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reviewed by Donald Melanson

September 17 , 2004 | I wasn't thinking of David Cronenberg when I thought of the name Mindjack, but it sounds like something he might come up with. Like this magazine, many of Cronenberg's films are concerned with the blending of technology and society, the organic with the synthetic — only he deals with these issues in a much more visual and visceral manner. This is seen most vividly in his 1983 film Videodrome.

The film stars James Woods in one of his best roles as Max Renn, the owner of a sleazy Toronto cable station shopping around for new shows. When he discovers a pirate broadcast of the ultra-violent show Videodrome he's intrigued and sets out to learn more about it. Soon he discovers that it is much more than just a violent TV show and that no one who sees it is ever the same again - himself included.

The world Max Renn is plunged into is trademark Cronenberg, aided by Rick Baker's wonderful special effects. Televisions and video cassettes literally become flesh, providing a bridge between the two realities of the film.

It's not much of a stretch to see Videodrome as a direct precursor to The Matrix. Both films bend reality through technology, and both films feature a "chosen" individual destined to escape their reality (though Max Renn's motivations are quite different than Neo's). There's even a quote from Marshall McLuhan used in one of the documentaries on the DVD that could be applied to either film: "When you are on the phone or on the air, you have no body".

Indeed, like McLuhan's work, which remains as relevant as ever, the ideas Cronenberg examines in Videodrome are just as pertinent to today's multi-media landscape as they were to the "old media" of the 1980s. I'd even go as far as to say that Videodrome is the most prescient of all Cronenberg's films.

As expected, Criterion delivers just about everything you could possibly want in a special edition DVD. The picture quality is flawless and the mono audio track accurately represents the original theatrical presentation. Then there are the extras. On the first disc, we get two audio commentaries (one by Cronenberg and director of photography Mark Iwrin, the other by actors James Woods and Deborah Harry), plus Cronenberg's recent short film Camera. The second disc includes a half-hour documentary about the effects in Videodrome, an audio interview with the film's effects creators, a 26-minute roundtable discussion from 1982 with Cronenberg, John Carpenter and John Landis, plus the complete unedited video footage from various scenes in the film (with multiple commentaries). There's also trailers and other marketing materials, and a ton of still photos. Not to mention the included 40 page booklet with essays by Carrie Rickey, Tim Lucas and Gary Indiana. If there's something missing, I can't imagine what it is.

I should also mention the packaging, which is designed to look like a Betamax tape. Last I checked, it hasn't moved.

Donald Melanson is the founder and editor-in-chief of Mindjack. He also writes about movies on his film blog.

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