Cronenberg's Crash, The Lost Criterion and New 4k Restoration

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.

Update 5/2/15 - 6/12/20:  Oh boy, am I excited to do this update!  Crash has finally debuted on both BD and UHD at the same time, with a new 4k restoration housed in a new mediabook from Germany's Turbine.
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 after Criterion's exciting laserdisc in 1997, they handled its plain DVD release the following year.  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, natch) to their Archive Collection in 2014, which was nice since the original disc was getting pretty pricey.  But that's all ancient history now that Crash has finally broken into the HD era via a new German mediabook by Turbine Medien GmbH.  It's a 2-disc set, presenting the film's new 4k restoration on both blu-ray and Ultra HD disc.
1) US 1997 Criterion LD; 2) US 1998 Newline DVD;
3) DE 2020 Turbine BD; 4) DE 2020 Turbine UHD.
So naturally, each iteration is better than the last. Fans of the laserdisc will be happy to note that Turbine has returned to its 1.66:1 aspect ratio (well, technically the laser is 1.65 and the BD/ UHD is 1.67) after the DVD had gone for a tighter and 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 Cronenberg's "preferred aspect ratio" on the back, I think it's safe to say we're back where we wanna be.  Though that's not to say the framing is essentially the same.  Turbine's discs pull back to reveal substantially more along all four sides.  In terms of colors, things are pretty similar.  The laser pushes a bit green, the DVD a bit red, and Turbine sits in the ideal center.  But by and large, it's the same color timing, contrast levels, etc.  Grain is very strong and natural, even just the blu-ray is stunning, let alone the UHD.  Honestly, the DVD was quite good for its time and still holds up reasonably well, but it's nowhere near as alive and authentic as its new HD counterparts.

Things are interesting in the audio department, too.  The laserdisc started us off with the original Dolby stereo track, which is also what's on the DVD.  New Line adds a French dub, plus optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.  Turbine, on both discs, adds a whole bunch more.  First of all, we still get that stereo track, but now bumped up to DTS-HD.  We also get a new 5.1 mix, in DTS-HD as well, and German DTS-HD dubs in both stereo and 5.1.  Then the peculiar part: we also get lossy versions of all four of those mixes.  I guess they're just hanging onto them for completists?  Alright, sure, why not?  Oh, and Turbine also includes optional English and German subtitles.
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 New Line DVD includes the original NC-17 version and also 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 the 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, Turbine's release (and the laserdisc and 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 the one DVD.
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. 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.
And no, Turbine's mediabook doesn't have the Cronenberg commentary either (though they've assured me they tried).  They also don't have the featurette, but they do have all the original EPK interviews and B-roll footage that were edited together to create the featurette.  All uncut like this, they run longer, for an approximate total of 36-37 minutes... which is essentially what I asked for in 2015, so we can't complain there.  And much more impressively, they have a bunch of new extras.  First, there's a nearly-hour long conversation with Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen recorded at a film fest.  When I first read the specs, I wondered what random Youtube video Turbine must've found to slap on this disc, considering no, Mortensen was definitely not in Crash.  But it's actually from a Crash screening, and yes, they do ask Mortensen about Crash; it belongs.

More exciting, though, are the four brand new on-camera interviews with cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, executive producer Jeremy Thomas, Howard Shore and casting director Deirdre Bowen.  They're each engaging, focused pieces that average twenty-odd minutes and rival the pieces you usually find on Criterion or modern Arrow discs (though something went a bit screwy in the editing of the Shore piece, where they have him repeat the same things two or three times around the middle of the interview).  Still want more?  They include three Cronenberg short films, all in HD.  Camera has been included as an extra on several Cronenberg discs in the past, but I think it's the other two's debut.  There are three trailers as well, two in English and one in German - the only feature that isn't English friendly, apart from the mediabook itself.  They do include a letter Ballard wrote to Cronenberg in English, but the other 39 pages are all in German.
So yeah, Crash.  It still holds up, stronger than most of Cronenberg's later works.  If you haven't seen it in dogs' years, I recommend a revisit.  And now that the film's been beautifully restored, there's never been a better time.  Even if you're region-locked, remember: UHDs are all region free!  Though I can understand Americans holding out for a US release... most of the extras are only on the region B blu-ray, and with it's NC-17, this title has proven especially difficult to import during this pandemic (Germany has strict laws about shipping materials deemed too adult).  Maybe something will come along; I haven't heard anything yet.  For connoisseurs, though, this is a definite must-have.  Oh, and hold onto your laserdiscs - that commentary's still an exclusive.


  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).

  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.

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