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Universal // Unrated // March 4, 2003
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted March 28, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Now that the US remake of the The Ring has proven to be the same success as its Japanese predecessor, Dreamworks has seen fit to release the 1998 original which has been on the top of Asian film fans radar since its original release where it was a surprise hit in Japan and the surrounding territories inspiring sequels, remakes, and a wave similarly themed supernatural horror.

Reiko Asakawa is a single mother and a reporter. She is currently probing into a local urban myth among students that concerns watching a video tape followed by a phone call and eventually death one week later under mysterious circumstances. The myth hits close to home when her niece is killed and so are three of her nieces friends exactly one week after they all had a weekend getaway together. Their autopsies are inconclusive, no drugs, no trauma, their hearts just stopped. In death, their faces froze in panicked expressions.

After she follows the clues of her nieces whereabouts, Reiko discovers the tape, watches it, and worries that she is under the same strange curse. She enlists her ex-husband, Ryuji, to help. The two are pressed for time because not only do they only have a week to uncover the mystery before their deaths but their son has also watched the tape. Where the trail leads them is to a psychic who committed suicide forty years prior, the doctor that experimented on her, and her deadly daughter.

Why Ringu is a success is due to its simplicity. It is a supernatural horror film that doesn't go for the jugular, doesn't leap over the top in terms of gore or exploitative gratuitousness, and keeps things down to simple unsettling mystery and small scares. It is the same formula that made The Sixth Sense a likewise surprise hit and a film that would spawn a supernatural horror resurgence in theaters. After all, what truly frightens most people isn't viscera or the gaudy grotesque, but the unexplainable, the unknown, that sound in a house you cannot pin down or those "I took long to have it looked at" test results from your doctor.

Aside from alterations to some character and other little plot points, the difference between Ringu and the remakes (the US The Ring and the Korean Ring: Virus) actually bring up my biggest, albeit mixed, complaint about the original. Director Hideo Nakato handles the film with an economical minimalist approach, his direction is precise and the story is ambiguous. Ringu isn't told with much directorial flash or revelatory details and its sense of unease is more shudders than shocks. On one hand this is effective because it is so minimal, making gradual unfolding to the end more dreary. On the other, it can also make the film a bit of a bore, a slow-burning investigation with little excitement and unanswered questions left hanging in the air. The remakes kept the same essential minimal supernatural horror tone but favored more explanations and even ratcheting up the imagery and shocks. So, you can argue that aiming for more explanation and detail made the remakes more simplistic and dumbed down, but I can see why the filmmakers thought that would be a good way separate themselves from the original.

If you are a fan of econmical horror and supernatural scares, any version of The Ring should be entertaining. They are all fair enough interpertations of the same chain letter horror tale, and of course Ringu gets special merit for being the first.

The DVD: DreamWorks

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Previous releases of the film in other regions have been on the murky dirty side. DreamWorks master is free of any dirt whatsoever, the print is pristine. Now, it should be noted that the film was shot with an intentionally muted color palette, softness, and some graininess, all being products of an intended psychological feeling as well the limitations of a low budget. But, the picture is adequately sharp, contrast is nice and deep (better than the UK Tartans grays), and the color is dim, but that's how they wanted it. Overall a definite "A" quality image with no glaring technical defects, so horror fans should be happy.

Sound: Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 Surround with optional English, French, or Spanish subtitles. Sound is quite good and the 5.1 mix/re-mix adds a bit of flavor that the 2.0 lacks. Dialogue is centered with music and fx filling out the sides with little panning. Nakato definitely learned some lessons from t The Shining and the (original) The Haunting school of horror sound. A plain shot of Reiko appearing worried is made all the more creepy by the sudden whoosh of soundtrack score or unidentifiable noise.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers (teasers) for The Ring (US version), Catch Me if You Can and 8 Mile.

Conclusion: Well, Dreamworks did a great job with the image, presenting the film in more pleasing light that the other region editions. Unfortunately the complete lack of extras and hefty price tag keep me from recommending it as purchase unless you are a Ring fan willing to shell out cash for a barebones disc with a $30 MSRP. And, if you are all region capable with a different edition of the film, personally, I don't know if the film is so great that you'd want to spend another $30 bucks on it- but that's up to you. By skimping on the extras Dreamworks have released a perfect weekend rental instead of a purchase-worthy edition.

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