Crash (1996) - Criterion CollectionOverview -
David Cronenberg's darkly strange but oddly discerning Crash continues to tackle intriguing questions of instinctual desires in a technologically-driven world, starring James Spader, Holly Hunter and Elias Koteas. The Criterion Collection crashes the psychological thriller into home theaters with a gorgeous HD video presentation, an excellent DTS-HD MA track and a healthy selection of bonuses to sift through. The overall package is Recommended.
We have also reviewed Arrow Video's 4K Ultra HD HERE.
For this icily erotic fusion of flesh and machine, DAVID CRONENBERG (Dead Ringers) adapted J. G. BALLARD’s future-shock novel of the 1970s into one of the most singular and provocative films of the 1990s. A traffic collision involving a disaffected commercial producer, James (sex, lies, and videotape’s JAMES SPADER), and an enigmatic doctor, Helen (Broadcast News’ HOLLY HUNTER), brings them, along with James’s wife, Catherine (The Game’s DEBORAH KARA UNGER, in a sublimely detached performance), together in a crucible of blood and broken glass—and it’s not long before they are all initiated into a kinky, death-obsessed underworld of sadomasochistic car-crash fetishists for whom twisted metal and scar tissue are the ultimate turn-ons. Controversial from the moment it premiered at Cannes—where it won a Special Jury Prize “for originality, for daring, and for audacity”—Crash has since taken its place as a key text of late-twentieth-century cinema, a disturbingly seductive treatise on the relationships between humanity and technology, sex and violence, that is as unsettling as it is mesmerizing.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
From the onset, David Cronenberg wants his audience to know they are about to collide head-on with a world far removed from their reality and norms in Crash, a distinctly unique character study of people with sexual fetishism for car crashes. The central protagonists, film producer James Ballard (James Spader) and his coldly-reserved wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), are seen having sex with other people — James with a nameless assistant, and Catherine with a stranger at an airport hangar. At home, the couple unapologetically boasts of their extramarital flings, brazenly detailing their level of satisfaction, and are even more aroused for one another. Strange as this unconventional relationship may seem to most, James and Catherine appear relatively gratified by their consented infidelity, perhaps making it easier to understand their far more unorthodox sexual journey into fetishism.
In those opening moments, we are essentially invited into their open marriage, like the true voyeurs we are, as they continue in this dark exploration of their unusual sexual desires. The man behind the steering wheel escorting the couple is Vaughan (Elias Koteas), a soft-spoken and somewhat modest individual oozing in a thick air of ambiguity and danger. In Koteas's talented hands, the man's seemingly meek yet abnormal disposition has an intriguing charm that rouses curiosity, particularly in his odd mannerisms and the very noticeable scars, which are both physical and internal. However, as we learn more about him yet given little to nothing about his past, it becomes clear his friendship comes at a risk. Putting a unique and very dark spin to the old idiom of "the strong silent type," his fetish has evolved into a dangerous obsession and a deadly appetite for recounting and performing celebrity car accidents.
Along for the ride is the always wonderful Holly Hunter as Dr. Helen Remington, the woman with whom James crashed earlier, sparking this strange outing into unusual carnal cravings. Helen is also somewhat the timid type but not necessarily in the modest and bashful sense of the word. She exerts a good deal of confidence and boldness, as seen in her conversation with James at the airport parking lot, but it also comes across as fragile and vulnerable, demonstrated by her reaction to the VHS tape of car collisions suddenly pausing. With James, they attempt to understand their arousal for car wrecks, introducing him to Vaughan and his quirky band of like-minded fetishists. Helen also hints at one possible explanation. Perhaps, it's related to the rush of dangerous, potentially fatal activities or the thrill felt at the risk of being caught in public, which is why the sexual exploits are mostly performed in cars.
Vaughan, however, endeavors to dig deeper, even going so far as to philosophize the marriage of the organic with the metallic, the flesh with the mechanical as part of some mystical evolution of progress. This sort of thinking from the character falls perfectly in line with David Cronenberg's familiar themes about the human body coexisting with the world of technology, and in some ways, the case could be made for Crash being a pseudo-sci-fi film, especially since the characters seem to anticipate this marriage as the future norm. James may be our surrogate into this arguably cultish circle, one to which Helen and Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette) have succumbed to temptation, but Vaughan is most interesting. He doesn't struggle with making sense of it and has embraced it as part of his identity. For him, this is the natural conclusion of our baser, animalistic instincts and desires merging with a world that progresses forward like a mindless machine with technology and the artificial.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
This Blu-ray edition of David Cronenberg's Crash (1996) comes courtesy of The Criterion Collection (spine #1059) on a Region A locked, BD50 disc and housed in their standard clear keepcase. Accompanying the disc is a foldout, poster-size pamphlet that opens into new artwork inspired by the film. On the back, owners will find an insightful essay entitled "The Wreck of the Century" by renowned film critic Jessica Kiang. There are no trailers or promos before being greeted by the distributor's normal static menu screen and options.
According to the liner notes, the original 35mm camera negatives and an interpositive were used for this 4K restoration of the film, performed by Turbine Media Group and LSP Medien in Germany. Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky supervised the work, and the brand-new, freshly-minted transfer was approved by director David Cronenberg. The end result is a stunningly beautiful 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, awash in a fine-layer of natural grain, giving the 1.66:1 image a lovely film-like quality.
Although somewhat subdued and restrained, which is part of the filmmakers' creative design to complement the plot's thematic tone, contrast is consistently on point with crisp, clean whites and vividly brilliant highlights. Meanwhile, black levels are inky rich and opulent with superb gradational details and excellent visibility within the darkest shadows. As with the contrast, the color palette is noticeably understated and controlled, but primaries are nonetheless accurately rendered while secondary hues are attractive and vibrant. Skin tones appear natural and healthy with lifelike textures in the cast. A few softer moments don't deter or distract from the overall sharp definition, displaying distinct fine lines in the various vehicles, clothing and hair. We can plainly make out the small objects in Vaughan's attic apartment, the stitching in his car's interior and the individual creases in James's leather jacket, making for a gorgeous video presentation. (Video Rating: 92/100)
Like the video, Cronenberg's psychological thriller crashes into home theaters with a newly created DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that was upmixed from the original Dolby stereo print master. However, the effort was made to retain the original balance and full dynamic range of the elements without adding any new audio information. The end result, once again, is a terrific lossless presentation that beautifully complements the visuals, exhibiting clean acoustical detailing in the mid-range and displaying a great deal of warmth throughout. Background activity is unmistakable and distinct with convincing movement between the three front channels, generating an engagingly broad soundstage. Howard Shore's hauntingly nuanced and refined score benefits most with superb clarity and definition in the orchestration. The front-heavy presentation also comes with precise, well-prioritized vocals and a satisfying low-end that feels adequate for a film of this caliber, providing the music and action appreciable weight and presence. (Audio Rating: 88/100)
- Audio Commentary: Ported over from the 1997 laserdisc, director David Cronenberg rides solo, mostly narrating and responding to certain scenes with some mild insight.
- Ballard and Cronenberg (1080i/60, 102 min): Recorded in 1996 at the British Film Institute, the author and director discuss at length the novel, the film and the various themes.
- Cannes Press Conference (1080i/60, 38 min): Press conference from 1996 Cannes Film Festival where the film won the Special Jury Prize with cast and crew discussing the film.
- Press Kit Footage (1080i/60, 9 min): Archival footage from the original EPK featurette with cast & crew interviews discussing the production.
- Trailers (1080i/60, 4 min): A pair of vintage previews.
Based on the novel of the same name, David Cronenberg's Crash is a darkly strange but oddly discerning journey that prompts questions about our natural, instinctual desires in a world of technology and cold, indifferent metal. Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter and Elias Koteas, the story follows a small cultish circle of fetishists tackling this dilemma while also embracing it as part of the inevitable future norm. The psychological thriller hops aboard The Criterion Collection vehicle and crashes into home theaters with a gorgeous HD video presentation and an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. With a healthy selection of bonus material to sift through, the overall package is a recommended purchase.
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