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"Ringu" vs. "The Ring"

"The Ring" directed by Gore Verbinski.  Written by Ehren Kruger, based on the 1998 film "Ringu." 
Starring Naomi Watts.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  10/27/02 


Every year, I do one or two side-by-side comparisons of an American film based on a foreign film.  This year, it’s the Japanese film “Ringu” versus the new Naomi Watts version that recently opened in theaters.  Since we’ve got about a billion film nuts here in San Francisco, it was pretty easy to find a place to see the Japanese version—a local bar had a film night in its back room.

“Ringu” (1998)

My friend Max said it best after we watched the film—“Ringu” lulls you to sleep over the first hour; in fact, I almost fell asleep a couple of times and my friend Toby did fall asleep once.  But, that last half an hour was friggin’ scary!

This is one of those movies that gets its scares from a combination of straight creepy and some loud cutting music when the straight creepy stuff showed up.  The plot for the movie involves a mysterious videotape that features a girl and a well in the background, but you can’t quite make out what is going on.  What we do find out is that anyone that watches the tape gets an anonymous phone call just after the tape ends and they die within seven days of seemingly natural causes.  A woman that loses someone as a result of the tape sets out to find out just what is going on during the footage, and enlists the help of a man that may have ties to the footage as well.

The setup of “Ringu” is very, very boring.  Even worse is the English subtitling of the version I saw; it is so bad at points that I was better off not reading the lines of dialogue, because the Japanese guys who were doing the subtitling were doing it so poorly.  (In a couple of sections, characters are having full-blown conversations and no subtitles appear.  I am sure that I missed something!)  The acting is hilarious, because everyone is so excited about saying even the smallest of things.  Watching one of the characters exclaim “The phone is for YOU!!” made me think of those great Mr. Sparkle ads that were made up for a Simpsons episode.  “Mr. Sparkle!  Cleaning dirt HONORABLY!!!!”

As bad as this setup is, though, the ending more than makes up for it.  You are guaranteed two shivers at the very end.

Rating:  Matinee

“The Ring”

So, what made sitting through the new American version of “The Ring” tough was that I knew what was supposed to happen.  While the first two-thirds of “The Ring” is better than “Ringu” (mostly because it is better-paced), the payoff pitch isn’t as scary as it was in the Japanese version.

In this version, the basic setup is the same—at the beginning of the film, two girls are talking about a mysterious videotape that contains strange visions and is followed by the viewer receiving an anonymous phone call from a little girl that indicates the viewer will be killed in exactly seven days.  A relative of the girl that is killed in the intro, Rachel (Naomi Watts, “Mulholland Drive”), watches the tape and tries to figure out the mystery behind the tape in seven days...or she’s dead!

“The Ring” does have four or five scares, mostly at the expense of loud, cutting sounds or music when, say, we see the dead body of the first videotape victim, or listen to an amped-up horse snorting in a trailer.  I don’t really get much out of these kinds of scares, mostly because the ideas themselves are not very frightening.  The other main problem with “The Ring” was the way Rachel goes about learning the mystery of the tape; I just didn’t feel that much discovery going on from my end, since it was all spoon-fed to me little by little as Rachel learns the history behind the setting of the videotape, the principal characters, what that ladder was for...on and on.  Now that I think about it, the scariest thing in “The Ring” has got to be David Dorfman, who plays Rachel’s son Aidan and has the scariest kid eyes and head I’ve ever seen!  How big is that kid’s head, man?  Come on!  The casting agents for “The Ring” must be credited for finding a kind that looks like an alien, because it works here...I was scared of that kid every time he came onscreen!

Conversely, “The Ring” has its moments, and Watts is solid in the lead of the film.  Did anyone else watch “The Ring” and think “Damn, is that Renee Zellweger?”  I did that about five times.  The feel of the sets in “The Ring” is pure desolation, so what better place to set the American version than...Seattle?  It seems to be gray all week in this film, and it reminded me of “Se7en” in that regard; there are no bright spots along the way for the characters that are trying to skip fate throughout the duration of the film’s timeline.

And, at least they kept the ending of “The Ring” the same as it was in “Ringu”...although, the film’s final scare just freaked the hell out of me in the Japanese version, because the Japanese filmmakers don’t lead up to it quite as obviously as they do in “The Ring.”  There are a couple of clues in “The Ring” that allow you to possibly see things coming with that parting shot, whereas in “Ringu”, man...whammo!

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09