Unlike my cohorts here at Horrorview, it took me a long time to warm up to the Japanese horror flick Ringu. After several viewings of the film and it's sequels, I developed a respect for the film and began to appreciate the sustained level of unease that Ringu afforded viewers, eschewing standard "jump tactics" for a quieter approach. Since Ringu was a massive hit in Japan, it was only a matter of time before it received a Hollywood make-over, and in 2002 director Gore Verbinski delivered just that with The Ring. While fans of the original were ready to dismiss the remake entirely, the film became a massive word-of-mouth hit. Dreamworks has now released The Ring and Ringu simultaneously on DVD, allowing fans of the old and new films to compare the two.
So how do they stack up?
Well, just about evenly.
The Ring centers around the discovery of a videotape that has become the stuff of urban legend. If you watch the tape, you have seven days to make funeral arrangements, before your heart stops cold. Rachel (Watts) is a reporter whose niece has recently died in just such a manner, and, for her the girl's mother, she decides to investigate this rumor. Rachel finds the tape and watches it, and at its conclusion receives a phone call where a creepy child's voice states "seven days". Shaken, Rachel brings the tape to Noah (Martin Henderson), the estranged father of her son, Aidan (creepy man-boy David Dorfman). Noah is a bit of a video geek, who appreciates the film's indie vibes, but insists it's nothing more than a videotape, but with Rachel's urging he begins dissecting the footage, searching for clues to its origins. Meanwhile, Rachel does her own investigative reporter thing, and comes up with several leads that all point to strange goings-on at a horse ranch off the coast of Washington state. Rachel and Noah both begin having hallucinatory experiences that seem to bring them closer to solving the mystery, but when their eerily precognizant son watches the tape, the stakes are raised, and the estranged couple must work against the clock to uncover the mystery behind the ring.
While Gore Verbinski has taken some liberties with the original film's premise, the result is a more cohesive and coherent film that oozes style and balances that with a fair amount of substance. It's pretty creepy, and, thanks mostly to the sparse use of music and deliberately paced editing, has a mood reminiscent of Kubrick's The Shining (as well as an almost identical score). The Ring does a fair job of recreating the original film's underlying sense of dread, and even betters it in several areas (especially during the film's first act.) The Ring also benefits from a larger budget that allows Verbinski to layer on the tension with modestly applied visual effects and camera filters that help to create a stark and oppressive world canvas.
While The Ring is definitely spooky, it does lose out to the original in terms of overall shock, and this can be attributed directly to the difference in budget. Ringu presented us with the victims of the tapes looking scared to death, pale, but otherwise human, while, for some odd reason, The Ring's victims look as though their faces have been repeatedly whacked with a rubber mallet. They are all mottled and green, and while I am not a doctor, I don't think that's what a body looks like after a cardiac arrest. I realize it's more shocking to see a dead body that looks less than human in most horror films, but here, as compared to the low-budget original presentation, it lessens the impact and seems like a case of using special FX for special FX sake. I also find the original film's coda (it's scariest moment) far more effective than The Ring's high tech approach. Neither film really made me jump out of my seat, but Ringu's ending made me squirm, whereas The Ring's left me a little disappointed. The tacked on happy ending (well, as happy as a film like this can get) also felt out of place, but, to be fair, the ending here is what served as the explanation for Ringu's sequel, and will invariably be the launching pad for The Ring 2.
The DVD from Dreamworks is a mixed bag. On one hand, the transfer is absolutely gorgeous, and the audio is superb, but, for a film as successful as The Ring, one would expect a little more goodies in the grab bag. Instead, we are given "a short film by Gore Verbinski that offers further clues about The Ring". This "short film" is a series of deleted scenes, edited together with what appear to be discarded images filmed for the video-tape sequence into one 13 minute featurette. It's a nice way to present deleted scenes, but it is nothing more than that. There is also a piss poor trailer for Ringu that is all of 10 seconds long and features Hollywood Movie Trailer Voice Guy yelling about how this film "inspired" The Ring, as opposed to the proper Japanese language trailer. Other than those two items, the disc is essentially a bare bones release, and one can only assume that a special edition will miraculously show up just around the time The Ring 2 hits theaters in 2004.
The Ring is definitely worth a look, although I wouldn't rush out and purchase it if you've already seen the film since the DVD doesn't offer much beyond that. If you haven't seen the film and don't mind the inevitable upgrade down the line, however, by all means pick this up.