Release Date(s)1988 (November 15, 2016)
Studio(s)Morgan Creek Productions (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers is probably not in the top tier of titles that come to mind when people think about the writer/director, but it’s certainly not a film that’s been ignored. Most of the credit for its quality goes to Jeremy Irons, who portrays twin brothers named Elliot and Beverly. Reaching success by inventing a new tool for use by gynecologists, Elliot and Beverly begin sleeping with a number of women and sharing these women without their knowedge. Eventually, Beverly falls deeply in love with one in particular, and this is the starting point of a change in Elliot and Beverly’s relationship that will affect them forever.
Dead Ringers is a strange film in that it never fully gives you answers but still tells you everything you need to know. We understand the relationship between Beverly and Elliot, but never fully comprehend just how alike, or not, they are. Elliot is often the more dominant and cynical twin while Beverly is shy and submissive. Yet you can’t help but feel that those roles are sometimes switched, especially in the third act. It’s a testament to just how good Irons’ performances are. That’s not to take anything away from Genevieve Bujold, who portrays Beverly’s love interest. She’s incredibly effective as a broken woman struggling with her everyday life, which only grows more complicated as Beverly and Elliot enter it.
Dead Ringers was released in 1988 and underperformed at the box office. After the critical and commercial success of The Fly two years earlier, this wasn’t seen as a major disappointment so much as an oddity. Many years later, Cronenberg enthusiasts still site it as one of his better and more personal works. It’s a less straightforward film than something like Naked Lunch, but it manages to capture Cronenberg’s ideas and overall aesthetic quite well.
Scream Factory’s release of Dead Ringers on Blu-ray comes in two separate presentations: the more commonly-seen 1.78:1 transfer and a new 2K scan of the film’s interpositive element at 1.66:1, which is Cronenberg’s preferred aspect ratio for the movie. Both have their pros and cons, so viewers might favor one over the other depending on their preferences. For the 1.78:1 version, the grain structure is more noisy, but with strong detail. There’s also a cool color palette, which gives skin tones a blue-ish appearance. Black levels are deep, with good shadow detail, while brightness and contrast levels ride a midpoint. It’s a clean transfer but there’s a digital smudge to it at times, as well as a bit of artificial sharpening. The 1.66:1 version, by contrast, is more organic and smoother in appearance. Grain isn’t quite as noisy, while fine detail is a little more ubiquitous, especially shadow detail. The color palette is also much warmer, showing off more accurate skin tones. Black levels are deep and both brightness and contrast are much improved. It’s also a very clean transfer, with few film artifacts leftover, nor does it feature any of the digital augmentations found on the other presentation. Besides both transfers exhibit a bit of evident telecine wobble. There are also notable framing differences, and not just due to the difference in aspect ratio. I’m no authority on which is 100% correct and, given that we don’t have either the director or cinematographer’s final approval on either transfer, it’s difficult to judge properly. I can definitively say that the 1.66:1 version appears more natural, but seeing the presentations in motion will ultimately give you a better idea.
For the audio, both versions offer English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD tracks. The 5.1 tracks seem to be the same, but the 2.0 tracks differ in where sounds are placed. I prefer the 5.1 mix, as it gives the score and the sound effects much-needed room to breathe. Dialogue is clean and clear on all of these tracks, but spacing and envelopment are slightly more aggressive in the 5.1. Subtitles are also available in English SDH for those who might need them.
Per usual, there’s a terrific set of extras in this package, including many items carried over from the previous Warner Bros. release of the film (when they held the rights to Morgan Creek’s catalogue). On Disc One, there’s a new audio commentary with author William Beard, as well as the previously commentary with actor Jeremy Irons. On Disc Two, there are four new interviews: Carey’s Story with actress Heidi Von Palleske, Working Artist with actor Stephen Lack, Connecting Tissues with make-up effects artist Gordon Smith, and Double Vision with director of photography Peter Suschitzky. There are also vintage interviews with Irons, Cronenberg, producer Marc Boyman, and co-writer Norman Snider, as well as a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette, and the original theatrical trailer. Unfortunately, not everything could be included from previous releases, most notably the long OOP Criterion Collection DVD content. Besides a director and cinematographer approved transfer, that release also featured an audio commentary with Cronenberg, Irons, editor Ron Sanders, production designer Carol Spier, and Suschitzky. There were also original designs for the opening title sequence, Mathematics in Metal and Instruments for Operating on Mutant Women still galleries, and motion control footage.
Considered a masterpiece by many, Dead Ringers is an effective, slow burn psychological thriller. It feels a little long in the tooth in places, but it contains the memorable performances and imagery typical of even lesser works by Cronenberg. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release is definitely one that you’ll want to pick up if you’re a fan of the film. On the whole, it’s a fine package and is very much recommended.
- Tim Salmons