Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Handerson, Brian Cox, David Dorfman, Daveigh Chase
“My wife was not supposed to have a child.” (Richard Morgan, The Ring)
Legend has it there’s a dodgy video tape doing the rounds, one with no markings on it and no cover. If you watch it you’re presented with a strange series of images and eerie sounds, after which the phone will ring in your house and a child’s voice will inform you that you have seven days to live. Sure enough, one week later, if you don’t figure out the tape’s secret and do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll die a grisly death. If you ask me, these anti-piracy campaigns are getting a little heavy-handed.
Of course I’m pulling your leg, you cheeky young tyke. I’m instead referring to the cursed tape in The Ring, the American remake of the cult Japanese favourite Ringu. When journalist Rachel’s (Watts) niece watches the tape with her friends and all four die separately at exactly the same time, Rachel decides to investigate and see what’s really going on. By watching the tape first to see if the same thing will happen to her, naturally.
Those who know me well will know I have a general dislike for remakes. The vast majority lack that certain spark their precursors had, changing what made them special and worth remaking in the first place in order to fit them into a more modern or regionally relevant setting. The Ring is one of those few examples that, while still not quite managing to live up to the original, doesn’t do it a disservice either. In short, it’s one of a very small number of remakes that I’d actually recommend to someone instead of turning my nose up like a chef would if someone had shat in their toaster.
The main difference between the two versions is in the second act. While the Japanese film has its female protagonist discovering the story of Sadako, a young girl shunned by society for her powers who ultimately uses them for evil purposes to wrong those who punished her, the remake instead tells the tale of Samara, a girl who was very much evil in the first place. Rachel’s investigation takes her to a completely different location – a farm where Samara’s father still lives, haunted by the memory of his daughter’s deeds and his wife’s suicide. It’s all a bit miserable, really.
That’s not to say it isn’t handled well, mind you – Gore Verbinski’s direction and Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography are superb, with each shot bathed in moody blues and greens and more gloomy, rainy scenes than a Noah biopic. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, The Dark Knight, The Lion King) is also haunting, with its simple nursery rhyme theme repeated throughout and sung at times by Samara herself.
Where the remake falls apart a little however is in the way it feels the need to pander to its audience. In the original Ringu, many of the film’s locations and scenes are foretold by the imagery on the tape, and it’s expected that the viewer (either while watching for the first time or during repeated viewings) will pick up on these images and feel a bit creeped out by them.
The Ring, meanwhile, doesn’t want to take the chance that its audience might not pick up on these scenes (even though they’re far more obvious), so when Rachel sees a large ladder leaning against a wall we’re then “treated” to a flashback of the ladder being shown on the tape. Same goes with when she learns of Samara’s mother’s suicide and when she attracts the attention of a particularly jumpy horse on a ship, and these are just a handful examples in a film that constantly nudges us in the arm and says “hey, remember? Remember you saw that before? On the tape? Remember? It was on the tape. Do you remember it?”
The infamous twist ending is also ruined a little by needless CGI effects and a silly car chase scene cut in the middle to break the tension. Without giving too much away, the Japanese original’s ending worked a lot better because once you started to realise what might be about to happen it was already happening and you didn’t have time to prepare for it. By inserting a car chase scene halfway through, the remake gives the audience a chance to gather their thoughts, digest what they’ve seen so far and prepare for what they think is about to happen next.
While it’s a respectful remake, then, The Ring doesn’t quite manage to match the original film in terms of atmosphere, mood and subtlety. It certainly comes much closer to its predecessor’s quality than other remakes do though, and as such if you’re the sort who isn’t keen on subtitles or confusing Japanese mythology then this is still a very good alternative.
WHERE CAN I SEE IT?
The Ring is available on DVD (no Blu-ray yet). You can get it in a two-pack with The Ring 2 for a fiver here or, if you’re insane and want to pay more for just the first film, you can get the “Collector’s Edition” (which simply has ten minutes of extra footage and the tape itself as an easter egg) here.
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