(movie review written in October, 2002)
Maybe once or twice a year, I walk out of a film completely stunned. These are maybe not films without faults, but they remind me of the kind of hold a film can take on its viewer. "The Ring", a remake of a Japanese film by usual comedy director Gore Verbinski ("The Mexican") is absolutely one of those films. It's not really BOO! scary and it's not fright-by-volume. It's the kind of film that burrows itself under your skin and copies images into your mind that will stay there.
There have been countless horror/thrillers made in the past several years, including "The Blair Witch Project", "The Others", "The Sixth Sense" and "The Mothman Prophecies". "The Ring" works on the same subtle level as films like "The Others". "The Ring" is also a PG-13 film, with little gore or foul language. So why did it scare me unlike well...pretty much any film before it?
The film manages to take horror conventions and make them fresh. An opening scene with two teenage girls that looks like another teen horror film got several laughs from the screening audience deeply familiar with this kind of scene. However, the way this scene unfolds is deeply creepy and doesn't exactly proceed in the way that one might expect.
We're then introduced to Rachel (Naomi Watts, "Mulholland Drive"), a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the single mother of Adian (David Dorfman). With her connection to one of the girls in the opening scene, she sets out to find out what happened to the girl. She runs across the "urban legend" of people dying seven days after watching a mysterious video and finds that the "legend" is far more real than she'd ever expected.
As I mentioned before, "The Ring" isn't one of those films that uses shock cords on the soundtrack every five minutes or has cats jumping out of the dark corners. It is actually a mixture of horror and mystery, with the mystery element considerably more complex and demanding (which is a pleasant change) than I'd expected. Those who see it with a group may find that they have a lot to discuss about their opinion of what really happened in the story.
Most will find the closest similar film in the genre is probably director Mark Pellington's "The Mothman Prophecies". However, Verbinski succeeds in pushing both tone, suspense and scares further. Where that film built to impressive scares and then let the tension deflate, "The Ring"'s atmosphere of dread and more frequent twists and scares keeps consistently building the tension to an almost unbearable level.
Adding to the tone and feel of the movie is Bojan Bazelli's cinematography, which is chilling and creates several scenes that are so darkly beautiful they could be paintings. Hans Zimmer's score is also one of the composer's best. The sound design trio of Lee Orloff ("Blade II"), Craig Wood ("Mousehunt") and Peter Miller also work to create a wildly detailed and immensely creepy soundtrack.
The film's performances are also excellent. Watts, fresh off the success of "Mulholland Drive", has to carry the film here and does so quite beautifully. Dorfman, in a limited role, also thankfully does not just try to do the whole Haley Joel Osment thing again. Martin Henderson (who looks like an older Breckin Meyer) and Brian Cox also provide solid support.
As for the only concern I had with the film (and I have not seen the original Japanese film "Ringu") is that the film occasionally leaves a few plot points wrapped up a bit vaguely. These instances were relatively minor and didn't effect my enjoyment of an otherwise stellar film. One of the year's best.
Note: The film reaches a point where some may think they've gotten to the ending. Don't turn off the film until the end credits roll.
VIDEO: Dreamworks presents "The Ring" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. After being pleased with the studio's two major releases of last week, I was once again impressed with their efforts here. Bojan Bazelli's cold blue cinematography, which contains some imagery that I doubt I'll ever forget, is certainly done justice here. Sharpness and detail are very good, if not quite remarkable. The picture remained crisp and clear throughout; the movie's cinematography has a slight hint of softness, but the picture still remained well-defined.
Very few flaws presented themselves throughout this fine transfer. The presence of some minor edge enhancement in a few scenes was noticable, but only rarely became a distraction. No compression artifacts were spotted, while the print looked terrific. No specks, no marks or scratches were spotted.
The film's blue color palette was presented perfectly here, as were the occasional richer, more vivid colors that occasionally are seen. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate, as well. Aside from the unfortunate presence of some edge enhancement, this is a very fine presentation.
SOUND: Dreamworks presents "The Ring" in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. Sound designers Lee Orloff ("Blade II"), Craig Wood ("Mousehunt") and Peter Miller have created a very enjoyable soundtrack for "The Ring", but it's not always one that will jump out at the listener. Mild ambience is very well-presented, especially the sounds of rain in several scenes, which are enveloping enough to give chills. Surrounds are also employed for the occasional creepy sound effects and reinforcement of Hans Zimmer's tense, haunting score. Those who can enable EX decoding for back surround use will find that it does add nicely (if not substancially) to the envelopment.
Audio quality is up to what one would expect from a modern production. Hans Zimmer's score is presented with a rich, full and dynamic quality that highlight's the composer's stellar work quite well. Sound effects are presented with fine clarity and detail, as well. Strong low bass is also occasionally present. While not a fiercely aggressive soundtrack, the combination of Zimmer's score and the appropriate, subtle sound elements really form a creepy, enjoyable experience that draws the listener closer.
Comparing the DTS and Dolby soundtracks in several scenes brought up some noticable, if not massive, differences. Essentially, the DTS soundtrack seemed to bring out the best aspects of this film's audio. The more intense passages of Hans Zimmer's score (the scene on the car ferry) gripped in a way that they didn't on the Dolby track, sounding deeper and more commanding. The quieter moments of Zimmer's work here sounded a bit clearer and smoother. Sound effects seemed slightly crisper and cleaner, while the surround experience in general was a bit more seamless.
EXTRAS: Given the fact that director Gore Verbinski has been preparing the big-budget Summer picture "Pirates of the Caribbean", he may not have had time to participate in any supplements for this DVD edition. As a result, there's not much here at all.
Aside from a few trailers ("Ringu", "Catch Me If You Can", "8 Mile"), there's about 15 minutes of deleted footage. Although most of the footage isn't anything memorable, a couple of good scenes could have worked well in the final film.
Final Thoughts: A superbly crafted and tremendously creepy thriller, "The Ring" is a terrific film that I still consider one of last year's best. I still find the film's small scares and quiet reveals have an impact after multiple viewings, as well. Dreamworks has provided a fairly good DVD edition; it excells in both audio/video presentation, but given the success of the film, it's rather dissapointing to have only a couple of supplements. Still, "The Ring" is highly recommended.