CRASH Criterion Review: Love In The Dying Moments Of The Twentieth Century

David Cronenberg‘s films are some of cinema’s finest enigmas. Each entry in his filmography seems to have developed a cult following over the years since their respective releases, not the least of which include 1981’s Scanners, 1983’s Videodrome, and 1991’s Naked Lunch. Another standout in his repertoire is Crash, released in 1996. The film stars James Spader as a film producer named James Ballard who, while driving home from work one night, crashes into another car, sending the passenger of the car flying through his windshield. During his recovery, Ballard meets the wife of the dead passenger, Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter). Remington and a man named Bob Vaughan (Elias Koteas) introduce Ballard to a dark underworld populated by car-crash victims who eroticize car accidents, of which he is slowly drawn into.

Crash was awarded the Special Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival, and was heavily controversial upon its release, but remains one of Cronenberg‘s most fascinating and daring cinematic provocations to date. Cronenberg tackles the emptiness of mundanity and how the film’s car-crash victims find a connection in the brutal mechanism of the automotive accidents they participate in and witness, and how their yearning for the collective modernity of these violent events shape their newfound epiphanies. It’s interesting how Cronenberg frames modernism as its own concept to reinvent. Much like in Videodrome (“Long live the new flesh”), his narrative boldness arrives from a place of examination of futurism in a modern landscape.

Crash has now been released on Blu-Ray, courtesy of Criterion. Inside the case, a leaflet unfolds to uncover a larger version of the release’s cover. On the other side of the leaflet, the new release is detailed in full under the “About the Transfer” section. Underneath, the credits are listed, and above, an essay by film critic Jessica Kiang, titled The Wreck of the Century.

Video: 4.5/5

CRASH Criterion Review: Love In The Dying Moments Of The Twentieth Century
source: Criterion

Crash is presented on Blu-Ray in Cronenberg‘s preferred aspect ratio of 1:66:1. The transfer was supervised by the film’s cinematography, Peter Suschitzky, and approved by Cronenberg himself. This new 4K restoration was undertaken by Turbine Medien GmbH from the original 35mm camera negative, additional title elements, and a 35mm interpositive for reference at LSP Medien Kuhn and Albrecht CbR in Uelzen, Germany.

Criterion’s release of Crash is astounding from a video perspective. Cronenberg‘s film is often dimly lit, and this release’s grading is great at providing a natural interior glimpse of the modernist landscape of the characters. The grain is perfectly exposed and delivers a magnificent presentation throughout the entire film. During the daytime, the characters’ surroundings are quite drab, and during nighttime sequences, more vibrancy is revealed through colorful flashes of lighting. Criterion’s transfer does a terrific job of handling both of these elements and balancing the presentation effectively. This is a very cold film and the transfer does emphasize that, but there’s a subtle warmth that sneaks in as well. Overall, the picture quality is excellent and supplies a crisp, sharp image that is distinguishably jaw-dropping and conveys a wide range of color in even the most mundane of scenes.

Audio: 4/5

CRASH Criterion Review: Love In The Dying Moments Of The Twentieth Century
source: Criterion

This release of Crash includes a 5.1 surround soundtrack mix that was newly created for this restoration from the original Dolby stereo print master. The booklet that comes with the release states that it retains the original balance of the mix as much as possible and that no new elements were added during the process. Transfers were originally done at Magnetic North and provided by Deluxe Toronto and all work on the soundtrack was done on behalf of Turbine Medien at LSP Medien Kuhn and Albrecht CbR.

The 5.1 DTS-HD track perfectly complements the picture quality in every way. The audio for this release is equally as great as the video is. While it’s certainly not the most memorable audio track I’ve come across in my years of viewing home media releases, it does an exemplary job of building a natural atmosphere. Cronenberg‘s film is very quiet at times and this often contributes to the discomfort he deliberately (and effectively) creates in each scene. However, there are plenty of louder moments in the film as well, and this audio track really showcases their prowess. The roar of cars is certainly a key sound in this film and the track emphasizes it. Moments, where Howard Shore’s score plays a key role, are also standouts, especially the opening credits, which themselves provide a considerable demonstration of the disc’s capabilities.

Special Features: 4/5

CRASH Criterion Review: Love In The Dying Moments Of The Twentieth Century
source: Criterion

The disc comes with a pretty solid assortment of special features. They include:

  • COMMENTARY: An audio commentary track from 1997 featuring Cronenberg.
  • BALLARD AND CRONENBERG: In this footage from a 1996 Guardian Lecture at the British Film Institute, author J. G. Ballard and director David Cronenberg discuss Cronenberg‘s adaptation of Ballard’s novel Crash and the controversy surrounding both book and film.
  • CANNES PRESS CONFERENCE: Crash debuted to heated controversy at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996, with its critics reacting against the film’s specific combination of sex and violence. Despite jury president Francis Ford Coppola‘s distaste for the film, it was awarded a Special Jury Prize “for originality, for daring, and for audacity.” The Special Jury Prize has not been awarded since. Presented here is the press conference that followed the premiere. It features director David Cronenberg, producers Jeremy Thomas and Robert Lantos, and key members of the cast.
  • PRESS-KIT FOOTAGE: The following selections form the 1996 New Line Cinema electronic press kit for Crash include behind-the-scenes footage and brief interviews with director David Cronenberg, author J. G. Ballard, and actors Holly Hunter, James Spader, and Deborah Kara Unger.
  • TRAILERS: Includes the U.S. Trailer and the International Trailer.

If you care about the amount and quality of special features on a disc then this is certainly worthy of your collection. There’s a sizable amount of extras on here that even the disc out; all are interesting supplemental features in one way or another. The commentary track is especially noteworthy, as it has not been available since the Criterion LaserDisc release back in 1997.

Overall Score: 4.5/5

CRASH Criterion Review: Love In The Dying Moments Of The Twentieth Century
source: Criterion

As a film, Crash isn’t perfect, but it’s always interesting and investing enough to make up for the holes in its execution. Cronenberg‘s direction is top-notch and he gets equally great performances out of all of his cast members. It’s undeniably a strange film from start to finish, but one anchored by an intriguing emotional gauge. Cronenberg always makes the absolute most out of his crazy concepts and this is no exception. The Criterion Blu-Ray release is magnificent all-around, featuring excellent picture quality and an equally engaging audio track. To top it all off, the disc is complemented with a handful of exciting supplemental features including commentary from Cronenberg himself and other add-ons that make this release a worthwhile addition to any collection.

What’s your favorite David Cronenberg film? Will you be picking up the Criterion release of Crash? Let us know in the comments!

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