Released by: Shout! Factory
Released on: November 15th, 2016.
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold, Stephen Lack
Year: 1988 Purchase From Amazon
Beverly and Elliot Mantle (both played by Jeremy Irons) are identical twin brothers who also happen to share the same occupation – they co-own a gynecological practice where they not only work as doctors but also as researchers. They are a little obsessed with women’s bodies and have been for years, but they are well regarded in their field and quite affluent thanks to their business. However, while the two men may look identical, their personalities are very different. Elliot is outgoing, friendly and charming while Beverly keeps to himself and is more than just a little introverted.
Things get… weird when the two brothers, both pretending to be Beverly, begin having an affair with an actress named Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold). It all started when she began seeing Beverly as a patient, wanting his insight into an abnormality that might stop her from ever being able to bear children. The twins take it from there, and the fact that this woman is completely unaware that Elliot even exists makes it easy for the two men to basically swap places with each other as they feel like it. Once Claire finds out about Elliot, she is repulsed by their behavior and makes it quite well known. However, Beverly’s obsession with Claire and her bizarre medical history ties into his own strange relationship with his identical twin as things take some very dark turns indeed…
One of David Cronenberg’s best films, Dead Ringers is pretty dark, disturbing stuff. It’s not just the fact that the twins share women without their playthings even knowing, but it’s the way that the sexual behavior collides here with the director’s obsession with body horror. We won’t spoil the ending here but the way that this film finishes, it still has the power to upset and unsettle even if you’ve seen it before. That’s not to say that it is exploitative or that it goes for cheap shock value, because it doesn’t. This is very cerebral stuff, thought provoking and intelligent cinema shot with class and style (this is one of the coldest and most clinical looking films you’ll ever see, and that is very much a deliberate choice on the part of the director and cinematographer) and featuring an evocative score and showing off some impressive production values. It’s expertly directed and very tightly edited, moving at a good pace but at the same time delivering the sort of rock solid character development needed to pull you into the story. As such, the finale carries sufficient impact and is all the better for it.
Of course, as much talent as there is behind the camera, it would all be for naught if the performances weren’t up to par. Thankfully, the acting in this film is excellent. Jeremy Irons is amazing here in a dual role that stands as a career highlight in a career that, let’s be honest here, as a lot of highlights. He’s a remarkably talented thespian and seeing an actor of his caliber tackle material as challenging and even confrontational as Dead Ringers is just plain fascinating to watch. In this film the man is charming, elegant and terrifying and after watching him here it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing the job. Thankfully Genevieve Bujold is ever part his equal. Her character goes through such emotional turmoil here that it would be easy to overdo it, but she never does. She’s never less than completely believable in the part and she and Irons are amazing to watch together.
Shout! Factory presents Dead Ringers in two very different transfers. While both are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, the version of the movie on the first disc is framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and it has some noticeable sharpening and a cooler, bluer color scheme. Detail is okay but there’s edge enhancement issues here. The image is clean and free of much in the way of print damage. The version on the second disc is a new 2k scan from an unnamed source and it is framed at 1.66.1 widescreen (which the packaging notes as Cronenberg’s preferred aspect ratio). This version looks considerably more natural. The color scheme is warmer and more lifelike and the picture is free of the sharpening issues that are noticeable on the first disc. It’s a little soft looking in spots but overall a much more filmic looking representation of the movie and quite a solid effort.
It’s also interesting to note that there are some noticeable framing differences between the two versions of the movie. Some comparisons between the two transfers are below.
Audio options are offered up for both versions in your choice of DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo or DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks with removable subtitles available in English only. There isn’t a ton of directional effects in the 2.0 track but it’s interesting to note that the L-R action is reversed between the two versions, while the 5.1 tracks would appear to be identical. Regardless, the tracks sound good enough with the 5.1 mix spreading around the score and effects as you’d expect while keeping the dialogue up front in the mix and the 2.0 tracks scaling things back a bit. Levels are fine throughout and there are no noticeable issues with any hiss or distortion to complain about.
The extras on disc one start off with a new audio commentary from writer William Beard, author of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema Of David Cronenberg. Beard knows his stuff. This track is packed with insight into the film’s history as he talks about the casting of the picture, the shooting locations, plenty of the themes that Cronenberg explores in this film and how Dead Ringers contrasts and compares with a lot of the other pictures that the director has been involved with over the years. Also included on the first is a commentary with actor Jeremy Irons that first appeared on the 2005 DVD release. It’s an interesting discussion in which he shares his thoughts on Cronenberg’s directing talents, the character(s) he plays in Dead Ringers, his thoughts on the film’s themes and his experiences with some of the co-stars he was cast alongside in this particular film.
One disc two Shout! Factory has assembled an impressive selection of new featurettes, the first of which is Carey’s Story, an interview with Heidi Von Palleske who talks about her character, how she wound up taking the part, her thoughts on working with Cronenber and Irons and her experiences during the shoot. In Working Artist we get a twenty-four minute long interview with Stephen Lack that starts off with the man’s own take on the material before then allowing him to share some stories from his work on the film and his thoughts on the finished product. In the nineteen minute Connecting Tissues we sit down with special effects artist Gordon Smith where he talks about his working relationship with the film’s director, how he created some of the prosthetics that play a big part in certain scenes in the picture and more. The twelve minute Double Vision gets director of photography Peter Suschitzky in front of the camera to talk about taking direction from Cronenberg, how and why it was decided that certain scenes should look the way that they do and his thoughts on Cronenberg’s directorial output in general.
Also on hand are seventeen minutes of vintage interviews with Jeremy Irons, David Cronenberg, producer Marc Boyman and co-writer Norman Snider that are worth checking out (particularly because two of these participants aren’t involved in any of the newer supplements) and a seven minutes vintage behind the scenes piece that shows us what it was like on set during the shoot. Both of these vintage featurettes are ported over from the aforementioned Warner Brothers DVD release from 2005 (none of the extras from the older Criterion Collection DVD were able to be licensed for this release, however, so hardcore completists may want to hold onto that older disc for that reason). The film’s original theatrical trailer is also found on the second disc.
Both discs feature animated menus and chapter selection and fit inside a standard sized blue Blu-ray case with reversible cover art. This in turn fits inside a cardboard slipcover featuring the newly created artwork on the front panel.
The Final Word:
Dead Ringers remains a genuinely great film and Shout! Factory has done a fine job bringing it to Blu-ray. The 1.78.1 version looks overly digitized but the 1.66.1 version is, if not perfect, quite film like and for the most part a very nice representation of the film. On top of that we get a great selection of supplements that document the making of the film and offer plenty of critical insight into its importance and effectiveness.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!