In spring of 1999, while the masses were jacking into The Matrix, braver souls were leaping into the alternate gaming universe of David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ. Ostensibly, über game designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is on a promotional tour with her newest game and game pod, which is an electrical organism that creates its virtual reality by plugging directly into the gamer’s nervous system via spinal cord bioport. She and her marketing man, Ted Pikul (Jude Law), come under attack and flee from realists who object to extreme gaming’s impact on humanity and its reliance on endangered mutant amphibians for gaming pods (!). While there’s some element of wondering what’s real and whether the characters are still in the game, eXistenZ, like Cronenberg’s earlier films (Videodrome, The Fly, Naked Lunch), is more interested in exploring themes of body transformation, identity, and the physical and psychological impact of integrating technology (and art) with body and mind. While not as gory as his early films, it’s physically creepy and uncomfortably visceral. But like Cronenberg’s best, it works because of its ideas and insights, not by overwhelming with special effects.

Where did they dig up this relic of a transfer? The bad: While today’s standard is 1080p/24 for Blu-ray movies, eXistenZ is presented in a dated 1080i transfer (seriously!). The ugly: When the movie first started, I noticed that motion was herky-jerky, so I had to switch my Blu-ray player to an output mode (1080p/60) that deinterlaced 1080i better than my projector. The good: When played with proper deinterlacing, the picture was sharper than expected. But it had distracting spots of dirt speckled throughout, an artificially enhanced sense of detail, and skin textures that looked waxen. The sonic presentation is similarly dated and, worse, sounds like a stereo mix processed to 5.1. There’s not much in the way of surround separation, and the sound effects themselves are thin, bright, and unconvincing. Only Howard Shore’s haunting score makes it out alive, sounding respectable. The only extras of note are interviews with Law and Willem Dafoe, which are insightful but look and sound awful.

While just short of an outright disaster, a cable-TV-quality HD presentation is not what people buy Blu-ray Discs for. Rent this to catch up with the movie, which is terrific, but save your dollars for a release in which someone shows this one some love. SOS to Criterion: eXistenZ, Naked Lunch, and Dead Ringers need help!

Studio: Echo Bridge Entertainment, 1999
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 97 mins.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem Dafoe