The Ring (Gore Verbinski, 2002)
[originally posted 3Dec2002]
Here’s something I never thought I would say: we have before us an American remake of a top-notch foreign film, and that remake is better than the original. All hail Gore Verbinski for finally showing his potential at creating commercially accessible fare (after all, the man created the Budweiser frogs!) on a big screen at feature length. Both his previous tries (Mouse Hunt and The Mexican) have been spectacular failures; The Ring is just as spectacularly a success.
In this version, the doomed reporter is played by Naomi Watts (of Mulholland Dr. fame), who is neither as beautiful nor as calm as her Japanese counterpart, Nanako Matsushima. Watts’ barely-contained hysteria throughout the film is one of the many things that makes Verbinski’s adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s fantastically popular novel better than Hideo Nakata’s (though unsubstantiated rumor has it that Nakata was on the American set and gave it his enthusiastic stamp of approval). It should be noted that “better” is a relative term here; saying Verbinski’s Ring is better than Nakata’s is like saying semi-sweet chocolate is better than milk chocolate. Either way, it’s still pretty damn good.
The main thing that gives Verbinski’s version so much more punch is his unwillingness to let the viewer rest. Where Nakata lets the horrific aspects of his story fade into the background, Verbinski keeps them right up in the viewer’s face throughout; things that Nakata’s characters only refer to are shown in lingering, sadistic glee. For example, in one scene, both Nakata and Verbinski have their respective reporters find out that their respective cousins were not alone when they died, and that the other girl with them is in the hospital and refuses to be anywhere near a television. Nakata leaves it at that and lets the poor girl’s ultimate fate for us to figure out; Verbinski has Naomi Watts go to the hospital to interview his, and it’s one of the most chilling scenes in the middle third of the movie.
Needless to say, when you take a film from Japan and place it in Washington, there will have to be some changes made to minor details. Verbinski used those to interject just a bit more distress (it will be the rare viewer who quickly forgets Watt’s journey on the ferry). There are also some changes to the film’s climax that make it, yes, even more over the edge than the original. Hideshi Hino would be proud.
As in the original, the curse film in The Ring is a work of sheer genius (in fact, a number of scenes are so similar it’s possible that it’s the same footage; those who have seen both, take a very close look at the well in the curse film, for example).
The changes are just enough to make the film slightly unpredictable for the legions who have already seen Ringu, but the film is still coherent and of top quality. A stunning piece of work. ****