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DVD Review: Ring/Ringu

By Glenn Abel

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Ring art Before you die, you see "The Ring" -- and, if you're lucky, you'll also catch "Ringu." DreamWorks Home Entertainment has taken the unusual step of marketing its classy-but-creepy "Ring" along with a same-day release of the original 1998 Japanese film, the equally disturbing "Ringu."

The "Ring" cycle makes a lot of sense -- while the original certainly delivers on its dark reputation, the remake has nothing to lose from direct comparison.

Both are horror films for adults and thinking teens, more psychologically threatening than relentlessly violent. The films take similar but discrete approaches to the same high-concept urban legend: A VHS cassette brings death to those unlucky enough to view its stream of bizarre images. The U.S. film closely tracks the original at times but then veers off with elements like the role of horses in the mystery. Fans of "Ring" should log "Ringu" as essential viewing; filmmakers who compare and contrast the two will be rewarded with a case study in thoughtful adaptation.

The remake stars Naomi Watts as a newspaper reporter caught up in the mystery of the tape; the Japanese film features the terrific actress Nanako Matsushima in the same role.

The "Ring" films came from a series of novels by Koji Suzuki, handily billed as the Stephen King of Japan. A hit telefilm followed, with many of its actors reunited for the "Ringu" film. Japanese sequels in various media have kept the legend slithering along overseas, with admirers erecting a forest of tribute Web sites. "Ringu" haunted a few U.S. film festivals but has gone largely unseen here until this month's video release. The first "Ring" novel is set for publication in May in the States.

The Japanese film benefits from a narrative drive and coherence that the U.S. version lacks. Some of the ghostly imagery (like the ghostly long-haired female) make a lot more sense in the Asian context. The male lead, Sanada Hiroyuki, adds power to "Ringu," while "Ring" remains mostly Watts' show. On the down side, the Japanese film suffers from some cheesy effects and modest production values. Director Hideo Nakata's rendering of what's on the death tape doesn't amount to much.

U.S. director Gore Verbinski channeled Bunuel and nine inch nails for his snuff film, creating a compelling film within a film. The fun continues on the "Ring" DVD, with a new Verbinski short that's accessed by clicking on the link "Don't watch this." (Verbinski knows his shorts -- he created the Budweiser frogs.)

The 15-minute film unveils a few more clues about the sinister tape, including its last-known location. (Hint: Late fees most likely won't be collected.) Those who care will have fun slowing the blitz of images with their DVD remotes to reveal even more clues or red herrings. A handful of "Ring" outtakes get burned off along the way, not always gracefully.

DreamWorks says Verbinski chose not to include the usual making-of extras in order to preserve the mystery of "Ring." The DVD of the original has a trailer for the remake, and vice versa. Universal, as usual, slips in trailers for its current boxoffice fare on both discs.

"Ring" looks great, handling with equal aplomb the grim black-and-white and the visual relief of rich fall colors. Aspect ratio for the widescreen version is 1.85:1; full frame also is offered. The DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks are oddly tame, biased toward the front channels.

"Ringu," working with a much smaller budget, has a handsome but soft look helped along by a new high-definition master. Aspect ratio is 1.85:1. The film is in Japanese with worthy English subtitles. Audio has been remixed in 5.1, for what it's worth.

Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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