The Cell Blu-ray review
A woman in a flowing white dress rides a black horse through the desert. Off the horse, she walks across the mounds. A young boy flashes his watch in her direction to catch her eye. “I thought we were going sailing today,” she says. “You promised.” Then, a decrepit boat appears in the distance. The boy worries about the boogeyman and then turns into a horrible sight. The woman presses a button on her finger.
When she awakes, the woman, a child psychiatrist named Dr. Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez, Steven Soderbergh’s OUT OF SIGHT, Oliver Stone’s U TURN), is in a room next to the boy from the dream. She has been inside of his mind as part of an experiment in which she goes into the psyche of a patient to understand Why.
In a remote farmhouse, serial killer Carl Rudolph Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio, who that same year portrayed Abbie Hoffman in STEAL THIS MOVIE!) is going about his method, drowning women in tanks of water and making them up to resemble dolls. After Stargher has a stroke and falls into a coma just as police arrive, FBI agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn, two years after playing Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant’s PSYCHO) comes up with the idea to have Deane enter the killer’s mind, a place where Deane can’t hit that button fast enough.
This is where THE CELL’s finest moments come from. The scenes inside of Stargher’s mind are at once wondrous and unsettling. These are striking sequences, with a top-notch meshing of production design (by Tom Foden), cinematography (by Paul Laufer), costumes (by Eiko Ishioka and April Napier) and makeup (by Michèle Burke and Edouard F. Henriques, who earned Oscar nominations for their work) that creates a world that is so rarely created in movies. (These turned out to be practice for director Tarsem Singh, whose next feature, 2006’s THE FALL, would be one of the most visually striking films in and for years.)
One of the issues with THE CELL is that it takes far too long to introduce these sequences. After the stunning opening, the movie spends a bit too much time looking at the FBI’s investigation and exploring Deane’s home and work life. This is an attempt to develop, but when it takes away from what will most stick with the viewer, it hurts the movie.
THE CELL offers elements of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in that it takes a journey into the mind of a maniac. It’s a scary place to be, and Deane going there makes her a compelling character. The issue is more in Lopez, who probably gives her strongest turn but can’t quite get to the level of depth that such a character needs.
THE CELL is a strong effort that showcases a unique world that is both dazzling and frightening. While the pacing is off and the performances don’t quite get where they should for the material, the dream sequences serve Singh’s picture and help make it an effective debut.
Video: 2.40:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. THE CELL looks absolutely wonderful in high-definition, especially during the dream sequences, which offer fine details and popping colors.
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital; Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The audio is also strong, with clean dialogue, atmospheric sounds and an effective Howard Shore score.
Commentary with director Tarsem Singh: Tarsem offers a highly informative track in which he discusses his methods, his inspirations and more.
Commentary with Production Team: Various member of the crew, including cinematographer Paul Laufer and composer Howard Shore, share their thoughts on their respective roles.
Style as Substance: Reflections on Tarsem (11:51): This featurette goes into the techniques of Tarsem.
Deleted Scenes: There are eight here, which can only be viewed separately. They are: “Trapped in the Cell,” “Despair in the Cell,” “Extended Raid,” “Early Exit,” “Novak and Ramsey,” “Stargher’s Room.” “Extended Confrontation with Carl” and “Extended Carl with Victim. Available with optional commentary.
Special Effects Multi-Angle Vignettes: There are six here, which can only be viewed separately. They are: “The Hoist,” “First Entry,” “Second Entry,” “Novak’s Entry, “”Catherine’s World” and “Edward’s World.”