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Paramount Home Video presents
Liz: Life is supposed to be a surprise, isn't it?
DVD ReviewThere are two different approaches to movies that deal with the ability to foresee the future. One, such as in Valentino's The Young Rajah (1922), holds the future as visible but immutable, with the hero somewhat paralyzed by his inability to make a difference, and as a result the skill is more curse than advantage. The alternative, where precognition is accompanied by the chance to change the future, opens up any number of possibilities (literally), and suddenly you're in action hero territory.
Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) is one such man with this ability for precognition, able to see into his own future with perfect clarity. The hitch is that he can do so for only two minutes at a time. The exception is a mysterious young woman, Liz Cooper (Jessica Biel) whom he foresees entering into a diner some days into the future. Becoming obsessed with why his ability works differently where she is concerned, Cris begins hanging out there regularly, waiting for her to actually show up so he can see where this future will take him. Unfortunately, things aren't quite that simple: a unit of the FBI, led by special agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) is determined to find Cris and use his ability to determine the location of a misplaced Russian nuclear device before it's set off. Equally unfortunately, those who have the device are just as determined to kill him before he can be of assistance. With the minutes ticking away, Cris must somehow evade both parties and keep himself and Liz alive. Oh, and if he can do something about that bomb before it kills eight million people, that would be nice too.
The ability to see into the future has its obvious advantages, especially if you're interested in hitting on Jessica Biel. There's a highly entertaining sequence as he tries out various lines that get him shot down in various ways, in a nice takeoff on Groundhog Day. But precognition isn't all fun and games, we soon find out, because as the bullets start flying and bombs start going off, the trial and error of finding the correct path through the future involves Johnson being killed in a variety of unpleasant ways, and experiencing the pain of each death, over and over and over. The effect of jumping back in time two minutes is jarring at first, but we eventually get into Cris's head enough that it starts to feel second nature. As the picture progresses, the viewer sees additional ways of representation of his ability, with a sharp depiction of the elaborate decision trees that he eventually has to pursue as he tries to weave a safe way after the villains.
Who those villains are is less than clear. Since it's an adaptation (loose) of a story by Philip K. Dick, The Golden Man, there's more than a healthy helping of paranoia involved here. The government is nearly as bad as the terrorists, more than willing to torture Cris in order to get the information they want. The problem, as he is more than aware, is that if he helps them once, they'll continue to torture him endlessly to find out what else is going to happen. That leads to some difficult moral choices for him as well in a movie filled with shades of grey that seldom offer a right or wrong (other than the terrorists, whose motives and plans are conveniently never filled in sufficiently for any assessment to be made). They're essentially a MacGuffin for the mayhem, but that's all right. The action is elaborately staged, with just the right leavening of drama and romance, as well as improvisational bits of humor, to make for a taut thriller that is a nail-biter from beginning to end. There are plenty of Kubrick references for the film buff too, from Dr. Strangelove to A Clockwork Orange.
Cage is a great choice for Cris, with his somewhat hangdog expression just right for the harried, pursued and slightly guilt-ridden character who knows more than he should. One gets the feeling that Hitchcock would have loved to have used him. Julianne Moore has an incredibly hard edge here (think Clarice Starling with 20 more years of service as a special agent under her belt). Biel comes across as a sincere and intelligent young woman who's more than just a pretty face, making a plausible central romance that is sufficiently interesting to propel the action along. The combination gels perfectly, and the resulting picture is more than entertaining and very briskly paced.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The transfer uses the AVC codec, and as is the case with other recent Paramount releases there's plenty of fine detail and texture. In particular, the shadow detail in the night sequences of Las Vegas is outstanding. The color palette leans heavily toward a golden color, so the result is rather stylized and not naturalistic or particularly eye-popping. There's some excellent footage of the Grand Canyon, which looks plenty scary in high-def. There are several big CG effects set pieces that come across beautifully in HD, with very little to demarcate what's practical and what is not. I didn't see any significant aliasing or edge enhancement or other artifacts. And I can think of many other subjects less pleasant for HD than Jessica Biel. A very pleasing transfer indeed.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: In addition to 5.1 DD+ English and Spanish tracks, there's also a TrueHD English track that is quite dazzling in its spacious rendition of the audio, with 360-degree effects and clear directionality in multiple speakers. It's a highly atmospheric mix, with the orchestral score by Mark Isham also evidencing substantial directionality. Drums in particular have beautiful immediacy. Dialogue is pretty center-oriented, but it sounds very natural. There's nothing to complain about here, with plenty of LFE when called for and an utterly clean audio experience that ranges from the quiet patter of rain to nuclear holocaust.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: There are a number of bonus features but they tend to be heavy on the fluff and low on content. They are, however, all presented in HD, starting with the theatrical trailer (which contains numerous spoilers). The documentary Making the Best Next Thing (18m:14s) is the longest and also the fluffiest of the lot, with little significant content beyond demonstration of Cage's enthusiasm for the story and his desire to improve the script as well as some brief behind-the-scenes footage of stunts. Visualizing the Next Move (7m:46s) looks at the visual effects, with special attention given to the precognition sequences and an elaborate CG avalanche that surprisingly enough was divided up between several different effects houses but came out quite seamless. The Next "Great Idea" (6m:57s) is devoted to the Havasupai tribe, who dwell in a remote area of the Grand Canyon, and the story behind their inclusion in the movie. Two Minutes in the Future with Jessica Biel (2m:27s) is a completely dispensable chat with Biel about whether she'd like to be able to see her own future or not.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsWay more fun than you might expect, Next offers a thoughtful sci-fi actioner packed with the requisite mayhem, with an outstanding high-def transfer that highlights the dazzling effects work. The extras are pretty fluffy but the movie itself is a rollicking good ride.
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