Color, 2002, 115 mins. / Directed by Gore Verbinski / Starring Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson / DreamWorks (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DTS/DD5.1

All the signs foretold disaster: a remake of the Japanese horror film Ring (Ringu), already considered an instant classic of suggestive horror, directed by the man behind The Mexican, written by the screenwriter of the dire Arlington Road, and released by the studio that trashed their remake of Robert Wise's The Haunting. Despite such odds, the American adaptation, The Ring, is a worthy translation of its source and, even for those familiar with the original Asian series, delivers a few jolts and twists of its own.

Busy reporter Rachel Keller (Mulholland Dr.'s Naomi Watts) believes she may have stumbled onto an intriguing story when her niece dies under mysterious circumstances, seven days after viewing a cursed videotape which, according to urban legend, kills those who watch it. Often leaving her precognitive son (David Dorfman) to the hands of babysitters, Rachel embarks on a sinister journey with her video nut ex-boyfriend, Noah (Martin Henderson), and uncovers a tragic series of events which have now taken on supernatural life through modern technology.

A ghost story for the digital age, The Ring respectfully retains the rainy, melancholy atmosphere of its source and, most importantly, resists the temptation to slather its chills with grating pop music or smart-aleck teenagers. Watts proves more than able to carry the film (a huge demand considering she's in almost every scene), but able support is provided by a well-chosen supporting cast including the always effective Brian Cox. While Verbinski's tape montage isn't as spare and nightmarish as the Japanese original, his version offers a few tweaks of its own including a horrific passage on a commuter ship involving a runaway horse, a more satisfying explanation for the "seven days" of the curse, and a savvy use of subliminal editing (often limited to a single frame) that beats William Friedkin at his own game. The film also offers a few sly nods to Asian horror culture, including an asylum scene lifted from Ring 2, a Japanese doctor's evaluation in a vital case history file, and a cameo from that omnipresent Eastern horror, the centipede. Hans Zimmer's score effectively adapts the original's eerie, plaintive textures into a Western tonal format, while Rick Baker provides a few spare but horrific make-up effects, the first of which rarely failed to wrench a scream from the theatrical audience. It's not a perfect film; the new backstory concocted for the curse is far too convoluted for its own good (despite reshoots and various voiceovers tested by DreamWorks) and ultimately can't touch the psychic conference of the original film, and some ludicrous editing nearly derails the film's final, most important scare setpiece, which was pulled off in the original without any distracting cutaways to a screeching car and fared all the better for it. In the end, fans are best off watching both films as fascinating variants of a brutally effective story.

(Be warned that due to the disc's nature, some spoilers may be given below.) DreamWorks' DVD appears to be a sparse package at first glance, though it does feature a top notch anamorphic transfer and appropriately loud, well separated DTS and 5.1 tracks. The film is generally either very quiet or very, very loud, and both audio versions serve their purpose well. While the subject matter obviously makes this an ideal title for home viewing, DVD viewers will also enjoy the ability to freeze frame on some of the more devilish editing and visual trickery; for example, note the split second make-up effect which subliminally crawls up during the last shot of Henderson's screaming face. The theatrical trailer is not included, strangely enough, but a promo for it does appear on DreamWorks' edition of the Japanese film (and vice versa, with a Ringu promo stuck on this disc). The packaging promises a "short film created by Gore Verbinski exclusively for the video release that reveals more electrifying secrets about the mystery of The Ring." Actually, it's a skillfully edited 15 minute reel of alternate and deleted footage seen during the film's various test screenings, presented in anamorphic widescreen with a more polished sound mix to link it all together into one smooth viewing experience. Among the highlights: Watts' original interviews with island residents about the horse farm and Samara (replaced in the final cut with a different scene featuring Jane Alexander), a bloodier version of the bathtub scene, Henderson's discovery of a grisly fate for the eccentric lodge manager, a nastier extended version of Samara's death (including a rock cracked against her head), and an alternate coda at a video store. For once, there's a good reason the back of the box notes, "Bonus Features Not Rated," as this reel definitely pushes the PG-13 horror film into harder territory. While DVD fanatics may grouse about the lack of a commentary track or featurettes (though no doubt a two-disc edition will appear somewhere down the road), this fascinating and strangely downplayed extra is the best possible bonus feautre. Easter egg hunters will also find a nice little treat hidden in the main menu screen as well.

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