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New Line Home Cinema presents
The Cell (2000)

"Remember, it isn't real."
- Dr. Miriam Kent (Marianne Jean-Baptiste)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: November 22, 2000

Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vince Vaughn
Other Stars: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jake Weber, Dylan Baker, Jake Thomas
Director: Tarsem Singh

Manufacturer: Warner Advanced Media Operations
MPAA Rating: R for (for bizarre violence and sexual images, nudity and language)
Run Time: 01h:46m:51s
Release Date: December 19, 2000
UPC: 794043515026
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B-A+A- A-

DVD Review

I've long thought that modern film isn't visual enough. I'm often very excited whenever anyproject comes to the big screen promising to do something really interesting with its visual style. I guess this stems from a root love of sheer fantasy in movies, which is essentially what we expectfrom films; to be taken to another place. The Cell is arguably the most visually daringproject mainstream cinema has launched since The Fifth Element. When a film augmentsitself with elaborate and fantastic visual style, this is a good thing; when a film is sort of keptafloat by the visuals, that's a bad thing. In many respects, The Cell fits into the lattercategory.

The film introduces us to child psychologist Catharine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) who is taking partin an experimental medical program. The program uses a complex technology that allowssomeone to enter the mind of another person. Deane is using it to help a child who is in aself-induced coma, trying to interact with his subliminal persona. Meanwhile, a serial killer, CarlStargher (Vincent D'Onofrio), goes about drowning women inside a sealed, glass cell and thenbleaching their bodies. He starts to get sloppy and the FBI begins to close in on him. AgentPeter Novak (Vince Vaughn) leads the team trying to catch him and eventually they figure out who and where Carl Stargher is: unfortunately when they find him he has gone into acoma from a severe mental illness. The FBI eventually seeks the help of Catharine and her teamto go inside Carl's mind in order to find out where his latest victim is located, before she isdrowned by the automated glass cell. Deane agrees, but discovers a twisted and complex worldinside the head of the killer that she has to maneuver in, in order to extract the information.

The first thing that really stands out in The Cell is the visual style. Cinematography issuperb, with the general tone and design of the film applied in a very striking way. That's actuallyjust the basic film; the trips into Stargher's mind push the envelope even further. In the dreamsequences, elaborate sets, costumes, and lighting schemes were used to create vivid if notdisturbing worlds. These sequences are really like nothing that conventional cinema has quite yetexperienced until now, but at the same time they're entirely too short and staged, and perhapshere is the core fault of the film.

The movie relies far too much on the dream sequences to propel it, yet these portionsare surprisingly light compared to what the film builds up to. Though the serial killer plot is fairlywell written, it also succumbs to awful clichés. Jennifer Lopez really isn't at all convincing as someone who's had any kind of forensic training in psychology. Much of the science is kind of half-assed and not they chose not to make it an issue, but many of the 'scientists' in the film spout awkward explanationsfor a lot of what goes on in the mind of Stargher and it just sounds fake. He's a psychopathickiller, I think we can accept the fact his mind would be pretty twisted.

TheCell makes many, uncomfortable jumps out of the dream sequences as well. Once Lopezgoes inside Stargher, we sort of expect her to stay there, at least for a good portion of the film.That way, we're totally immersed in this radical world. Instead, there are many jump cuts to realworld activities which constantly break the mood and character of the film. So, I guess I'd haveto say that despite all the lavish visuals, I was disappointed with how little they're actually used incontinuous shots. For all the money and effects spent on these sequences, they comprise asurprising minority of the film.

Underneath the essential flaws, The Cell at least never commits the sin of being boring. It's certainly an entertaining film, it just relies too much on a very predictable and stiff plot to getto the end. If anything, the visual flair is well worth the price of admission. I'd love to see awhole movie done SOLELY in this dream-style. The movie also boasts a powerful and effectivemusical score by composer Howard Shore collaborating with The Master Musicians of Joujoka, one of the best things about the movie. The Cell is unique, it just isn't terriblyrefined.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2:40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The gorgeous anamorphic transfer here is one of New Line's best. The film is generally very crispand clean, showcasing the dark, moody cinematography very well. Black level is sharp as a tackand the stark imagery jumps off the screen. Where this transfer really pays off is the dreamsequences which are filled with elaborate color schemes and very subtle details. All of it comesacross with pure clarity and brilliance. The source print is immaculate and there are no digitalflaws, even at full-zoom. Outstanding in every respect. Subtitles are placed below the imageframe and are very easy to read.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 audio is very dynamic and exciting. It mostly comes to life in the dream sequenceswith tons of directional effects, split surround effects, and overall ambience. The channels areextremely well integrated together and nothing ever seems forced or exaggerated. The musicalscore comes across very well too. From what I understand, the 5.1 track for the DVD wasspecifically engineered for the medium and home systems, and it surely pays off. A Dolby 2.0Surround track is also included, but lacks the dimension of the 5.1. It will do, though, if you wanta Pro-Logic mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
8 Deleted Scenes
Isolated Music Score with remote access
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1. Director Tarsem Singh, 2. Production team members
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:28m:31s

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD-ROM Screenplay Access, weblinks, video game demo of 'Cataclysm'
  2. Empathy Test
  3. Interactive Brain Map
Extras Review: Lots of features adorn this disc, starting with a reel of 8 deleted scenes. Unfortunately, thesescenes are not anamorphic and are not in 5.1 sound. That aside, most of the footage isinteresting, but nothing that really should have stayed in the film. One scene that will interestmost viewers is the 8th scene which was omitted from North American prints of the film to avoidan NC-17 rating. Each scene features optional commentary by director Tarsem Singh.

Two commentaries are featured, one with Tarsem Singh, and the other with various members ofthe production staff. The director commentary is intriguing and sheds a lot of light on the creativeprocess, but it's a bit dry and stiff. There are often long periods with nothing being said andlistening to it is made slightly frustrating by its very low volume and the fact that Tarsem talksextremely fast without acknowledging that his Indian accent makes him a little hard to understand. The production commentary is revealing, but it is edited together a bit abruptly and there aretimes when I lost track of who was talking. A subtitle track with the names of the speakers wouldhave made a nice addition.

The feature I found most attractive was the Dolby 5.1 isolated score, highlighting the HowardShore/Master Musicians of Joujoka soundtrack. I think this was a great idea for an extra.

The making-of featurette, Style as Substance is not really much of a featurette. It's an 11-minute-long, self-congratulatory piece about how brilliant Tarsem Singh and the rest of thedesign/effects crew are. It's way too heavy-handed and assumes that The Cell is beyondanyone's understanding. I didn't like it, especially since I've long been a fan of artists like JacekYerka, H.R. Giger, De Es, and M.C. Escher, all of whom Tarsem at least owes thanks to. Not tomention filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, from whom he gleaned the imagery for his Losing MyReligion video, the set from which makes an appearance in The Cell.
A series of scenes from the film are presented in a multi-angle format with production teamcommentary. Each scene has 3 angles: Angle 1 has a production member discussing thescene; Angle 2 is the actual scene, usually in an animatic or pre-production mode, and Angle 3 has storyboards for that sequence.
A section entitled 'Interactivities' contains both an Empathy Test and an interactive brain map thatexplains what each section of the human brain performs. The Empathy Test actually works, andmeasures your 'emotional IQ', but I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or not, depending onthe viewer.
The disc completes itself with cast/crew bios, original trailers, and a host of DVD-ROM featuresincluding New Line's usual script-to-scene access feature and a demo of the video game'Cataclysm' which, thematically, has nothing to do with The Cell.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

This is one loaded disc and arrives less than a year after The Cell premiered theatrically. Now that's fast! While impressive on many technical levels, The Cell isn't really terriblybrilliant or masterful, but it does tell an interesting story with unique craft. Recommended.


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