Thursday, November 17, 2016

DEAD RINGERS (1988) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)

2-Disc Collector's Edition 
Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 115 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) I (1.66:1)
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Barbara Gordon, Geneviève Bujold, Heidi von Palleske. Jeremy Irons, Shirley Douglas, Stephen Lack

Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (1988) begins with identical twins Elliot and Beverly Mantle as youth walking the neighborhood streets of Toronto, they're having a discussion, each is fascinated by the reproductive process and to that end they approach a young neighbor girl who's sitting on her porch with the proposition of having sex in the name of science, shocked by what they've asked she tells them to kindly fuck off. Years later we catch up with the Mantle twins at medical school where they pioneer new techniques in gynecology and fertility, but their methods are met with skepticism by their professors. After graduating they open a successful clinic in Toronto that specializes in female infertility. We soon discover that the twins have developed a few weird proclivities in the years since they first propositioned that neighborhood girl for scientific-sex. 

Beverly is the more shy and inward of the twins, he's the pure science guy, the researcher. Elliot is the more outgoing, he's the public face of the clinic, the one who schmoozes with the financiers, and usually the one who gets the girl. As twins the brothers have a deep-rooted connection with each other, they are two sides of the same coin, they live in the same apartment, they share everything ...even women. 

Elliot makes a habit of bedding the more attractive women who come to the clinic with fertility issues, but he is shallow and grows weary of the women quickly, to that end he and Beverly switch places, with the shy guy stepping in for Elliot, continuing to have sex with the women, who are none the wiser, despite the fact that the twins are quite different in nature, if not in appearance. 

Enter Hollywood actress Claire Niveau who comes to the clinic in hopes of curing her infertility. The twins are fascinated when they discover that she has a "trifurcated cervix", a rare cervical mutation which prohibits her from ever having a child of her own. The actress is a bit of a weirdo, a dramatic Hollywood actress type, she's dramatic, a pill-popper with and has a healthy sex-drive, jumping into bed with suave Elliot almost immediately. Per the usual he grows tired of her and sends in his reluctant brother Bev to carry-on with her in the bedroom. 

The nicer of the pair begins to fall in love with Claire, to have genuine feelings for her, something he has never experienced before. This distraction causes a divide in the usually inseparable Mantle twins, Elliot becomes increasingly disturbed by his twins infatuation with her, while Bev himself becomes addicted to pills, spiralling into disturbing nosedive of madness, paranoia and dangerous medical delusion. 

Jeremy Irons is a wonderful actor and I think this is his best performance, the nuance he brings to the dual-role is creepy, the twins are almost identical but he infuses each one with tiny details that make them each their own subtly-different character, each has a unique facial expressions, their demeanor and the way they walk, he is full-on committed to the roles. Also figuring into the story is Elliot's assistant, the ginger-haired Cary (Heidi von Palleske), a friend with benefits who flirts with the idea of a threesome with the Mantle twins, adding yet another creepy layer to the proceedings. 

The movie is more reality based than any of Cronenberg's movies up to this point, though it is no less disturbing or weird, in fact I think this might be his weirdest film in my opinion. As poor Beverly succumbs to a cycle of drugs and depression he begins to imagine that Claire is cheating on him, he secludes himself for long periods of time, self-prescribing a maddening array of drugs, imagining that the women who come to the clinic have mutated lady bits that require him to create new and bizarre surgical tool, instruments that look like metallic clawed insect fingers, nightmare stuff. Eventually his delusions derail the clinic when he has a psychotic episode during a fertility procedure, which nearly kills a woman. As Beverly slips away Elliot comes up with an ill-fated plan to load himself up on drugs until the two are in sync once again, with tragic results. 

Cronenberg's cold and clinical style suits the material very well, more so than any of his other movies in my opinion, but Irons brings a depth of emotion to the dual role, and like I said, I think this is his finest performance, aided by some very fine motion-controlled camera work and deft use of a body double. The story is heart-wrenching, the conclusion of this one is one of the most tragic and saddening of them all, I think this one is a hidden Cronenberg classic worth seeking out. 

Audio/Video: Dead Ringers (1988) arrives on 2-disc Blu-ray from Scream Factory with two distinct viewing options, which is appropriate, right? On disc one we have the original theatrical framing in 1.78:1 widescreen, this is probably the same master as used by Warner for their 2005 DVD. Looking perfectly acceptable, but on disc two we have the good stuff, a new 2K scan of the movie done by Scream Factory and framed in the director's preferred aspect ratio of 1.66:1 widescreen leaving some slight black bars on the side of the screen, which is normal cropping for this framing, I think we also lose some slight information at the top and bottom of the screen. I don't mind the re-framing, particularly since it is the director's preferred ratio, but I like that we have both options available on the disc. 

The new 2K transfer looks superior to the theatrical framing to my eyes, skin tones look slightly warmer, grain is better managed, the image is a bit crisper, but not overly so. I was sort of surprised by the lack of depth to the image at times, this is not an eye-popper of an HD image, but it is certainly the best I have seen it look on home video. There were also moments of wobble that I noticed from time to time, not sure if these are inherent to the source or some of weird telecine wobble. 

Both versions of the movie come with choice of DTS-HD MA 2.0 or Surround 5.1 mixes, while I usually prefer the stereo mixes but I do love the surround mix, as noted earlier Cronenberg can be a bit cold and detached filmmaker at times, but Howard Shore's score along with Irons phenomenal performance give this some nice emotional weight. Audio is crisp and clean, well-balanced with some nice depth to the sound field, optional English subtitles are included on both discs.

On disc one we have the option to view the film with the original Jeremy Iron commentary from the 2006 Warner release, or with a new commentary from writer William Beard, author of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg who offers a detailed analysis of the movie in comparison to Cronenberg's body of work. Sadly, despite trying, Scream Factory were unable to license the director's commentary from Criterion, so hang on to that coveted out-of-print DVD (or laserdisc) if you have it. 

Onto the video extras we have four new interviews exclusive to this release, a 19-min interview with Heidi Von Palleske, a 24-min interview with actor/artists Stephen Lack, and a 19-min interview with special effects artist Gordon Smith who goes into some nice detail about how some of the effects were achieved back in the day before digital, including showing off some props not used in the final movie for various reason, he's a character and it's a fun watch. The last of the new interviews is a 13-min one with director of photography Peter Suschitzky who remembers Cronenberg as a tasteful, technical, and visionary collaborator. 

Disc two is zipped up with vintage interviews with Jeremy Irons, director/co-writer David Cronenberg, producer Marc Boyman and co-writer Norman Snider which are carry-overs from the Warner DVD. There are also a cool vintage behind-the-scenes video, and a trailer for the movie which includes footage of the motion-control process used to portray both brothers in the same shot. 

Special Features:
DISC 1 (1.78:1 version)
- NEW Audio Commentary with writer William Beard, author of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg
- Audio Commentary with actor Jeremy Irons
- NEW 2K scan at the director’s preferred aspect ratio (1.66:1)
- NEW Carey’s Story – an interviews with Heidi Von Palleske (19 mins)HD
- NEW Working Artist – an interview with Stephen Lack (24 mins)HD
- NEW Connecting Tissues – an interview with special effects artist Gordon Smith (19 mins)HD
- NEW Double Vision - an interview with director of photography Peter Suschitzky (12 mins)HD
- Vintage interviews with Jeremy Irons, director/co-writer David Cronenberg, producer Marc Boyman and co-writer Norman Snider (17 mins)HD
- Vintage Behind the Scenes Featurette (7 minutes)HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) HD 

I had sort of forgotten what a creepy and fascinating movie Dead Ringers (1988) is, a disturbing and emotionally complex story anchored by Jeremy Irons' tour de force performance in a demanding dual role. This is a weird one - which should be no surprise to lovers of Cronenberg, I do hope that this Blu-ray brings the movie a new audience who may have missed it previously, its been hard to find for a few years now, glad to see it arrive on Blu-ray with a new 2K scan and some cool extras. Highly recommended, now can we please get Crash (1996) on Blu-ray, next?