The Ring Review
Daniel Stephens has already reviewed the Region 1 release of The Ring at DVD Times and you can read his review here.
When rumours of a disturbing videotape spread through a town in a North-Western US state, journalist Rachel Keller (Watts) begins to investigate despite them having an apparent connection to the recent death of her niece. When Rachel finds that the story involves the watching of a videotape full of strange and haunting images, which is followed by a phone call telling those who viewed the tape that they only have seven days left alive, she drives out to the country cabin in which her niece was supposed to have watched the video. Taking an unmarked videotape from the reception in a motel in the mountains, Rachel watches it and finds that it is the one at the centre of the rumour and on receiving the telephone call warning her of impending death, she leaves the hotel and takes the videotape with her for further investigation.
On returning home, Rachel finds that her life is becoming influenced by her viewing of the videotape and enlists her ex-husband Noah (Henderson), who is an expert in video technology, to assist in her investigation. He initially rejects the tape as a hoax but when his life is similarly affected, his views on the rumour begin to change. When their young son Aidan (Dorfman) watches the videotape one evening, Rachel and Noah realise that they have but a few days to discover the origins of the curse and a method to lift it. This leads Rachel to a small seaside community and to stories of a young girl called Samara with psychic abilities of whom the townspeople are still fearful...
Regardless of whether or not you think Ringu, the 1997 Japanese horror directed by Hideo Nakata adapted from a novel by Koji Suzuki, should ever have been remade by a US mainstream studio, such feelings are now largely irrelevant as Dreamworks SKG purchased the remake rights and hired Gore Verbinski to direct this version in 2002, moving the Japanese setting of the original to a chilly suburban setting in the US. That this follows on from a Korean remake, two sequels and a made-for-television movie seems to indicate that the development of this version should not as upsetting for fans of the original as much as it might have been and, even in viewing it with a knowledge of Ringu, this is not as pale an imitation as fans of the original might have suspected. Indeed, this is one of the more effective and unsettling horrors to come from the US in recent years and has proved successful enough such that if Dreamworks wanted to further emulate the original, there is sufficient financial justification for making both a prequel and sequel.
Ringu worked best by taking advantage of the spread of urban legends and the suspicion that the public still felt over the content of strange videotapes, left over in the UK at least from the spread of so-called video nasties before the introduction of the Video Recordings Act in 1984. In doing so, the film recalled the conversations one would have had with friends telling of the bizarre and unsettling images seen through the snow of a VCR attempting to play a badly tracked tape or a tenth-generation copy of some film missing title and end credits, thus adding to the mystery of what is being watched. David Cronenberg's Videodrome, for example, also played on this fear, being one director's take on how a video from an unknown source pricks the interest of those who view it. The true-life story of Charlie Sheen reporting the Guinea Pig entry, Flower Of Flesh And Blood, as being a snuff movie offers further evidence of this as does rotten.com and the website around which the action within My Little Eye was planned. There is a palpable curiosity around such forbidden pleasures and Ringu simply offered one of the smartest and most effective views on this in recent years. As such, that is was a worldwide success is hardly a surprise. Thankfully, much of what made Ringu a success has survived the transplant to the North-Western states of the US and the Americanisation of the Japanese influence of the original's most primal fears.
Indeed, what immediately impresses on watching this version of The Ring is how Gore Verbinski has managed to capture the cold, blue emptiness of the original despite its locations being set thousands of miles from that of the original. In doing so, The Ring sets up its story most effectively, beginning with the death of Rachel Keller's niece seven days after first watching the cursed videotape in a mountainside cabin and continuing to build on the approach of the unknown through clues such as skewed images on otherwise perfect photographs. The scene in which Rachel watches the cursed videotape is also entirely effective and the manner in which her realisation of death creeping towards her is better than one might have supposed. Whilst many of the subtleties of the original could be seen to be slightly overplayed, this is a noticeably more restrained and insistent horror than has been produced out of American cinema for a number of years and quite some distance from the gormless stream of slasher movies produced in the wake of Scream.
Of course, this film is not without faults and whilst there are a few, they are not able to detract from the overall experience. The most noticeable problem, however, is that those moments where we are meant to be witness to frenzied horror can come across as perhaps a little silly and distracting. For example, one scene in this film that was not in Hideo Nakata's original is one in which Rachel, following the trail that leads to Samara's hometown, sees a horse being transported onboard the ferry she is on. Despite knowing that horses were particularly susceptible to Samara, she approaches it anyway, continuing to look in as the horse makes it perfectly clear how unwelcome her attention is. That this ends with the horse escaping, jumping overboard and getting sliced in the ferry's propellers results in a scene in which most members of the audience, having been suitably chilled until this time, will be watching in disbelief at Rachel's lack of thought, despite her being portrayed throughout as a clever and resourceful journalist. Scenes such as these actually detract from the overall experience and whilst Verbinski and Dreamworks might have thought Ringu a little slow, such embellishments need not have been pitched at quite so high a level of hysteria.
Finally, the genuinely disturbing videotape of the original is replaced by something that could have been produced by a film student with an imagination erring on the side of morbidity. Where the imagery of the videotape within Ringu was both abstract and chilling, that of the US remake is rather too literal and includes too many clues as to Samara's whereabouts. Without, however, giving too much away, the money shot of the movie lacks the theatrical shock of Ringu but is effective nonetheless and anyone coming to The Ring without prior knowledge should find it truly shocking.
The cast do well throughout, with Naomi Watts being somewhat of a surprise here, showing that she is capable of exhibiting an innocence as regards the curse she unleashed yet, at the same time, an awareness of her impending fate. That she is also cast as a single parent of David Dorfman's Aidan implies that she will not be required to simply look pretty, scream and investigate basements, showing instead a maturity that is inconsistent with major US horrors. Otherwise, Brian Cox has an all-too-brief role that further demonstrates what a crime it is that he is not given more major roles and whilst Martin Henderson is acceptable as Noah, David Dorfman is a little too obviously creepy in the manner of Harvey Stevens' Damien.
has been anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and captures the empty, blue-shaded look of the original print beautifully. The transfer really is very good indeed and, whilst this reviewer did not notice any flaws, if they exist at all, they are very minor indeed.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack with which The Ring has been presented is an excellent demonstration of how effective surround sound can be, with the rear speakers being used to affect a more chilling atmosphere than would otherwise have been the case. Admittedly, they are used more for ambient and special sound effects, with the dialogue and main action being presented front and centre, but this is a fine soundtrack nonetheless.
This release of The Ring includes only two bonus features, described below:
Don't Watch This (14m47s, 1.85:1 Anamorphic, Dolby Digital 5.1): Set against the footage contained on the videotape, this brings what appears to be a number of deleted scenes into a short film, ordered chronologically so as to be a shorter version of the main feature. Given the difficulty in doing this and remaining coherent, the inclusion of videotape footage looks to be no more than a method of linking unconnected scenes but, as a way to present cut footage, this isn't bad.
Easter Egg (2m06s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, Dolby Digital 5.1): On discovering this Easter Egg, the original content of the videotape central to the film is played in full. An effective moment occurs shortly after it ends when it appears to return to the main menu, from which is heard the sound of a telephone ringing.
Also included is a trailer for Catch Me If You Can (2m21s, 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic, Dolby Digital 5.1), accessible off the main menu.
Given the history of Hollywood remakes of European and Asian films, this could have gone very wrong indeed (Get Carter, anyone?) but whilst it falls short of the unsettling chills of the original, this is a fine attempt to remake Ringu for a more mainstream audience. Whilst some of the scares are a little more ludicrous here than in Ringu, this is still a much more satisfactory and unsettling horror film than other examples of what the US has recently exported, with the possible exception of The Others. Admittedly for those who like to explore cinema further west of California and further east of Kent, nothing here will be entirely new but if Dreamworks' intention was to do no more than fashion an interesting horror from a pre-worn cloth for a western audience then they have entirely succeeded.