Many thought that "The Cell" was an instance of style over substance, an issue of visuals taking such focus as to make the story seem secondary. The film's director Tarsem Singh was previously a music video director, and as with most music video directors making the jump to feature films, discussion of style always seems to take place. Still, when you have visuals to the level that they are in this film; the remarkably hypnotic and imaginative look of nearly every scene - it's really only a matter of time before the director becomes paired up with a more consistently fully written screenplay and story.
The film's plot begins with an attempt to catch a killer named Carl(Vincent D'Onofrio), who drowns his victims. He has just begun with another victim, who will drown in 40 hours. The only problem is that once the FBI finds him, he has entered into a coma. A pair of agents Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) and Gordon Ramsey (Jake Weber), approach Catherine Deane and her team of scientists to use a new technology that could help them find the last victim.
The technology allows one person to enter the mind of another, and previously had only been used to study a boy who is currently in a coma; the second half of the film has Catherine wandering around the mind of Carl looking for clues. Tarsem does a fantastic job at creating a universe of its own, full of horrifying memories of Carl's past floating in between stunning visuals that are a combination of camera tricks and creative special effects.
Although I was only half engaged by the early part of the film, the second half provides a mixture of the surreal and additional tension as the race to find the victim becomes more and more down to the minute. I'm not sure that I was always engaged by the story and dialogue of the movie, but I think that the actors - especially Lopez and Vaughn, certainly did their parts strongly as the leads. Again, "The Cell" is certainly a disturbing movie; although it starts a little bit slowly, I think it gets going during the second half. By the end, I wasn't completely sold on the picture, but certainly am looking forward to the next picture that director Tarsem is able to come up with. The visuals of "The Cell" are so striking, so haunting at times, you can't help but be impressed.
VIDEO: New Line consistently puts out wonderful efforts in terms of image quality, and "The Cell" really sees them at the height of their abilities. "The Cell" is a movie of all visuals - easily one of the most stunning-looking films I've seen in quite some time. The 2.35:1 presentation is nothing short of magnificent, with outstanding sharpness and detail. This is a completely film-like image that has great depth and clarity.
Colors are wonderful, at times looking bleak and stunning, and at others looking rich and wonderfully deep. There is no color bleeding, or for that matter, any other problem that I noticed with the image quality. Pixelation and shimmering are not seen at all throughout the movie, and the print used is practically the definition of crystal clear, with not even a speckle to be found. This is really excellent work and easily one of the best from the studio.
SOUND: "The Cell" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and often adds to the very creepy feeling of the film. There are times when the audio is nearly silent, with just a few subtle sounds, and there are moments when the sound becomes a full-on attack, with eerie sound effects galore pouring in from all sides. Surrounds agressively come into play when they are appropriate, taking us further into the fantasy worlds that the film creates.
Howard Shore's eerie, beautiful, haunting score sounds absolutely wonderful throughout the movie, and is the perfect pairing with the visuals of the film. Dialogue is clear and never edgy or harsh. I found the audio to be a very enjoyable pairing with the visuals of the movie - I felt it didn't miss any opportunities that were presented by the movie.
MENUS:: New Line provides stunning, well-animated main menus that have Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in the background. The menus are very imaginative and well done, really providing a good, creepy introduction to the movie. Some of the sub-menus are not animated, but still look very stylish.
Commentaries: The first commentary is a wild, entertaining track from director Tarsem. He seems very excited to talk about his movie, and although there are moments where I couldn't quite understand what he was saying since he talks a little fast, I still found this to be a very enjoyable discussion. The director gives a massive amount of information about his style and his views on the production for the movie before taking a bit of a break of silence (or stopping to catch his breath, saying so much so quickly) before starting again.
I really liked the track though; I learned a lot about how a lot of the film's more impressive scenes were accomplished, and rather than just stating things, Tarsem seems more like he's enthusiastically sharing them with the viewer. He has so many opinions and so many viewpoints on the story and the style and the production that it becomes one of those commentaries that you'll probably have to listen to a second time to catch everything. His comments are intelligent, occasionally humorous and honest; he talks about things that had to be taken out and sometimes talks about what he would do different. There are some pauses of silence throughout the commentary, but I don't blame the director since he talks so rapidly throughout the rest of the track.
The other track offers members of the production team, including Director Of Photography Paul Laufer, Production Designer Tom Folden, Makeup Supervisor Michelle Burke, Costume Designer April Napier, Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin Haug and Composer Howard Shore. Although this track certainly offers more perspectives from different roles on the production, it doesn't manage to be as interesting as Tarsem's track. We do learn quite a bit about the production, though and get more technical details about the more impressive scenes. Still, there are times when it's a bit slow - especially compared to the impressive and energetic delivery of the story of the making of the movie from the director.
Trailers: The film's theatrical trailer (1.85:1/Dolby Digital 5.1) and international teaser(1.85:1/Dolby Digital 5.1).
Visual Effects Featurettes: There are six segments in this section that go into detail about how six of the big "effects" sequences were done. The multiple angle feature is used here, and you can switch between an interview or behind-the-scenes footage or storyboards. The most enjoyable thing is that footage from the other two angles are actually featured in 2 little boxes during the interview.
Deleted Scenes: 8 Deleted scenes are presented with optional commentary from director Tarsem, who again provides remarkably energetic discussion of the scenes and why they were deleted. The scenes themselves are sometimes a little bit interesting, but are mostly rightly deleted from the film since they would probably slow up the movie a bit too much.
Tarsem: Style over Substance: This is a short documentary that is mildly enjoyable, although compared to the rest of the supplements it seems more promotional - much of it is just the crew and cast talking about how much they liked working with the director, while Tarsem occasionally comes in to explain his thoughts on his style. Personally, I'm still don't really think that "The Cell" is style over substance, or maybe it wasn't the director's fault - I felt that the visuals were wildly imaginative, but the screenplay didn't always reach that level.
Interactivities: The "empathy tests" gives you quite a few questions to learn more about you and how you handle your emotions as well as if you are in touch with them. There are different levels to go to if you answer a certain way. Also included is the "brain map", which provides more brain facts that one probably cares to know.
Also: Cast and crew bios, DVD-ROM game demo, and also DVD-ROM script-to-screen feature & website.
Final Thoughts: "The Cell" is not for everyone, and those who do not enjoy more disturbing films may want to take a pass. For those interested in the movie, New Line's DVD presentation is certainly excellent, with near-perfect image quality and stunning audio quality, with some solid extra features. At least worth a look as a rental, or, if you're already a fan, you'll be very pleased with New Line's presentation.