Cronenberg's Crash, The Lost Criterion Edition (Laserdisc/ DVD comparison)

David Cronenberg's Crash from 1996 (not to be confused with that awful, preachy Crash from 2004) remains one of those rare special edition laserdiscs, from Criterion no less, that has never gotten equal treatment on DVD or blu. Sure, the movie itself has been released a few times on DVD - though never on blu - but they're all just generic, no-frills discs lacking all the great extras from the laserdisc. Well, apparently there's a German DVD that has a tiny little interview featurette. But basically, the compelling Criterion version remains relegated solely to a fancy, still collectible gatefold laserdisc.
Crash is one of Cronenberg's "in between" movies, where he's started moving away from his gritty yet cerebral horror films but is still pretty well outside the Hollywood norm. In fact, this film, an adaptation of JG Ballard's almost sci-fi novel about people who grow to sexually fetishize car wrecks, is probably further outside than the horror stuff. But on the other hand, he's clearly got broader funding and bigger name actors including James Spader, Holly Hunter, Rosanna Arquette and Elias Koteas. But I think most fans who feel his later films have dropped off would still consider this one inside the good and compelling circle of the Venn diagram. It's certainly just as powerful, even if it forgoes more of the easy entertainment and cheap thrill aspects audiences could get behind in his earlier work. Now you've got slow tracking shots and brooding Howard Shore music strange ideas to ponder rather than rubber heads rolling down the aisles. Then again, there is a lot of sex and violence in this, to the point where it was released with an NC-17.

So Crash was a Newline film, and they handled its plain DVD release back in 1998.  Since Newline's closure, the title seems to have wound up in the hands of Warner Bros, as they added it (as a DV-R, of course) to their Archive Collection last year, which is good because the original disc was getting pretty pricey. So let's look, now, at that DVD and see how the 1997 laser stacks up.
Criterion laserdisc on top; New Line DVD below.
So, naturally, the DVD's got it over on the laserdisc in terms of pure image quality. Although - I'll keep saying this - since lasers aren't digital I have to import them through a converter which is probably slightly reducing the quality, so in all my laserdisc screenshots, you've gotta give 'em like a 10% benefit of the doubt. Still, the DVD is a clearer, more detailed, less fuzzy image with stronger blacks, hands down.

But it's important to note the framing, as it's quite different. The laserdisc is presented at 1,65:1, whereas the DVD offers a more conventional 1.76:1. Considering the laserdisc was issued with a big, "Director Approved" sticker signed by Cronenberg on the front, and explicitly states that 1.66 is Croenebrg's "preferred aspect ratio" on the back, I'm going to assume that Criterion's is the correct ratio. It mostly has more info along the bottom, showing us way more of Spader's chest in the top shot, while the DVD is framed slightly higher with a bit more on the top (note the green mark on the roof of the cab). Also the laser is a little greener and the DVD is a little redder, but it's hard to say which is more accurate there. Again, I guess default to the laser because it's director approved? Anyway, either viewing winds up being a bit compromised.
Just for the record, here's a shot from New Line's R-rated cut for comparison.
Here's as good a point as any to point out, by the way, that the DVD includes both the original NC-17 version (as does the laserdisc) and the R-rated cut, which runs a good eight and a half minutes shorter. Comparing the two, transfer-wise, they're pretty indistinguishable. Content-wise, I don't know why you'd want to bother with the R version; it doesn't have any alternate takes or shots to give it curiosity value. It's missing a lot, it's not the director's preferred version, and since some substantial dialogue happens during at sex scenes (the film is about sex; it's pointless to try to avoid it), you really wind up losing a lot of the film's substance. Thankfully, Warner's Archive DV-R is also the NC-17 version, and the R-rated cut is actually pretty rare and hard to find outside of this one DVD release, which includes both.
That extraneous cut and a trailer, however, are about the only things the DVD has to offer. And this is where the laser gets really desirable. While it also has the trailer - in fact, it has two different ones - it's most alluring feature is an exclusive audio commentary by David Cronenberg. It's a real shame none of the companies that released Crash here or abroad was willing to pony up the cash to license the commentary from Criterion, or allow issue their own, high end DVD release. It pretty much means really serious Cronenberg fans have to track down the laser. And it also includes a nice, 8-9 minute featurette including on-camera interviews with JG Ballard, Cronenberg, Spader, Koteas, Hunter and Deborah Unger. I wish it went on longer so the interviews could go deeper, but it's still a nice addition.
So yeah, Crash. It still holds up, stronger than most of Cronenberg's later works, so if you haven't seen it in dog's years, I recommend a revisit. Still, I was actually disappointed to see this turn up in Warner's Archives - though it's better than it not turning up at all - because I always kinda held out hope that Criterion might get it back for a fully loaded blu-ray. But it wound up somewhere considerably less special. Oh well. Thankfully, the laserdisc exists, so the features are available. So many great films don't have special edition anythings, much less in the particular format we might prefer.

3 comments:

  1. With several of the various David Cronenberg titles that are on Criterion DVD/Blu Ray(SCANNERS,NAKED LUNCH,VIDEODROME)and the ones that are upcoming(THE BROOD,and hopefully both RABID and SHIVERS[THEY CAME FROM WITHIN]) CRASH somehow got lost in the shuffle,yet it's good that Cronenberg's film version is still out on the DVD format,even if it is on a DVD-R/MOD DVD(which is[at least] the uncut NC-17 version).

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  2. Yeah, I'd rather see the Warner Archives disc than nothing, 'cause the old DVDs are going for stupid prices online these days and people should see this movie... Just disheartening to see it in the Archives because it means it's not appearing someplace else, like the Criterion Collection.

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  3. Great commentary, worth tracking down. Its on youtube if you want to synchronize it with the film.

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