Blu-Ray Review: VIDEODROME

Many directors have cited Videodrome (1983) as an influence. However, no one who has invoked its name has managed to make a film as good or as interesting.  Only someone like David Cronenberg can come up with such a crazy idea and execute it in such a committed straight-ahead fashion.

Max Renn (James Woods) runs a pay cable station that specializes in erotica and violence. Max is tired of the same old softcore porn. He wants something tougher. His hacker technician Harlan (a very weird Peter Dvorsky) clues him into an errant satellite signal that only transmits pornographic ultra-violence. Max becomes obssessed with tracking down the source. While on his journey, he encounters numerous people, including a sultry radio host Nikki Brand (Deborah Harry) and a Marshall Mcluhan type media guru named Prof. Brian O'Blivian (Jack Creley). The more Max finds out about the transmission known as Videodrome, the more endangered his life becomes.

The slow steady blurring of reality is a long-running theme in David Cronenberg's films, but he has never taken it as far as in Videodrome. Even a film like eXistenz, which toys with some of the same ideas, constantly signals its transitions between illusion and real-life. Videodrome just lets it rip. While watching the filth beamed from the hacked satellite signal, Max Renn asks Harlan: "When does the plot start to unravel here?" This scene is like a meta-commentary on the movie itself, which becomes increasingly fragmented as Max Renn succumbs to the mutating force of the video signal.  

Another important Cronenberg touch on display is the application of a serious dead-pan tone to the looniest subject matter. Videodrome asks the audience to buy into all manner of weirdness with absolutely no irony. There are inexplicably absurd and humorous moments -- why does Harlan keep calling Max Renn "patrón?" --, but part of film's appeal is that it never degenerates into camp. 

The passage of time has dated some aspects of Videodrome. Points about indie cable TV, satellite pirates, and pulsating Betamax tapes will make little sense to anyone under 30. However, this film still feels fresh. James Woods and Deborah Harry deliver two of the most memorable performances of the 80's. The image of James Woods burying his face in Deborah Harry's giant television lips has reach iconic status. The ideas on media and violence laid out here should resonate with a generation of people plugged into the unending stream of the Internet, talk radio, and 24-hour cable news ("Soon all of us will have special names. Names designed to cause the cathode ray tube to resonate.")

The Criterion Blu-Ray boasts a newly restored high-def transfer of the unrated cut. This release is undoubtedly the best available version of the film. The transfer is in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The Blu-Ray streams at 35mbps. In comparison, the Criterion DVD from 2004 only managed an average 7.39mbps. Darkly light scenes that looked murky in standard-def DVD or sub-par VHS are now clear and distinct. No more pixelation. No more fuzz. The audio is uncompressed mono. Yes, Videodrome was recorded in mono for some reason.

The packaging and extras for the Blu-Ray are exactly the same as the Criterion DVD release. The only difference is that all the content is contained on a single Blu-Ray disc instead of two DVDs.

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