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Image Entertainment presents
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Remix) (2006)

"I'm not sure what to believe."
- Francis (Judson Pierce Morgan)

Review By: Ross Johnson   
Published: October 11, 2007

Stars: Judson Pearce Morgan, Daamen J. Krall, Doug Jones, Lauren Birkell, Neil Hopkins
Other Stars: William Gregory Lee, Tim Russ
Director: David Lee Fisher

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:16m:00s
Release Date: June 05, 2007
UPC: 014381396225
Genre: experimental

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-AB B-

DVD Review

Told entirely in flashback by film's earliest unreliable narrator, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari tells the weird story of a traveling carnival performer and the series of murders that follow him to a small German mountain town. Originally filmed in 1920 by Robert Weine, it is reasonably considered not only an expressionist classic of the silent era, but one of the very first true "horror" films. For this 2005 "remix," writer/director David Lee Fisher has gone back to the original and created an almost shot-by-shot remake, flawlessly recreating or re-using the original backdrops and sets. Where sparse title cards contained all of the dialogue in the early film, this new version is fully "talkie". The final result is a film that is fascinating, but only occasionally effective as a dramatic piece.

For the remix, many of the original backgrounds by designer Hermann Warm have been either recreated digitally or taken directly from the early film. The technique is absolutely commendable in maintaining such a powerful link to the original, and shows an impressive reverence for the source. It does introduce new problems, however: a meagerly lit film on ancient stock can withstand its flat and deliberately unreal back-drops a bit better than can a modern digital film. In trying so hard for fidelity, the creators have actually infused the film with a natural distraction. Where the original feels as though set in a dream-world, this modern version often looks very much as though it's set on a stage. Still, there's a neat bit of symmetry to the methods used: the original was filmed on spare, flat sets as a creative concession to cost, being as it was essentially an early art-house movie, and so this remix recreates them affordably through use of the green screen. The look of the early film was modern for its time, and similarly innovative techniques have been used to recreate it. There's also some lovely costume work, mixing period pieces with some modern flashes for a timeless look.

The performances are generally good throughout, with Daamen J. Krall standing out as an appropriately creepy Caligari. The cast boasts a few names: Doug Jones has played the title characters in both Pan's Labyrinth and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer during the past year. Here he's Cesare, the somnambulist in Caligari's titular cabinet. Star Trek Voyager's Tim Russ has a cameo, as does William Gregory Lee of the gay-supernatural soap Dante's Cove.

Ultimately, the early version worked with a kind of dream logic that only silent film can really pull off, and I'm not sure that adding dialogue adds much beyond accessibility. The affectations of the silent era begin to look a bit silly when taken out of that context, and as a result this remix works better as an exercise than it does as a satisfying film. Still, there are moments of genuine creepiness, and I can't help but admire the ambition and the guts that it took to remake this sometimes-forgotten classic. In a film-going world where flicks from the 80s are often described as "old movies," I can hardly argue with this homage to a film that was new before my grandmother was born.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Image's transfer of the film is a real beauty. The smoothy gorgeous black-and-white cinematography of the digital film is reproduced cleanly and clearly.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The PCM stereo track is straightforward, but effective. There's a nicely moody score to the film that comes through nicely, and the dialogue is evenly balanced and clear.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: The disc includes a roughly 12-minute Making of featurette, which includes the writer/director, main cast members, and several members of the crew. It's short, and focuses largely on the technical challenges of working on an almost-entirely green screen film. I found it rather interesting, and one gets the feeling from watching the featurette alongside the film that the technical challenges dominated the production. Also included are a Photo Gallery and Trailer.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A technically impressive homage to one of the true classics of the silent era, this "Remix" falls a bit flat as an effective film in its own right. The DVD presentation is solid, with a nice making-of and a gorgeous transfer. Film buffs with an appreciation for the original might be interested in this as a respectful riff, others might enjoy it as an experiment, but I'm not sure that it will replace the original in anyone's heart.


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