Color, 1998, 95m. / Directed by Abel Ferrara / Starring Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Asia Argento / Sterling (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) / DD5.1

Never a director to go along with the mainstream, Abel Ferrara has directed films ranging from the sublime (Ms. 45) to the unwatchable (Dangerous Game), with very few falling anywhere in between. New Rose Hotel may be his most frustrating effort: an hour of a potentially interesting film grafted onto a complete mess for its final third. In the near future, the scheming Fox (Walken) teams up with X (Willem Dafoe) for a plot to lure a leading scientist, Hiroshi, away to a rival corporation. As bait, the men recruit lovely Italian prostitute Sandii (Argento), whose mission is to seduce Hiroshi away from his wife and plant ideas in his head. However, during her "training," Sandii and X fall in love... or so it seems.

Freely adapted from the introspective short story by William Gibson (Johnny Mnemonic), Ferrara's film takes several chances which promise to pay off. Hiroshi is never viewed directly, only as a flickering image on cameras; Sandii's actual seduction of Hiroshi is relayed only through dialogue and inference; and some kind of vaguely defined corporate conspiracy from the other side appears to be brewing on the sidelines. The actors generally do what they can with the material, with Asia taking top honors both for her sincere portrayal and her startling, unabashed nude scenes. Unfortunately, anything the film accomplished goes skidding downhill for the resolution, which consists entirely of Dafoe sitting in a dark room having flashbacks to the rest of the film. Period. Evidently the film could not be completed, so this frantic attempt to save it in the editing room resulted in what can only be described as a veritable car crash on film. A difficult film to assess in terms of visual quality, New Rose Hotel features grainy digitized images, 16mm, 8mm... you name it. Many scenes are deliberately drenched so deeply in shadows that the actors are almost impossible to see, while others are startlingly clear and beautiful to behold. The opening credits in particular are a knockout, and the throbbing techno score manages to eke tension seemingly out of nothing. That said, Sterling's DVD is about as good as could be expected. The 5.1 sound mix is extremely rich, with strong bass and evocative separation effects throughout. The transfer represents the film well enough, though the matting appears to trim a little too much from the top and bottom of the image. The disc also includes a commentary track by co-writer Christ Zois, who largely address the issues of adapting the Gibson story and sidesteps some of Ferrara's more notorious working habits. An overzealous trailer and a bizarre trivia game (which could lead to an Easter egg, but it will take a brave viewer to find out) complete this strange package for a very, very strange film.

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