***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox
screenplay by Ehren Kruger, based on the novel Ringu by Kôji Suzuki and the screenplay Ringu by Hiroshi Takahashi
directed by Gore Verbinski
by Walter Chaw Handsomely mounted and undeniably disconcerting, Gore Verbinski's The Ring, the American remake of the first of Japanese horror auteur Hideo Nakata's "Ring Trilogy" (itself based on a series of novels by Kôji Suzuki), lacks a good deal of the original's subtlety but makes up for it with the kind of electronic paranoia that is Yankee stock and trade. The ideas of an unfolding technical mystery, of a protagonist perhaps gifted with second sight, of being a cog at the will of a malignant machine, are borrowed with intelligence and profit from Coppola's masterpiece, The Conversation. The picture even lifts part of that film's dream sequence, a setting within a warehouse before a bank of media equipment, and a quiet tableau of individuals dwarfed by identical apartment units in the sterile honeycomb of modern inner-city housing.
Likewise, as The Ring unfolds its essentially video mystery (The Conversation's enigma hinges, of course, on a dialogue captured on audiotape), it examines the nature and the danger of all journeys of self-discovery--the primary difference being that where The Conversation is a castration fable, The Ring is a story involved in the archetypal terror and mystery of feminine fertility and reproduction. There are four essential types of fertility and they relate to the four essential feminine archetypes: the virgin, the mother, the whore, and the crone, the last of whom encompasses elements of the previous three (the waxing and waning represented often in Western myth as the four moon cycles--and "The Golden Girls").
Rachel (Naomi Watts) is the fertile mother. A reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in a dreary, sepia-drenched vision of the Pacific Northwest, she learns of an urban myth involving a videocassette that, once watched, dooms the viewer to sudden death in one week's time. Representing the pre-fertile (virgin) is the lost child Samara (Daveigh Chase) at the heart of the film's central mystery (placing The Ring among generational paranoia films like The Exorcist and Don't Look Now); representing the post-fertile (crone) is the child's barren mother, Anna (Shannon Cochran); and representing the idea of fecund renewal (whore) is the tape itself, which courts an endless parade of suitors. Each of the non-mother, non-fertile characters seek progeny in ways unnatural and pernicious (a Frankenstein motif), so that this story of Rachel unravelling the secret of the video becomes a story of a reproductive female poking at the mystery of her own sex and sexuality.
Opening in a monumental urban fairy tale way like Bernard Rose's excellent Candyman (sharing that film's wisdom in moody, understated score as well), The Ring is taut and frightening by its own merits. It knows how to use empty space and shock moments to brilliant effect, trusting in a cavernous aural fidelity that is as disconcerting in its way as The Exorcist's subliminal sound mélange. Though I would argue that an examination of the feminine myths of the film add immeasurably to its enjoyment, lending import as well to a harrowing scene involving a horse on a ferry, submersions into bloody water, and, of course, the vaginal tube of its ring/well image, The Ring is entertaining on its standalone merits. Naomi Watts is excellent, the dreaded VHS dub itself is a fun pop-rendition of Buñuel filtered through a Nine Inch Nails sensibility (imagine Un Chien Andalou as a nightmare of feminine sexuality rather than masculine--"It's very film school," one character opines), and though Rachel's precocious "I see dead people" kid (David Dorfman) is more a device than a character, as a device he works predictably well.
Clever and loaded with issues both complex and obvious (media and voyeurism are handled well, though better in Watts's other dense mood piece Mulholland Drive), The Ring is an example of mainstream cinema that takes a storied and fabulous foreign work and honours many (if not all) of its subtler echoes while marrying it well to good ol' fashioned American technocratic anxiety. As film and cross-cultural adaptation it is superior to Christopher Nolan's Insomnia in nearly every respect, discarding the conventional answers and conclusions that plague the majority of Hollywood's squeamish, cowardly iterations and output. The Ring is fine cinema, blessed with an unusual respect for the horror genre and its own inherent silliness; it would be bottom-heavy with subtext were it not also lovely, haunted, and well-performed, and it joins The Rules of Attraction as a nice surprise of the early fall season. Originally published: October 18, 2002.
RINGS *** (out of four)
by Bill Chambers DreamWorks offers The Ring on DVD in widescreen and fullscreen editions light on bonus material; we received the former for review. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image is faithfully blue-green and of high-contrast. Compression artifacts are not an issue, and let it be said that The Ring belongs on TV, where it is stripped of a protective layer between the viewer and the paranoia the film levels at the medium, described in the opening sequence as an electric menace that corrupts invisibly. (And the video flicker built into the DreamWorks logo, which was merely witty in moviehouses, is sure to have people reaching for the remote at home.) The disc includes competing DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, the DTS immersing us more thoroughly and delivering punchier stingers. Dialogue differs from my theatrical showing in that it's audible--there seems to be a new policy at the multiplex of keeping the centre channel at a low volume.
Not counting Rings (see sidebar), The Ring DVD's only significant extra is a fifteen-minute jumble of expunged footage (edited by Gore Verbinski himself) called "Don't Watch This," mastered in DD 5.1 and anamorphic widescreen. In an alternative method of Rachel discovering her niece's photo receipt, she comes across a movie collection featuring some hilarious fabricated titles, such as Heartfelt Sap. This blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment of levity is superior to other deleted attempts at humour--one is glad that none of the Blockbuster Video bits wound up in the film; one is not as thrilled that all those provocative snapshots of Amber Tamblyn hit the cutting-room floor. Verbinski's busy schedule (he's currently finishing this summer's big-budget Pirates of the Caribbean) limited his participation to this featurette, but since he's not averse to Special Editions (see: The Mexican's DVD), it's not unreasonable to expect that he'll deliver additional supplements on a future platter of The Ring. (I hope, if and when that day comes, the disc's cover art improves drastically.) A block of trailers for Ringu, Catch Me If You Can, and 8 Mile round out the disc. Originally published: March 16, 2005.