It’s been some time since I revisited Hideo Nakata’s Ring. As memory best served me, it was an intense and far more atmospheric rendition of Gore Verbinski’s American rendition, The Ring. And realistically, that mindset isn’t surprising; remakes rarely meet or surpass the genius or effectiveness of their original source.
But every once in a while a return to a certain film can inspire a completely different assessment of said film.
Case in point: Ring.
The story is familiar to just about every genre lover out there. The film opens with two teen girls discussing a mysterious video tape that left them dealing with an unsettling sensation. One of the two girls had watched the video with some friends a week prior. Immediately after watching said video, a mysterious phone call came through the lines; and suddenly, life expectancy took an enormous hit.
Seven days after watching the video, all of these kids were dead. Death is sudden and unexplainable… to anyone who doesn’t spot the menacing Sadako crawl from within the television screen to scare video viewers to death, literally.
It’s an interesting story that birthed some of Japan’s most famous modern monsters. And Gore Verbinski very clearly saw the appeal in the film, as he opted to change extremely few details of the story. In fact, The Ring is extremely close to a shot-for-shot remake. There are obvious cultural differences, but this is the very same story.
Time has actually been rather kind to Ring, as it is still a highly regarded, frequently praised film, considered by a great many to be a superior picture to The Ring. But time can distort things, especially our memories.
Ring is no doubt an awesome flick. It’s eerie, it’s well-paced, the concept is superb, and the mystery is ultimately very, very successful in luring viewers into a dark, haunting world. This is all true, but here’s the kicker: Gore Verbinski did it better. You can be angered by that statement, and you’re more than welcome to disagree, but I spent last evening studying both films as meticulously as possible, and Verbinski’s film no doubt packs a much stronger punch.
Take for just a single example the first scene, in which we see the effects of Sadako’s/Samara’s rage. We see a memory/flashback sequence in which one poor mother opens a door and sees her daughter, deceased, a look of mortifying terror etched in her face. In Ring the victim’s face is not modified in the least; it’s just a teenage girl with her eyes rolled into her head and her mouth wide open. In The Ring we get CGI modification, but the CGI isn’t evident. Because the shot is so brief, we simple see a contorted face – a mouth stretched impossibly wide open, her skin a sickly pallor. This scene is widely regarded as one of the greatest jump scares of the last few decades. But in Ring there is very little impact in the scene. It’s slightly creepy, but nothing more, and it doesn’t stand out as a memorable moment in the picture.
Verbinski’s decision to intensify all of the visuals pays huge dividends. And he was smart enough to know to control the visual effects as much as humanly possible. Yes, computers have intensified the scares, but they don’t drown the scenes. These eerie moments that crop up repeatedly throughout the American film remain minimal in enhancement, and that conjures an unspeakable dread because these terrifying sequences still feel possible. The victims, and the villain, don’t look like cartoons gone awry… they look real. Too real for comfort.
Now yes, they also look quite real in Ring, but the lack of modification manages to actually tame the terror. Sometimes, especially when it comes to horror, we want to see the envelope pushed just a bit. Just a hair of enhancement can make a world of difference. And these two films, when essentially viewed side by side, make for a great reminder that sometimes just a little bit more makes a colossal difference.
Ring is a fine film. It’s eerie. It sports a number of disconcerting scenes. But the strained relationship between mother and son doesn’t receive the attention it deserves, and Sadako is ultimately a little flat, when we do see what we see of her.
Now, in the American film the strained relationship between mother and son is superbly pronounced, and we’re left to understand that this young boy basically lives his own life, with little assistance and little parental interaction. That leaves him an uncharacteristically independent young man, and that alone, while not frightening, is extremely uncomfortable. It’s an entirely new wrinkle to the story that goes sorely neglected by Ring. And don’t get me wrong; Ring’s little booger Yôichi is definitely a neglected youngster, but there’s absolutely no comparison to the level of neglect that Aidan experiences in The Ring.
In terms of pacing I think both pictures get it really right. There’s little downtime in either film, and the proper beats are nailed by all involved. The acting is excellent in both pictures, and each features likable and loathsome characters. They
function on very similar planes. The finale is the only other major separator, and it does admittedly get a little tricky.
Gore Verbinski treads dangerous waters with his reveal, as there’s more CGI in this sequence than any other point in the film, and it almost spoils the Samara reveal; she’s dangerously close to looking humorous as opposed to frightening. But dangerously close isn’t the same thing as full-blown overboard. Verbinski pulls back at the very last moment, and we’re left to contemplate an extremely creepy looking entity with a power that no one wants to encounter.
Interestingly enough, Hideo Nakata heads in the opposite direction, showing us next to nothing of Sadako. We see her absurdly long hair disguising her face, the camera zooms in, and then we see one eyeball. And then the movie is over. Some may feel it was a perfectly ambiguous way to close the show, but it feels as though it’s a little bit of a cheat in my mind. We waited nearly two hours to really get a good look at her – give us that look!
I am and always will be a fan of both Ring and The Ring, but the false memories and the myth that Ring is the superior feature has now officially been dispelled. When it comes to the entertainment factor and the fear factor, Gore Verbinski pulls off the near impossible by remaking a great film and turning it into an even greater piece of chilling entertainment.
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