Deja VuOverview -
An ATF agent travels back in time to save a woman from being murdered, falling in love with her during the process.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Integrating technology into a modern-day thriller is often tricky business. If you don't use the latest cutting-edge gadgets and gizmos to propel your story, you run the risk of making your film feel dated before it even hits theaters. But if you go too far in the other direction and build outlandish technological concepts into your story, you run the risk of straining your credibility, and veering into bad science fiction territory. Unfortunately, 'Deja Vu' falls into the second of those two traps, basing its story a "top secret" defense technology so ridiculous that it it completely undermines this otherwise routine thriller.
Denzel Washington stars as Doug Carlin, an ATF agent assigned to investigate a terrorist attack on a New Orleans ferry that has left over 500 people dead. As part of his investigation, Carlin discovers the body of Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), an apparent victim of the bombing. But when he determines that Claire's death actually occured before the explosion, and that it may contain clues to solve a far more complex crime, Carlin turns to FBI agent Andrew Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) and his hi-tech team of experts to "reconstruct" Claire's final days using a new form of surveillance technology dubbed "Snow White." I won't spoil any of the film's surprises, but it is here that the story begins to veer into that bad science fiction realm -- suffice it to say that before all is said and done, Carlin will come face to face with the demented mastermind (Jim Caviezel) behind both crimes.
As described above, 'Deja Vu' probably sounds like your typical Michael Crichton thriller. But Crichton's commercial success has always been his ability to make even far-fetched ideas (such as cloning dinosaurs) believable by backing them with at least half-plausible pseudo-science. 'Deja Vu,' on the other hand, is so ridiculous and convoluted a fiction that I personally found it impossible to swallow. Seriously -- are we really to believe that Pryzwarra's "Snow White" lab team can render fully three-dimensional, photo-realistic historical video of anyone, anywhere in the world, from any angle, and play it back in real-time? Yeah, right.
Of course, there are also all sorts of convenient loopholes in the technology, clearly thrown in to generate cheap suspense out of a tech gimmick that doesn't make any sense in the first place. Even worse, director Tony Scott and co-screenwriters Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio then compound their basic narrative flaw by eventually throwing time travel into the mix, at which point the film's already-paper thin foundation collapses like a house of cards.
Which is a shame, because I suspect the real reason Washington and Scott signed on for 'Deja Vu' was to explore the story's intriguing themes -- not its technology. Washington's Carlin will quickly become infatuated with Claire, even though he only knows her from her reconstructed image. The existential question at the film's heart seems to be -- is it possible to develop real feelings from an image of a person? And if you could go back in time and change events to save the person you love, should you? These are potentially fascinating story threads, but unfortunately they get lost amid 'Deja Vu's clunky, sloppy storytelling.
Even as a thriller, 'Deja Vu' lacks momentum. For much of its runtime, the film is quite slow, with the majority of the first half spent training the audience on how "Cinderella" works. Is there anything less exciting than watching people sitting in a room, surrounded by video monitors, discussing data blocks and image manipulation? Even when the action does finally kick in, it's not enough to rival even an average episode of 'CSI.' Perhaps had the film's ending been more emotionally satisfying, the snail's pace of the narrative would have been more forgiveable. But 'Deja Vu' is ultimately all build-up, leading to not much of anything. Even the Washington's charisma, Scott's typical frenetic direction and some thought-provoking themes can't save a thriller this misconceived.
Decidedly superior to 'Deja Vu's premise is this 1080p/VC-1 transfer (a rarity for Buena Vista). Regardless of codec, the studio again delivers a very fine presentation, with a super-slick, good-looking veneer that is up there with the top ranks of recent Blu-ray releases.
I've never personally been a huge fan of Tony Scott's identi-kit visual style, which dates back to the '80s with 'Top Gun,' and continues in more recent thrillers like 'Spy Game' and 'Enemy of the State' -- everything looks like an MTV music video, and the camera swoops and spins for no apparent reason (other than to create "tension," I suppose). But the results are never less than glossy. 'Deja Vu' looks spotless, with a master that has been wiped clean of any hints that it was actually shot on film. It's clean and artificial, with only some of the darkest, over-contrasted scenes boasting intentional stylistized faux-film grain. Colors veer on the edge of oversaturation, but remain solid and crisp. Contrast is slightly hot, but detail holds up, with most shots exhibiting noticeable depth and sharpness that is certainly superior to anything you're going to see on standard def.
The only issues are a little bit of lost shadow detail due to black crush, and a tad bit of inconsistency -- a few shots in the "war room" of the surveillance team looked a bit washed out, with flat blacks and and no pop. But these are sporadic, erratic moments at best. In short, when it comes to high-def picture quality, 'Deja Vu' delivers.
Likewise, the audio on 'Deja Vu' is gangbusters. This is another Jerry Bruckheimer-produced extravaganza, so predictably every last sound effect is amplified to underscore the action. Buena Vista offers up another very nice 48kHz/16-bit/4.6mpbs uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track, and it's never less than an aural delight.
'Deja Vu' is somewhat of a two-act movie in terms of sound. Aside from the (literally) explosive opening title sequence on the ferry, the first half of the film is rather inert, though still sonically immersive. Surround use is effective here, with much subtle ambiance as Carlin digs up the clues and we're first introduced to FBI's "Cinderella" surveillance lab. I found it amusing how pinpoint-accurate the sound on the reconstructed satellite video is -- even cell phone conversations and other key sound effects are localized, and often directed to the rears. Does the FBI also have a surround sound guy hidden in some other room, mixing everything in Dolby Digital? It is, of course, preposterous, but say what you want about Bruckheimer movies -- they certainly don't skimp on great audio.
The second half of the film has much more action, and it's here that the soundtrack really revs up. Rear pans are seamless, and the soundfield often boasts 360-degrees of immersion. Dynamics are also excellent, with deep low bass and very spacious upper range. The sense of realism to sounds is also crystal clear, with all of the manufactured button pushing in the surveillance room sounding absolutely believable and authentic. The slower first-half of the film may lessen the excitement for some, but 'Deja Vu' is a very fine example of first-rate Blu-ray audio.
In an interesting approach to creating high-def-like supplements on a standard-def release, Buena Vista created an "In-Movie Experience"-esque feature for the DVD release of 'Deja Vu.' Dubbed "Surveillance Window" (aka, "Go back in time and experience behind-the-scenes moments with the filmmakers!"), and it's ported over to Blu-ray in its entirety. Comprised of nine vignettes, it runs over the film, with each segment automatically activated at pre-set points. The material mixes IME components like picture-in-picture video boxes with stand-alone branching segments, merging behind-the-scenes footage, alternate angles of film clips, and cast-and-crew interviews. It's well done, with a concentration on the film's technology and, in particular, stunts (the last two segments, "Compound" and "Ferry" are entirely devoted to the action). Note that during the "dead" spaces in between video segments, there is audio-only commentary from Scott, Bruckheimer and co-screenwriter Bill Marsilii (each recorded separately). The total aggregate time of the "Surveillance Window" is the same as the 126-minute runtime of the movie, and all the material is presented with the film running in full 1080p video.
Next up are a collection of five Deleted Scenes ("Church Choir," "Turtle Story," "Carlin Studies Claire," "Beth and Abbey See Claire," "Beth and Abbey Live") and three Extended Scenes ("Extended Ferry Aftermath," "Claire Held Captive," "Carlin Shares with Claire"). The titles of the scenes pretty much tell it all, with only the "Turtle Story" and "Carlin Studies Claire" offering any added insight and emotional depth not seen in the final film. The extended scenes are also typical of such excisions, being wisely cut for pacing.
'Deja Vu' is a polished, good-looking thriller, but its core concept is so outlandish that I just couldn't buy into it. However, if you enjoy your police procedurals combined with eyebrow-raising science fiction conceits, this one's well worth a rent. It certainly delivers as a Blu-ray release, with great video and audio and an interesting faux-"In-Movie Experience" supplement.
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