous DVD and Blu-ray editions with the Betamax look.
When the Blu-ray was initially released, I was disappointed that it didn’t appear a couple of Easter Eggs were ported over. It turns out they were, and finding them just required a couple of button presses I didn’t consider at the time: highlight submenu items in the “Supplements” section and hit the blue button. There are four, including marketing materials, the “Spectacular Optical” logo, and a short video on why Beta tapes were used in the film.
It's still a solid batch of features, though it’s disappointing that Criterion hasn’t taken the time to add anything new.
The A/V presentation delivers a terrific upgrade over Criterion’s previous Blu-ray edition, making it worth the upgrade, but I wish Criterion would revisit supplements with these upgrades.