Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
The Availability Gap: What We Lose When Netflix Wins The Availability Gap: What We Lose When Netflix Wins Mysteries of Laura Review: Debra Messing on NBC Mysteries of Laura Review: Debra Messing on NBC Daily Reads: The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made, The Last Blockbuster Video Stores and More Daily Reads: The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made, The Last Blockbuster Video Stores and More NY Times TV Critic Writes Article About 'Scandal' Creator Shonda Rhimes as an 'Angry Black Woman' NY Times TV Critic Writes Article About 'Scandal' Creator Shonda Rhimes as an 'Angry Black Woman' Comparing Lena Dunham to Woody Allen Is Unfair — to Lena Dunham Comparing Lena Dunham to Woody Allen Is Unfair — to Lena Dunham 'No Good Deed' Reviews: And the Twist Is That It's Good! (Not Really) 'No Good Deed' Reviews: And the Twist Is That It's Good! (Not Really) Now Streaming: 'Silver Linings Playbook,' 'Beginners' on Netflix Now Streaming: 'Silver Linings Playbook,' 'Beginners' on Netflix 'Ocean's Twelve' Is a Great Sequel About How Hard It Is to Make a Great Sequel 'Ocean's Twelve' Is a Great Sequel About How Hard It Is to Make a Great Sequel Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood' Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood' 'A Walk Among the Tombstones' Reviews: A Liam Neeson Movie Worthy of Liam Neeson 'A Walk Among the Tombstones' Reviews: A Liam Neeson Movie Worthy of Liam Neeson Studio Cancels All Screenings of 'No Good Deed' to Preserve Shocking Twist That It's Probably Terrible Studio Cancels All Screenings of 'No Good Deed' to Preserve Shocking Twist That It's Probably Terrible Daily Reads: Alison Bechdel Likes Non-Bechdel Test Passing Movies, Terry Gilliam's Influence and More Daily Reads: Alison Bechdel Likes Non-Bechdel Test Passing Movies, Terry Gilliam's Influence and More 'Transparent' Reviews: Amazon's New Series Is a Game-Changer 'Transparent' Reviews: Amazon's New Series Is a Game-Changer David Lynch on 'Eraserhead,' Women in the TV Industry David Lynch on 'Eraserhead,' Women in the TV Industry Criticwire Classic of the Week: Werner Herzog's 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God' Criticwire Classic of the Week: Werner Herzog's 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God' 'The Expendables 3' Torrent and the Techno-Utopian Delusion 'The Expendables 3' Torrent and the Techno-Utopian Delusion Newspaper Graciously Offers to Run Aspiring Film Critics' Work Without Charging Them Newspaper Graciously Offers to Run Aspiring Film Critics' Work Without Charging Them 'While We're Young': Noah Baumbach's Xer-Millennial Comedy Ponders the Difference Between Sharing People's Lives and Stealing Them 'While We're Young': Noah Baumbach's Xer-Millennial Comedy Ponders the Difference Between Sharing People's Lives and Stealing Them Daily Reads: Why Toronto Is the Best Place for Female Filmmakers, In Praise of Fincher's Women and More Daily Reads: Why Toronto Is the Best Place for Female Filmmakers, In Praise of Fincher's Women and More The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go" The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go"

Long Live the (Old) New Flesh: Why We Don't Need a 'Videodrome' Remake

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire August 23, 2012 at 10:06AM

A new version of "Videodrome" could be fantastic. But whether it's terrible or terrific, it is already totally unnecessary.
0
"Videodrome."
"Videodrome."

So apparently Universal wants to remake David Cronenberg's "Videodrome," with a script by Ehren Kruger under the direction of Adam Berg.

Who knows: Kruger's screenplay could be a revelation. Berg's direction might be brilliant. And the finished film could be fantastic. Whether it's terrible or terrific, though, a "Videodrome" remake is also totally unnecessary. 

There's really only one creatively valid reason to remake a movie: to update something that has aged out of its cultural relevance (there are plenty of financially valid reasons, although I'm not sure they apply in this case; according to Box Office Mojo, the original "Videodrome" made just $2.1 million dollars in an original domestic release that lasted less than two weeks). But as anyone who has seen it recently will tell you, "Videodrome" actually grows more relevant with each passing year. Some of the special effects look a little dodgy, and certainly the concept of a weird local cable channel and its cancerous Betamax tapes feels fairly antiquated. But the larger ideas of "Videodrome" -- the commingling of man and machine, the dehumanizing impact of technological communication devices, the rise of sadistically violent entertainment -- reflect the world of 2012 just as effectively as they did the world of 1983. 

We see that world through the eyes of Max Renn (James Woods) the president of a podunk Toronto cable channel. Without the resources of the major networks, Renn competes with his bigger rivals by offering the sort of edgy entertainment others won't touch. In his quest to find the latest and greatest ratings-grabbing sleaze he stumbles across a mysterious program about a woman getting beaten and abused in a strange red room by anonymous men. The program is revolting; Renn is intrigued. He calls it "Videodrome." We'd probably call it "torture porn."

Renn's quest to find Videodrome's source leads him to a so-called "media prophet" named Brian O'Blivion who lives solely as a face on television screens. O'Blivion's virtual presence is Cronenberg's greatest and most visionary creation. His appearance anticipates the rise of talking head dominated cable news networks, and his pronouncements about the future of technology are eerily prescient. For example, this sermon delivered from his bully pulpit -- a cable TV show:

"The television screen has become the retina of the mind's eye. That's why I refused to appear on television, except on television. Of course, O'Blivion was not the name I was born with. That's my television name. Soon, all of us will have special names, names designed to cause the cathode ray tube to resonate."

Cronenberg made "Videodrome" a decade before anyone knew what the Internet was, but O'Blivion's "television name" suggests the rise of Internet avatars, just as his desire to live solely on television -- and his later comment that "Television is reality, and reality is less than television" -- suggests my generation's obsession with reality TV. O'Blivion -- or maybe Cronenberg -- believed we were headed toward a future where television screens would dominate our landscape and our architecture. As I write this blog post on my laptop while watching "Videodrome" on a flat-screen television while occasionally glancing at my iPhone, I can't help but think that future is already here.

Even beyond its brilliant subtext, "Videodrome" still has a lot to offer: vivid performances from Woods and Harry, weird, febrile special effects makeup by Rick Baker, the sickening and unforgettable sight of James Woods sticking a gun inside a vagina that opens on his abdomen -- the first in a series of mutations Renn calls "The New Flesh." In other words, the film is a masterpiece, about as perfect as any science-fiction film of the last fifty years.

Could it be improved upon? I guess it's possible; would "Citizen Kane" or "The Godfather" be improved by modern versions? The new "Videodrome"might be remarkable, but that won't make it any less redundant. Long live the old new flesh. 

This essay is based on notes from a video piece I made for "Ebert Presents at the Movies."

This article is related to: Videodrome , David Cronenberg, Remakes


E-Mail Updates