Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm
Directed by David Cronenberg
Distributed by Echo Bridge Entertainment
Having seen eXistenZ only once before, I remembered almost nothing about it beyond the general concept, and I was excited to get a copy of this Blu-ray in the mail for that very reason. It’s an interesting piece in director David Cronenberg’s career as, in retrospect, it appears to be his transitory film – the moment where he put most of his oldest trademarks to rest, in favor of more mainstream (though still unquestionably dark) drama.
I quite liked eXistenZ upon its release in 1999 and I honestly enjoyed it more so upon reappraisal. Here’s a movie that feels like the technological successor to the director’s own Videodrome; a spiritual sequel where mankind has more willingly allowed itself to become a slave to its own technological advances. In Videodrome, it was the bizarre pirate TV station’s endless and pointless sadism that turned us into gross perversions of ourselves. Years later, Cronenberg takes a second pass at that world with eXistenZ - a movie that somehow foresaw the immediate future, accurately predicting a world where people have become so detached from their mundane lives that they long to escape into video games so realistic, that it’s impossible to tell fantasy from reality.
eXistenZ is smartly constructed, rightfully confusing its viewers (and characters) as to where the titular game begins and ends. Its very premise enforcing its underlying purpose every step of the way. Jennifer Jason Leigh (in a very good and somewhat aloof performance) and Jude Law wander through increasingly bizarre scenarios, doing things often chalked up to “game logic” – that is to say, pre-determined moments designed to push the game’s plot forward, with common sense quickly falling by the wayside. And Cronenberg makes the whole thing so overtly sexual: the pods are jacked directly into our spines via a “bio port” – an orifice that can become aroused of its own accord. Game jacks often have to be lubed in order to “fit” properly, making eXistenZ a wonderfully sexual film, without any real sex or nudity. It’s a literal suggestion that we love our technology so much we’re readily fucking it every chance we get. Surely the iCultists out there can relate.
There’s a prophetic aspect to eXistenZ that Cronenberg saw coming and his dystopia has become a reality: a modern society where insular worlds are in smartphones. Some live virtual lives through online video games, while others cultivate online personas that enable them to truly speak their minds. But in all of this, have we forgotten how to actually live? Great art is always a reflection of its time and that’s the question eXistenZ would like answered. It’s just a shame that thirteen years after its release, we’re certainly in no condition to do so.
Echo Bridge Entertainment brings eXistenZ to Blu-ray in a 1080i, meh transfer that retains its grainy, theatrical look while looking overly processed at times. I distinctly recall eXistenZ being a drab-looking film upon its cinematic exhibition, and this transfer matched my memory rather exactly. Skin tones look good and the picture is clear. As this is very obviously an older master, expect to see some occasional flecks and scratches. Upon closer examination, there's some microblocking that becomes noticeable on larger displays. Nothing terribly impressive, but I found Echo Bridge's transfer an acceptable way to revisit the film. Yes, eXistenZ deserves much better, but if you've got to own this in HD, Echo Bridge's budget priced disc will suffice.
Audio isn’t bad, delivering a DTS HD-MA 5.1 track that’s aggressive when it needs to be, while retaining perfectly clear dialogue throughout. Not reference material, but a decent audio experience all the same.
eXistenZ also offers a decent collection of rough-around-the-edges supplements. A 27 minute interview (in SD) with the late James Isaac (director of Jason X) on the look/style/design of the film. It's actually a really cool conversation with Isaac where he elaborates on the film's memorable FX (the gristle gun, the control pads, etc.), explaining the challenges of getting them to work on screen (and in-camera), etc. There's also a six minute interview with Willem Dafoe, where he waxes on everything from the character's function in the story to working with the legendary director. Finally, there's a fourteen minute conversation with Jude Law that delves into the actor's interpretation of the film, and his experience working on it. A shame we didn't get more interviews with the cast/crew, but there's some nice substance to these pieces and compliment the film rather nicely.
eXistenZ may be looked upon as ‘lesser’ Cronenberg in some critical circles, but it's an enthralling and intriguing experience. Echo Bridge hasn’t done the best job in terms of technical specs, but it's worth a grab for who've never owned this flick and would like to rectify that. There is a special edition Canadian DVD that was released in 2001 for all you special feature fanatics, but Echo Bridge's disc isn't as bad as I've been led to believe. Excellent movie; so-so Blu-ray.
4 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5