The Ring (Region 1 edition)

Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson & Brian Cox
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
RRP: $29.99 (USA only)

Certificate: R
Available now

Urban legend time. You watch this video. It's creepy. Then, the phone rings. A voice says that in seven days, you die. Maybe, you want to panic now...

I loved the original Japanese movie of The Ring. It wasn't just supremely creepy. It made me count out the days for a week after I'd seen it. It made me avoid the phone. Even now, I get shudders just thinking about it.

So, when the disc of this US remake landed on the doormat, I felt a different kind of fear - after all, when Hollywood steals from another culture, it usually screws up the end result, right royally. And I'd been primed. US remakes are usually at their most profoundly shite when you notice that the source of the original is not credited on the poster, and that had also been the case here during the Dreamworks version's theatrical release.

Perhaps all those preconceptions lowered my expectations. I can't be 100% sure. But, instead of just under two hours torture, Gore Verbinski's version impressed me.

Ehren Kruger's crisp and appropriately cynical script does a good job of moving the tale into a US milieu, helped no end by his choice of location, an autumnal Seattle. If you want to know what Nirvana were moaning about and why Microsoft programmers leave so many bugs in their software, just take a trip to Washington state in October or November. You want oppressive - welcome to the city that regards the description as a complement.

Naomi Watts also does well in the lead role. She has to carry the film almost single handedly as the journalist who starts researching a story and then finds herself in an apparent race against time to solve a mystery and save her family. This Aussie-trained actress understands the concept of character development - and, boy, does she get you on her side.

But the most impressive stuff on view is Verbinski's camerawork. Directors with a fetish for pointless dolly shots, speeded-up takes and other visual jiggery-pokery are usually major league irritants. The real challenge is in knowing when to turn the flashy stuff on and off - and here, Verbinski gets the balance just right. He's just as comfortable holding a close-up for an U-N-C-O-M-F-O-R-T-A-B-L-Y long time as he is weaving his Steadicam. Whatever is necessary or appropriate as long as it keeps you unnerved.

What's surprising is that Verbinski's background is mainly in family entertainment. His best known film before this was Mouse Hunt (a must, incidentally, for Christopher Walken fans), and he's helming this Summer's big Disney release, The Pirates of the Caribbean. That said, you need someone with a wicked sense of humour to make this kind of material work, so maybe he is not that offbeat a choice after all.

There is not that much changed in the film in terms of structure from Japan to the US - and checking out that synopsis above, just how much is there to change anyway. But the fact that the story can still shock and surprise those familiar with it gives this revisioning rare credit.

For the Region 1 DVD release, you don't actually get that much, although in some respects you feel it's all part of the game. Let's be coy, let's not reveal too much, let's keep them guessing. Given the film's final in-yer-face shot, you can see what Verbinski et al are getting at (unless, that is, they do a Bryan Singer and try to squeeze more box-office from fans with yet another special edition this autumn).

The big extra you do get is a 20-minute short, culled from clips from the film, out-takes and deleted scenes, which has been edited together as a sort of 'Demon's cut' of the video nasty at the centre of this movie cult. And they've done a pretty good job, too. Also on board are the options of Dolby 5.1 or a much meatier DTS mix. But that is pretty much your lot.

The disc is still worth a few bucks, however, although you should still get the original in your collection as well. Given the nature of the tale, the irony is that, in both versions, The Ring does hold up well to repeated viewing!

Paul Dempsey

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