The Ring

Naomi Watts, David Dorfman, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic widescreen). DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), Dolby Digital 2.0. 115 minutes. 2002. DreamWorks 89980. R. $26.

As H.P. Lovecraft proved in his gothic stories, what makes a story most frightening often isn't what's described, but what's left up to the imagination. The Ring, a film that revolves around a mysterious videotape that, when watched, has mortal consequences, adheres to this precept by revealing just enough to propel audiences out of their seats, but concealing enough so that the imagination, especially in the film's first hour, can spawn as gruesome or as tame a tale as it sees fit.

Naomi Watts is Rachel Keller, a busy journalist and preoccupied single mother whose eight-year-old son, Aidan (David Dorfman), is jarringly grown-up. While Rachel runs around in her underwear looking for her black dress, Aidan is already dressed in a suit and straightening his tie for his cousin Katie's funeral. Circumstances surrounding Katie's death are cryptic at best, and Rachel, overhearing some of Katie's classmates discussing a videotape at the funeral reception, becomes a bloodhound on the trail of this tape, looking to get to the bottom of it with the help of her son's estranged father, Noah (Martin Henderson).

The tape contains some creepy images: dead horses on a beach, a nail sliding through someone's fingertip. But, it's the images that aren't inherently nefarious that are the most haunting in this film: an abandoned well, a blood-red tree, a lighthouse, a little girl. How these images relate to each other unfolds in a truly terrifying, if perhaps prolonged, two hours. Just when you think the film should end, it keeps going, losing some impact as it trudges onward.

Some edge enhancement prevents the video from being all that it can be, but otherwise, the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks superb. Colors are not as vibrant as they can be in films of more lighthearted genres, but shadow detail looked great on my set, and skin tones were very natural or unnatural, as appropriate.

The DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks were excellent, but I enjoyed DTS more—it sounded more aggressive in the surrounds than DD, and the bizarre music, which sounds like eerily orchestrated video noise, seemed more detailed.

The extras on the disc are the only blemishes on an otherwise nice DVD presentation. They include a short film by Gore Verbinski created especially for the DVD release, and a trailer for Ringu, the Japanese thriller that inspired The Ring. Considering the video element involved in the film itself, however, I'd bet the farm that a special edition is in the works. Until then, I'll surrender to the rumors that Verbinski wanted to maintain the air of mystery about the film (a familiar concept to Naomi Watts—David Lynch did the same thing on his Mulholland Drive, in which she also starred) by not giving away its secrets.—TM