Dead Ringers Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold) is in love with handsome Beverly (Jeremy Irons). Or does she love Elliot (also Jeremy Irons)? It's uncertain, because brothers Beverly and Elliot Mantle are identical twins sharing the same medical practice, apartment, and women – including unsuspecting Claire. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Dead Ringers (1988) is a centerpiece and perfectly blended combination of David Cronenberg’s two career paths, the first as an ameliorator of exploitation horror and the second as a degrader of distinguished dramatic material. While he did make steps back into surrealistic, effects-driven grotesquery for Naked Lunch (1991) and eXistenZ (2000), you have to dig deep to find commonalities between them and the director’s real-world dramas, such as A History of Violence (2005) and A Dangerous Method (2011). The fact that Dead Ringers is even considered a horror movie at all speaks to Cronenberg’s reputation at the time, because almost all of the “horror” is either internalized or implied. Instead of gory effects and stomach-churning transformations, he riles the audience’s hackles with the colder terror of clinical descriptions, creepy surgical utensils (that we never really see being used), and frayed emotions. Cronenberg and co-writer Norman Snider’s script is based on the book Twins (1978) by Bari Wood & Jack Geasland, itself a fictionalized version of the true story of twin gynecologists named Stewart and Cyril Marcus, who died within days of each other under suspicious circumstances. Like many of Cronenberg’s work (particularly his post-Fly movies), Dead Ringers is event and character-driven, rather than plot-driven. He and editor Ronald Sanders cut the exposition to the bone, often leaving us to catch up with what has occurred between scenes (the concept of time is often irrelevant), but never leaving us completely in the dark. In this regard, it may be the most efficient movie in Cronenberg’s already very efficient canon, despite also being one of his most challenging and richly layered stories. And, of course, the whole thing hinges on Jeremy Irons’ dual performance as two men, who have everything and nothing in common at the same time.
Dead Ringers has had a good life on North American DVD, including releases from The Criterion Collection, Warner Bros, TVA Films (in Canada), but took a long time to make it to Blu-ray (I’m sure Criterion would’ve been happy to release one, had they maintained the release rights). Until now, the only options (as far as I know) were a 1080p disc from ITV Global in France and a 1080i disc from Umbrella Entertainment in Australia. Had Scream Factory merely recycled the same 1.78:1 scan of what Warner Bros. supplied to those companies (in 1080p, obviously), most fans would’ve been perfectly happy. It is a strong, sharp transfer with some noise issues, but nothing worse that we’ve endured from similar releases. Yet, Scream knew this was going to be one of their more ‘important’ releases, so they’ve also included a brand new 2K scan transfer at Cronenberg’s preferred 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The press materials do not specify if the scan was an interpositive or printed source. I’ve included comparison caps from each in the sliders so that readers can decide which one they like the best. Personally, I’m torn. On the one hand, this is the first time the film has been presented in 1.66:1 since Criterion’s disc, which was approved by Cronenberg and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky. The 2K image features stronger colors, a brighter tint, and a notably cleaner image. On the other hand, the otherwise gritty/noisy 1.78:1 transfer’s cooler, darker palette is closer to what Cronenberg and Suschitzky told Criterion they preferred. The older scan is sharper, but also, at times, much too sharp, leaving us with the choice between a relatively fuzzy cleanliness and tight edges with halo effects. Obviously, the ‘perfect’ transfer is somewhere between the two, which is why I assume Scream Factory has included both of them. In the end, I prefer the new scan, but would not begrudge any viewer that prefers the older one.
Scream Factory has included the original stereo 2.0 soundtrack and WB’s 5.1 remix in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio with each of the two transfers. As per usual, I’d encourage new viewers to listen to the film as the filmmakers intended, but there’s little reason to shun this particular remix. Dead Ringers isn’t a particularly aggressive aural experience and the 5.1 track respects the basic design and opts mostly to simply move dialogue into the center channel. There are a few instances where the dialogue volume is inconsistent, though, probably due to issues separating the elements. Howard Shore’s sometimes creepy, sometimes smooth woodwind and string score sounds lovely on both tracks, but the remix does have a slight edge with its discrete LFE option.
Disc 1 (1.78:1 version):
Commentary with writer William Beard – The first track is a new one with the author of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema Of David Cronenberg (2006, University of Toronto Press) and professor of film studies at Alberta University and was recorded exclusively for this release. Not surprisingly, this is a largely intellectual track, which explores many of the film’s metaphysical and metaphorical aspects, but is consistently accessible and entertaining, as well. My only critique is that he spends a little too much energy describing the story and character motivations.
Commentary with Jeremy Irons – It appears that Criterion was not going to give up their exclusive commentary tracks anytime soon (even for OOP discs), so Scream borrowed this actor-sans-director track from WB’s DVD. Irons can’t quite fill the entire track all by himself (few actors ever do), but pipes in with loads of vital information on regular intervals and brings an interesting perspective to the discussion.
Disc 2 (1.66:1 version):
Carey's Story (19:04, HD) – The first of Scream Factory’s exclusive interviews is with actress Heidi Von Palleske, who discusses being cast, her character, acting with Irons in a dual role, and Dead Ringers’ place in Cronenberg’s filmography.
Working Artist (23:56, HD) – A new and pretty strange interview with artist Stephen Lack, who appears as an artist in Dead Ringers and who was also the miscast lead of Scanners (1981). Lack takes us on a tour of his studio and talks about his working relationship with Cronenberg.
Connecting Tissues (19:16, HD) – Special make-up effects artist Gordon Smith breaks down his career and how he helped Cronenberg out on Dead Ringers when his normal effects crew was unable to participate.
Double Vision (12:41, HD) – The final exclusive/new extra is an interview with director of photography Peter Suschitzky, who discusses his process, connecting with Cronenberg on Dead Ringers, and their continuing relationship through every one of the director’s movies since.
Vintage interviews (originally seen on WB’s DVD, 17:03, SD) – Jeremy Irons, David Cronenberg, producer Marc Boyman, and co-writer Norman Snider
Vintage behind-the-scenes featurette (originally seen on WB’s DVD, 7:13, SD)
The images on this page are taken from the Scream Factory BDs and sized for the page, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Full-sized .jpg versions can be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab.