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The Ring Blu-ray Review

The Ring (2002) movie poster The Ring

Theatrical Release: October 18, 2002 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Gore Verbinski / Writers: Ehren Kruger (screenplay), Kôji Suzuki (novel The Ring), Hiroshi Takahashi (The Ring screenplay - uncredited)

Cast: Naomi Watts (Rachel Keller), Martin Henderson (Noah), David Dorfman (Aidan Keller), Brian Cox (Richard Morgan), Jane Alexander (Dr. Grasnik), Lindsay Frost (Ruth), Amber Tamblyn (Katie), Rachael Bella (Becca), Daveigh Chase (Samara Morgan), Shannon Cochran (Anna Morgan), Sandra Thigpen (Teacher), Richard Lineback (Innkeeper), Sasha Barrese (Girl Teen #1), Tess Hall (Girl Teen #2), Adam Brody (Male Teen), Alan Blumenfeld (Harvey), Pauley Perrette (Beth), Joe Chrest (Doctor), Ronald William Lawrence (Library Clerk), Stephanie Erb (Donna), Sara Rue (Babysitter), Lindsey Stoddart (Grad Student), Joe Sabatino (Orderly), Joanna Lin Black (Cashier)

Buy The Ring on Blu-ray exclusively at Best Buy / Buy on DVD from Amazon.com: In-Print Disc • 2-Disc Set with Rings • Original DVD

As in most years, many of the biggest hit movies of 2002 were quite foreseeable: sequels (the second installments of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Men in Black, and the Star Wars prequels), feature filmings of familiar properties (Spider-Man, Chicago), and the newest films by commercially established stars and directors (Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can).
But, there were also a few surprises that year. My Big Fat Greek Wedding took word-of-mouth marketing and indie film success to new heights. Fellow romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama cemented Reese Witherspoon's star while putting up some of the biggest numbers its genre had seen. Eminem proved unexpectedly popular as the star of 8 Mile, a drama based on his life.

Another of 2002's bigger surprises was the October release of The Ring. Here was a PG-13 horror film remaking a relatively unknown Japanese movie with no big stars and a director who improbably struggled to find an audience for his 2001 Brad Pitt-Julia Roberts pairing The Mexican. Against typically mild fall competition, the movie handily opened in first place with fewer than 2,000 theaters showing it. Critical reviews were favorable, but the public had even stronger feelings for the film. This became apparent as the film improved on its opening gross, then remained stable in its expanded second and third weekends. Drawing crowds well into November, The Ring crossed the $100 million mark and would end up with just under $130 M domestically and $250 M worldwide.

"The Ring" follows Seattle reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) on a mission to understand a disturbing videocassette said to kill those who view it.

Crediting the 1998 film Ringu (Ring) and the 1991 Kôji Suzuki novel on which it's based, The Ring opens with two playful teenage girls watching television. One (Rachael Bella) tells the other (Amber Tamblyn) of this urban legend going around about an unusual videocassette which brings death to everyone who watches it seven days after their viewing. Tension is built and then released, as this prologue calms us with two fakeouts, before doling out its first kill.

Though that might sound like the first step in an ordinary recipe for a postmodern horror flick, The Ring goes very easy on irony, comedy, twists, and gore, proceeding instead to unsettle you with good old-fashioned suspense, intrigue, and mystery. The film's heroine is Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), a Seattle reporter who is the deceased girl's aunt. Rachel and her young son Aidan (David Dorfman) attend the somber funeral reception, where the young folk are abuzz about the fabled tape. Lending credence to the theory is the fact that the three other teens who are said to have watched the tape have also died at precisely the same time.

No one else seems to have noticed that most unusual coincidence, but Rachel's investigative nature brings her to the cabin where the cursed VHS was supposedly viewed. She spots the unlabeled tape, watches its discomforting imagery -- a ladder, a chair, bugs, a burning tree, a fall, and so on -- and immediately afterwards receives the troubling customary phone call giving her just seven days to live. Rachel tries to make sense of the short montage, consulting her videographer ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson) and scrutinizing the frame and its edges for clues.

With their days and also young Aidan's believed to be numbered (something seemingly foretold in nosebleeds and their faces distorting in pictures and video), Rachel and Noah follow up on their findings, which direct them to the unexplained occurrences decades earlier at a horse ranch on Moesko Island. Decoding the meaning of the tape may be the only way to save their lives.

It's not the cursed tape, but this time-lapse hospital room camera footage of Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase) is creepy in its own right. Though initially skeptical, Rachel's videographer ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson) comes to believe in and be creeped out by the fabled videotape.

Even with its PG-13 rating, The Ring is about as creepy as film gets. This is a movie that values atmosphere and pacing, two things that serve to maximize the supernatural mystery at its heart. The concept alone of a deadly videocassette doesn't sound especially gripping, but director Gore Verbinski and American screenwriter Ehren Kruger know exactly how to turn that premise into an utterly arresting experience.
They slowly lay out the mythology and each intriguing facet of the cassette's curse. The video itself is an even-handed mix of the mundane and the mysterious. And the presentation Verbinski decides on of an unwavering somber tone and desaturated visuals serve the rainy Seattle puzzle extremely well.

To push any one aspect in an even slightly different direction could easily upset the film's confident balance. A leading lady unable to convey the proper degree of interest and emotion, for instance. Or a creepy kid whose behavior was askew enough to draw nervous laughs. But, fortunately, all the cards fall perfectly into place and the film manages to summon the most memorable characteristics of other genre standouts (like The Sixth Sense, Paranormal Activity, and Se7en) without feeling tired or derivative. Not every note is pitch-perfect and some may be dissatisfied by how it all adds up, but The Ring displays skill, power, and art rare for cinema primarily designed to scare.

The effects of the film's success are easy to recognize and quantify. It put Gore Verbinski's name on the map and though that name is far less famous than you might expect for someone who has directed a billion dollar grosser, it is one respected and trusted in the industry. The Ring also ensured Naomi Watts (who does an admirable American accent here) would be known for more than just David Lynch's trippy Mulholland Dr. By appearing in a mix of artistic and mainstream fare, Watts has managed to remain impressively relevant into her forties.

The Ring also launched an entire subgenre of suspenseful, supernatural horror remaking recent Asian films. The practice has calmed down in the past few years, but for a while, we were getting multiple Western versions of Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Hong Kong horror flicks every year. Most of these remakes were not that well received by critics or moviegoers. The only one that came close to having as much impact at the box office was 2004's The Grudge. The Ring's own sequel, released March 2005, opened big ($35 million), but faded quickly, winding up profitable but unloved and soon forgotten.

Though the home video industry typically relegates catalog horror to fall for, reasonable or not, potential Halloween business, Paramount Home Entertainment gives The Ring its Blu-ray debut on this mid-March week as a Best Buy exclusive.

The Ring Blu-ray cover art - click to buy exclusively from Best Buy Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; Film only: English SDH
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 20, 2012 (Best Buy exclusive)
Suggested Retail Price: $22.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Still available on DVD ($12.98 SRP)
Previously released as Two-Disc Special Edition DVD (March 2005) and DVD (March 2003)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Ring looks great on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 presentation maintains the film's cold, stylized look with most sequences given a steely blue-green tint. The element remains perfectly but not excessively clean, allowing you to admire the sharp, detailed visuals and just the right touch of fine grain. By 2003, new movies' DVDs generally pleased, but high definition allows those films to shine even more. This is a good example of that.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is extremely satisfying and effective too. Sound is a critical component of the movie and this fine mix presents it well, keeping sounds crisp, directional, and atmospheric, while not resorting to volume peaks for jolting scares.

The cursed unmarked tape winds up among classics on a video store's Employee Picks shelf in a deleted scene from "Don't Watch This." In the 2005 short "Rings", Jake Pierce (Ryan Merriman) experiences the hallucinatory effects of the tape, seeing a ladder where his friend Emily (Emily VanCamp) does not.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On Blu-ray, The Ring is joined by the few bonus features of its second DVD release.

First up is "Don't Watch This" (15:26, SD), which strings together deleted scenes, snippets, and stills. The material is good, and the unusual haphazard arrangement actually suits the varied content well. Sadly, we still do not get anything featuring Chris Cooper, whose character and subplot wound up being cut from the film. While I don't question the deletions, it sounds like something that's begging to be seen.

Rings (16:42, HD) is a short film that was included as a bonus disc alongside The Ring's 2005 DVD rerelease and on The Ring Two's DVD. It centers on Jake (Ryan Merriman), a young man who endures a harrowing week of video-induced hallucinations as he struggles to find someone to pass the tape onto. Directed by Battle: Los Angeles's Jonathan Liebesman, this is not a bad little tale.

David Dorfman dials down the creepy kid act in his brief red carpet contribution to "Cast and Filmmaker Interviews." Gore Verbinski directs a ranch scene in a wool cap in "The Origin of Terror." The infamous video at the center of "The Ring", featuring this grainy chair image and much more, can be viewed in full as a delicious Easter egg.

"Cast and Filmmaker Interviews" (7:58, SD) gathers brisk thoughts from actors Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox, and David Dorfman, director Gore Verbinski, and producer Walter Parkes.
These remarks would typically feature in a making-of piece. On their own, they are a bit thin.

"The Origin of Terror" (4:00, SD) discusses urban legends with some comments from the filmmakers and "experts." What begins as a topical piece soon devolves into a slick, surface-scraping promotional making-of on the film.

Finally, there is the movie's original theatrical trailer (2:10, fuzzy HD), which is well done if not entirely compatible with the film's tone.

Fortunately, even the DVD's very cool Easter egg -- treating you to the full cursed video (2:20, SD) -- is retained, complete with a top-notch post-viewing kicker. One of the neatest and most obvious of hidden features, this can be found through the extras submenu.

The only extra left off this Blu-ray is a trailer for the original Ringu, which itself now appears to be out of print here.

The menu wisely relies primarily on visuals from the haunting videocassette. Par for Paramount, the disc supports bookmarks on the film, but does not resume playback after being powered down.

Like other Paramount Best Buy exclusives, this one is topped by a lenticular slipcover, one befitting the film and appropriately different from the eco-friendly keepcase cover below.

The efforts of Noah (Martin Henderson) and Rachel (Naomi Watts) lead them to the discovery of a troubling room. Rachel's investigations lead her to old Moesko Island horse rancher Richard Morgan (a briefly-seen but prominently billed Brian Cox).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Ten years later, The Ring remains an unusually chilling and effective horror tale that keeps you riveted and your stomach knotted. For me, atmosphere and suspense always trump jump scares and gore. If your tastes are similar, you'll probably consider The Ring one of the best horror films of modern times.

Paramount's Blu-ray meets expectations squarely with its fine feature presentation and retention of all major extras from both DVD releases. For such a popular film, you'd think either this disc would have come sooner as is or the studio would have tried to add some new extras to justify the wait. The wait will probably be at least another six months (and quite possibly longer) if you choose not to get this disc from Best Buy. Whether or not it meets your collection's standards, the movie is definitely one to see.

Buy The Ring on Blu-ray exclusively at Best Buy

Buy it on DVD from Amazon.com: In-Print Disc • 2-Disc Set with Rings • Original DVD

Related Reviews:
New to Blu-ray: RoadRacers • The Last Temptation of Christ • To Catch a Thief • Young Adult
American Remakes of Asian Supernatural Horror Movies: Dark Water • Shutter • The Uninvited
Supernatural Horror: Paranormal Activity 3 • Paranormal Activity 2 • Poltergeist • Insidious
Naomi Watts: J. Edgar • Eastern Promises • You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger | Martin Henderson: Bride & Prejudice
Brian Cox: Zodiac • Rushmore • Rise of the Planet of the Apes | David Dorfman: A Wrinkle in Time • Drillbit Taylor
2002: Lilo & Stitch • Tuck Everlasting • Spirited Away • The Santa Clause 2: The Escape Clause • The Rookie
Directed by Gore Verbinski: Rango • Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl • Dead Man's Chest • On Stranger Tides

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Reviewed March 20, 2012.



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