Videodrome: All Hail the New 4k

1983's Videodrome is one of those films that simply has to be on DVDExotica, right?  So okay, it took me long enough, but here it finally is.  I guess I was just waiting for a new, ultimate edition to cover.  And what do you know, just this week it's debuted on 4k Ultra HD from Arrow.  Is it everything we want it to be, though?  Well, I've got previous special editions on DVD and blu to compare it to, and well... in many ways it's an easy choice, but there are a few interesting complications in the details.
David Cronenberg's demented sci-fi vision may appear on the surface to be a little dated, what with all its imagery of tube televisions and video cassettes.  But its ideas of the corruptive and overwhelming power of broadcast imagery over the human psyche are more pertinent than ever.  The technology may have gotten more digital, but otherwise, we're practically living the nightmare that James Woods' character finds himself sinking in.  A man who watches too much illicit media content losing his grip on reality and becoming an assassin for nonsensical political ideologies... sound familiar?  Heck, the Gersh talent agency would probably argue the real James Woods is fairly deep into the process right now. 😉  But whether you find Cronenberg's dystopian visions of the future all too real or utterly inscrutable, his nightmarish imagery still fascinate and unnerve with equal power.
This is kind of an interesting expansion of Cronenberg's infamous "body horror" (I mean, Woods does still grow a new, vaginal orifice in his stomach, in which to insert video tapes) into "brain horror" - I suppose an acknowledgement that the latter is just another gloppy organ pulsing away within the former.  Scanners already opened that can of worms, of course, but here we really delve into mind games and subjective hallucinations that we'd later see blossom into works like Naked Lunch, Existenz and Spider.  So it still has a habit of leaving viewers baffled (just look at some of the most liked "reviews" on Letterboxd), though if you pay attention, I think you'll find the character of Brian O'Blivion states the film's thesis pretty succinctly, which is a little more straight forward and simple than some of the film's then cutting edge special effects sequences might initially lead one to believe.  But man, those set pieces still pack a wallop, especially when compared with the hauntingly cagey performance by Deborah Harry and of course Howard Shore's surprisingly subtle score.
a shot only in the director's cut.
I suppose I should talk about the two cuts.  Videodrome was released cut in theaters, and in some video markets.  Even the US VHS restored the fuller director's cut though, as did the laserdisc and pretty much every DVD and subsequent release.  You'd have to go out of your way to find the cut version, but it is out there.  Not that there's any reason to.  There are no alternate takes or unique aspects; it's just missing stuff.  About two minutes worth.  Some of the "snuff" footage is cut, a few moments from the ear piercing scene is trimmed, and so is a tiny bit of the violence at the climax.  I bring it up mainly because Arrow has opted to include both the theatrical and uncut versions on their latest release.  According to their booklet, this is because "additional intermediate film elements" had to be used for the director's cut footage.  I have to say, though, you would never notice the shift in quality, so there's virtually no reason for the cut version's inclusion.  But hey, why not?  If Arrow wants to be extra thorough, that's always a plus, not a minus. 
Videodrome was first released on DVD by Universal back in 1998.  I no longer have my copy, but I can tell you it was non-anamorphic widescreen and barebones, so we safely can leave it in the past.  Criterion gave it its first proper special 2-disc edition in 2004.  I still have that one, so we'll start the comparisons with that one.  They bumped that up to blu-ray in 2010 (and Universal put out a barebones blu in the UK in 2011), but I held out for the 2015 BD from Arrow, mainly because that gave me a fresh set of special features.  There was a limited edition 4-disc DVD/ BD combo pack, which also included discs of his earliest short films (the latter of which have since been sold separately), and a standard single BD release, which still had everything but the shorts.  And now Arrow has taken it to the next generation with its 2022 4k Ultra HD debut.
2004 Criterion DVD top; 2015 Arrow BD mid; 2022 Arrow UHD bottom.
From the original 35mm camera negative, and as you can see, the framing is virtually identical down the line.  Criterion's DVD is very slightly squished to 1.82:1, while the HD discs are both exactly 1.85:1.  All three discs are described as being "approved by David Cronenberg," for what that's worth.  Surprisingly, Arrow's UHD is a single-disc release, and all of the extras are on the same disc as the film.  Don't worry, though, it's a 100GB disc, and the roughly 90 minute film gets a healthy 62+GB encode (the two cuts seem to be achieved by branching, not two separate, complete encodes).  Indeed, Arrow's encoding is top notch on both of their releases.  The grain is smudgy when it's there on the Criterion (not a mark on their encoding... it's an SD disc after all), but much more distinct and individualized on the blu, and each grain is perfectly rendered on the UHD.  The color timing is pretty similar across the board, too, with Arrow's HDR10/ Dolby Vision adding more depth and naturalism without getting too showy or super-saturated.  Videodrome is a largely dark and grimy film, after all, and Arrow clearly respected that.

Each disc just includes the film's original English mono track, though it's in lossless LPCM on the BD and DTS-HD on the UHD.  All three also offer optional English subtitles.
The extras are where things get interesting, because while there is some overlap, Criterion and Arrow have two full, but distinct sets of goodies.  So let's start with Criterion.  Two of their most prized assets are audio commentaries, one by Cronenberg and director of photography Mark Irwin, and the second one by stars Woods and Harry.  Then they've got a half-hour documentary on the special effects, the original 'making of' featurette, a 20-minute audio interview with effects artists Michael Lennick and Rick Baker, Cronenberg's short film Camera from 2000 that he made for the Toronto Film Festival (it's alright), and Mick Garris's 1982 round-table discussion with Cronenberg, John Landis and John Carpenter (the same one that's on Scream Factory's blu-ray of The Fog, and Turbine's releases of The Thing and An American Werewolf In London).  Then they have the full versions of the three Videodrome "snuff" films within-the-film in full.  Samurai Dreams has two commentaries, one by Cronenberg & Irwin and one by Lennick, Transmissions from Videodrome has one commentary by Irwin & Lennick, and Helmet-Cam Test has commentary by Lennick.  There are also two photo galleries and three trailers.  Plus there are four easter eggs, which include a deleted scene from the documentary entitled "Why Betamax," an extra photo gallery, two TV spots and an animated logo for the fictitious Spectacular Optical company.  Criterion's release comes in an extra-wide amaray case housed in a slipbox with a 26-page booklet.  I'll also note, though I don't own it, the Criterion BD has the same extras as the DVD, but with the new addition of a video essay by Tim Lucas.
deleted scene.
Now, Arrow's blu has some of that stuff.  They have Camera, the effects documentary (and the "Why Betamax" clip), Mick Garris's Fear On Film, the original 'making of' featurette, and the three trailers.  They also have two of the films-within-the-film: Samurai Dreams and Helmet-Cam Test, but not the third one.  And instead of Criterion's commentaries, each of those have alternate commentaries, both by Lennick.  More critically, they don't have the two commentaries for Videodrome itself, the audio interview with Baker and Lennick, the Lucas video essay, the photo galleries or the TV spots.  But they have their own, exclusive audio commentary with Tim Lucas.  Why's he included so often?  Because he was on set during the filming and wrote a whole book about it, so he has a lot of insight to provide.  And they have an exclusive, 20-minute documentary called David Cronenberg and the Cinema of the Extreme, plus all new on-camera interviews with Mark Irwin, producer Pierre David and author Dennis Etchison, who wrote the novelization of Videodrome.  And perhaps most fascinatingly of all, they have over 25 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes from the television version.  The special edition just has reversible artwork; but the limited edition, besides the extra short films disc (which also has an interview with Kim Newman as an extra), comes with a 96-page hardcover book and a thick slipbox.

The new UHD has everything the 2015 BD had (though not the short films disc) and comes in a similar slip box, with reversible artwork for the amaray inside.  Also inside is a 60-page full-color booklet with excerpts from Cronenberg on Cronenberg plus notes by several critics, a double-sided poster, six lobby cards.
So, it's an easy choice in terms of the presentation itself.  The new UHD is the only way to go.  But in terms of special features, Criterion and Arrow both have great stuff, much of which is exclusive.  Fans will probably want to get both.  It's a tiny bit disappointing that they dropped the short films disc for the UHD release, but bear in mind that one's since been released separately, so you can easily add that to your collection or not depending how keen you are on his earliest works.  That means buying multiple releases for the most complete set, which may or may not be worth the hassle and expense; but there's no doubt that Arrow's new UHD is now the essential baseline.

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