Last week, the announcement that David Cronenberg’s 1983 cult film Viedodrome was being remade ruffled the feathers of the Twitterverse and the film media in general. Certain films and filmmakers have such a loyal following that the very notion of remakes and reboots stoke the fires. Don’t believe me? Check the pulse of of fanboy nation regarding the upcoming Robocop remake.
If you were to catch Twitter at the right time last week, you would have seen a great deal of outrage that Videodrome was being redone. How dare anyone touch such a Cronenberg classic? Well, I have certain issues with that mindset to begin with. And beyond that, I honestly feel a remake isn’t such a bad idea anyway.
Videodrome was not a smash hit upon its initial release in 1983 and it took some time to gather a prominent cult following. It stars James Woods as Max, the head programmer of a sleazy cable network. Max is always searching for new and erotic shows to put on his network when a tech for his station decodes a mysterious torture and mutilation channel, “Videodrome,” coming from what seems to be nowhere.
Max digs deeper and grows obsessed, as does his girlfriend, Nicki (Deborah Harry) who travels to Pittsburgh to audition for the show even after discovering its true nature. This leads Videodrome into some strange and deeply disturbing commentaries on the nature of media saturation and violence in society. The horrific nature of the channel functions as a sort of mental manipulation through the television, where the television programming on the “Videodrome” creates a brain tumor in viewer, thus opening up avenues of hallucination. The result is a trippy mindfuck of a picture full of depravity and violence and fascinating visual imagery, even for 1983.
If this all sounds bewildering, don’t worry because it is. Videodrome is a dense and muddy film from Cronenberg where reality and sanity are toyed with from frame to frame. It is an admirable commentary on the overexposure of the masses to television programming. “That TV is gonna rot your brain,” takes on an entirely new meaning with Cronenberg’s film. But it is not one of Cronenberg’s best films, not by far.
It has gained cult status over the years because it is so open to interpretation, and the shocking nature of the action in the film is alluring to horror fans. There are things to admire about Videodrome, but as a whole the film works through focus issues masked as metaphor. The commentary works in general, but it needs fine tuning. To place this film near the pinnacle moments of Cronenberg’s career feels like a downgrade of his masterpieces. In no way is this Dead Ringers, or History of Violence, or The Fly (a remake in and of itself, though one so vastly superior than the original it stands on its own). It is an interesting film indeed, but this is no sacred cow rising above remake status. Imagine what a modern interpretation of the material could do if the right people get involved.
Videodrome is all about how we live and learn through the television and how the programming influences us in ways we may not even realize. That is at least one of the many central themes, but any of the other themes arguably branch from this central thesis. That is heady material for 1983; imagine what it could be in 2012 or beyond. The film was ahead of its time, perhaps, in its depiction of the sickness of society and their obsession with “the tube.” Now ”the tube” is The Net, and the televissions are in our hands instead of heavy oak boxes on shag carpets in the living room. Information has spiraled into a new and unimaginable realm; what would Brian O’Blivion have to say about that? And of course, beyond these very real arguments, there is always the advancement of effects technology. Sharpening up some of the effects might be worth seeing.
Yes, most remakes and reboots deserve the eye roll they receive, and most of the time I feel a little irritated myself. I’m as disappointed as the next person about this Robocop remake. But when word came down that Videodrome was being remade I thought to myself “yes.” It makes sense, because the film could be polished a bit. It isn’t one of Cronenberg’s finest films, though even his lesser efforts are better than most. It has interesting ideas that could flourish in this new millennium. I say, give it a shot. Maybe Brian O’Blivion has a whole slew of new things to tell us.
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