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  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
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  • 2 Theatrical trailer - Cinema Paradiso, My Beautiful Laundrette

Dead Ringers

Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 111 mins . M15+ . PAL


Love it or loathe it, everyone who’s seen David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers has a strong opinion on it. But then, that could be said about nearly every film that Cronenberg has made throughout his long career. By 1986 when he became known to mainstream film audiences with his remake of The Fly, Cronenberg had been directing (and occasionally acting) for 20 years, making a brief diversion into television before gaining notoriety with clever and daring low-budget horror-thrillers like Videodrome and Scanners (the latter famous for its exploding-head scene!) But after The Fly, Cronenberg suddenly had the luxury of increased budgets to go with his enviable reputation. But any studio boss or executive producer hoping to capitalise on the commercial success of The Fly hadn’t counted on one thing; Cronenberg wasn’t about to abandon his regular theme of the debasement and decay of the human body and mind, and would state that in no uncertain terms with Dead Ringers.

Based on a true story laid out in a book named Twins - and originally intended to be titled exactly that until the Arnie/DeVito comedy arrived at the same time - Dead Ringers lets us into the world of two very skilled gynaecologists, Elliot and Beverly Mantle. Acclaimed and lauded for their work from early on in their careers, the two brothers happen to be identical twins, almost impossible to tell apart. And like many twins, they’ve playfully pretended to be each other in certain situations - only now, as adults, that’s grown into a strange shared existence where the two act almost as one person. But that’s about to change; Beverly, who’s the more shy of the two, meets film star Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold) and falls in love, while Elliot is content to treat her as flippantly as he does every other woman that crosses his path. Twins they may be, but the Mantle twins are slowly drifting apart from each other - in the most wrenching manner imaginable.

Often referred to as a horror film, Dead Ringers is, in fact, an intense psychological drama that bears little resemblance to any kind of genre horror at all (though the emphasis on the word “dead” on the front cover of the DVD, along with the odd cover art, might suggest otherwise). The relationship between the twins is the whole film, with the other characters mere bit-players in a much more intense and intimate story. So the fact that both of the twins are played by Jeremy Irons is remarkable - even more so because, though he acted a large portion of the film to nobody, he’s absolutely convincing in both roles, effortlessly giving each character subtleties to distinguish them from each other (something not necessary as the story progresses - but that would be giving away too much). It’s to his credit that the audience is never drawn out of the story by the novelty of the actor playing to himself via what were, at the time, extremely innovative motion-controlled optical effects. The result is two of the best performances of Irons’ career.

Like most Cronenberg films, this is not for the squeamish (though compared to the director’s later Naked Lunch or Crash this is mild stuff!) If you’re looking for an intense psychological drama with an uncompromising edge, though, this exquisitely-crafted and extremely well-acted film is one well worth the time - and it gets better on repeat viewings, too.


Dead Ringers has never looked especially good on home video until recently, when Cronenberg and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky supervised a new transfer of the film for its tenth anniversary in 1998. That’s the transfer that was used on Anchor Bay’s original region 1 DVD of the film, and also on the Criterion Collection disc that’s still available. But is this the same transfer? The R1 discs have the video letterboxed to 1.66:1 (Cronenberg’s preferred aspect ratio) while the UK version is at the 1.85:1 ratio at which the film was screened theatrically. This Australian disc, with the content licensed from Carlton (who released the UK version), offers the film at 1.85:1 as well. No DVD of this film, by the way, offers a 16:9 enhanced image, and this Australian offering is no exception.

We’re willing to bet that what PAL customers are getting here is the same 1998 director-supervised transfer used in the US, but matted further to produce the theatrical ratio. Certainly it’s a massive improvement on previous PAL transfers, and apart from the usual opening-credits flecks’n’specks and a modest amount of grain the source is as good as pristine throughout. Certainly descriptions of the transfer on the US discs tally with what we see here.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the dark, desaturated, foreboding and often green-biased look of this film was intentional; anyone getting concerned about colour fidelity need only lay eyes on the red surgical gowns seen early in the film, which leap off the screen like a tomato on steroids. There’s also a lot of optical effects work being done here (though to the credit of all involved, you’d never spot it if it wasn’t for the fact that there are two Jeremy Ironses on the screen at once) but aside from the occasional slight loss of saturation in these sequences there are no obvious problems. Overall the transfer is a little on the “soft” side as well, but it’s worth remembering that it was not done on the hi-def equipment we’re now so used to and spoilt by.

The entire 111 minute film, though, is crammed onto a single-layered disc, and this does present a challenge for the authoring team at Madman; who’ve responded by massively varying the encoding bitrate depending on content - it ranges from 3Mb/sec to over 8Mb/sec, and the average is high overall. However, it does appear that the film grain - that bane of MPEG encoders everywhere - has caused some minor problems in places, the encoder seeming to have trouble with very still, static shots that incorporate any amount of detail. This results in a kind of “shift in detail” that’s hard to describe in print but which those who’ve used MPEG video encoders will be familiar with. More problematic, though, is a lot of very unusual background corruption that can best be described as “pulsing posterisation” - it seems to be a case of the encoder trying to deal with a solid, grainy background and panicking; it’s only unavoidably noticeable in a few scenes, but it shouldn’t happen at all. It’s a shame that a dual-layered disc wasn’t used for this title; while it’s a very good video transfer, the nature of the material is very nearly too difficult to be packed onto a single layer. That said, the encoding problems were far more noticeable when viewed on a computer monitor; on a conventional television, they were nowhere near as intrusive.


Recorded in good old Dolby Stereo (ye olde cinema term for what’s now called Dolby Surround), the audio for Dead Ringers is faithfully and cleanly reproduced here, with a minimum of tape hiss and no unexpected surprises. A typically understated surround mix from the ‘80s, there’s not a lot of whiz-bang activity going on here, nor would you expect there to be in this type of film. The surrounds are used very subtly for simple ambience, as was common at the time; most of the film is centre-channel-focussed, though Howard Shore’s wonderful music score is beautifully warm and very much in stereo (and if the name sounds familiar, by the way, it’s probably because you saw the man grab his first Oscar the other week for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring!)

Though this is a surround mix, the DVD audio track’s Dolby Surround flag is not present.

As usual with Madman-authored discs, DVD Text is present along with an encoded jacket picture for those of you with Sony players.


You want extra features, you say? Can we offer you a… scene selection menu? No? Well, take these two Umbrella Entertainment trailers for My Beautiful Laundrette and Cinema Paradiso, then, and remember there’s only the one layer here and it’s full to the brim. And anyway, the US disc didn’t have any extras either, not even the trailer it advertised. Sure, the Criterion version was loaded with good stuff AND a commentary, but they’re not a label that’s fond of sharing.

One extra you can’t avoid is the Umbrella disc introduction. Cute though it is, it cannot be skipped - and hitting stop and then play won’t save you, as the disc is authored to take you straight back to the same intro. This enforced watching of copyright screens and film company intros is extremely annoying (notably, big player Columbia Tristar is one of the few companies that doesn’t do this) and we’d like to see the next-chapter button, at the very least, always active. At least you are actually allowed to hit the stop button here - unlike one other local independent DVD company’s discs!


His films might not be for everyone, but David Cronenberg is a consistently fascinating director, and Dead Ringers is one of his best. Umbrella’s Australian DVD gives fans of the film a very nice and surprisingly fresh-looking widescreen transfer, but there are a few too many compression problems here that could have been avoided with a little more care or a lot more disc space.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1390
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      And I quote...
    "...an intense psychological drama with an uncompromising edge... a very nice and surprisingly fresh-looking widescreen transfer, but there are a few too many compression problems"
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-AV1020
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Surrounds:
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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