Next
Paramount // PG-13 // $29.99 // June 3, 2008
Review by Don Houston | posted May 23, 2008
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Background: I enjoy science fiction cinema as much as most aficionados of the genre and unlike some of my associates, I have never felt the need to apologize for appreciating quirky little efforts that lacked consistency, believability, or even coherency. That said, I got the chance to review the Blu-ray version of Next primarily because no one else wanted it, my own exposure to the movie being limited to the trailers that played when it lasted about two minutes in the theaters. I know there have been mixed reviews on the movie here at DVD Talk and I consider that to be a healthy thing, each of us making up our own mind about what constitutes a quality effort and what panders to the lowest common denominator without any overlord forcing us to praise crappy movies to appease advertisers.

Movie: Next is a movie about a man who can see two minutes into the future rather than employ a mechanical means of time travel such as Minutemen did. Nicolas Cage plays Cris Johnson, a marginal player in the Las Vegas entertainment world; his magic act so poorly attended that one wonders why he keeps getting booked. Cris has a special ability that allows him to see a couple of minutes into the future and change how he's going to act, thereby altering the course of events about to happen to him. This ability only works for his future though and that prevents him from having a broader impact except something in his life changes. He sees a beautiful young lady named Liz (gorgeous Jessica Biel) and she is further in his future than he has ever seen before. Having had this ability as long as he could remember, this strikes him as odd but he becomes infatuated with the prospect of meeting her, showing up in a diner for weeks on end at the same time to pinpoint when he is supposed to run into her.

The story is largely about the romantic encounter but as expected in a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, there has to be an action plot taking place too; one that allows for things to get blow up, people killed, and lots of gun battles to take place. That's where Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) steps in as the government agent tracking down leads to prevent a terrorist group from detonating a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. Exactly how she becomes obsessed with Cris' ability is left for the viewer to figure out, the man having kept his profile so low that no one really notices him much to begin with, with the added caveat that Ferris' involvement triggers the suspicions of the terrorists too; sparking a contest between the feds and terrorists to find Cris (the terrorists taking great pains to kill him). Sounds like a low budget episode from the updated Twilight Zone to you yet?

The movie is based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick and unlike Blade Runner (or even Minority Report), the quirkiness rarely works all that well. The viewer is treated to several differing means by which Cris employs his ability, almost as if director Lee Tamahori was undecided about which special effect seemed more believable, and the paper thin premise that Cris could dodge bullets, survive an avalanche of falling cars and debris, and yet consistently fail to protect the one he loves from danger was kind of weak. That the writers were unable to come up with a better explanation for why she expands his abilities or perhaps even changing the story ever so slightly to make it more consistent within the architecture of the "rules" of his ability just made some aspects of the movie more painful than Cage moping through the story as though anyone on Earth believed he could snag Biel without serious cash, drugs, or power (preferably all three in copious quantities).

The heart of the problem is that the movie seems to slight both forks in the road about what it wants to be. The romance angle suffers from lack of developing the characters and the action angle suffers from the multitude of poorly written plot devices; providing enough of both to show potential yet too little of either to make the movie worthwhile as anything other than a one-time popcorn flick to watch while you make out on the couch. Johnson is not particularly sympathetic either, he would let 8 million people die rather than help the FBI with his abilities, and despite the ability of the leads in other roles, they all dropped the ball here so often that I wish I could have seen 95 minutes into the future so I would have avoided this dog in the first place. I wanted to like it for so many reasons and if absolutely pressed to say something nice about it, I'd say the action sequences elevated the rating to a low end Rent It for eye candy value alone (along with seeing Jessica Biel looking hot of course) but if you'd rather have a movie with some teeth in it, skip this one altogether.

Picture: Next is presented on Blu-ray in a very attractive 2.35:1 ratio widescreen color as shot by director Lee Tamahori. During the action sequences, the details looked crystal clear and made some of the effects look almost believable thanks to the wonders of modern movie magic (using several vendors to achieve the effects since the time table was so rushed). From the chain wrapped around the falling car on the mountain to the minute details on the rocks in terms of shadowing and depth, I have no doubt that this version of the movie looked better than anything commercially available. The romantic scenes took on a soft, almost grainy, focus though; apparently a heavy handed way of selling the soft glow the couple was supposed to have for one another as told in a visual manner. The CGI effects were not consistent though as some of the tricks employed did not bare much scrutiny on the big screen, a fact I'm willing to bet was the same with other versions employing outdated technology for those that care. There was also some aliasing but the scenery was incredible as was almost any shot of Jessica Biel who looked larger than life. For those interested, the blue ray version had a bitrate typically in the 30+ Mbps area and when it was looking good, it really showed off some of my system's capabilities, using the AVC codec if that matters to anyone (the proof is in the pudding; not the description of the mix used to make the desert).

Sound: The movie offered several choices in terms of the audio with my favorite, by far, being the English 5.1 PCM (uncompressed) version with a 6.9 Mbps bitrate. There was never any doubt comparing it to the 5.1 Dolby Digital version(s) and it provided a full surround experience; especially during the action sequences. The music was mixed in a bit on the heavy side but the surround speakers gave a lot of ambience to certain portions of the movie and except for a flub or two (like during the helicopter ride where no effort was made to show the noise interfering with the conversation, maybe they employed Airwolf technology?!?) it was well made. The clarity of the uncompressed version was distinctive and perhaps set a touch higher in volume than the standard 5.1 track, but even the lesser track was pretty decent. There was also a Spanish 5.1 track and a 2.0 French Dolby Digital track but neither of those sounded nearly as accurate, the dubs coming from some source unable to access modern anime lip synching technology apparently. There were also a bunch of subtitle options in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese; my limited knowledge of anything other than English and Spanish preventing me from providing a definitive statement about the accuracy of translations.

Extras: The extras package seems to be the standard package from previous releases including the theatrical trailer to the movie, a two+ minute interview with hotty Jessica Biel (accurately called Two Minutes in the Future With Jessica Biel), a short called The Next Grand Idea where the majesty of the Grand Canyon was displayed as the backdrop for some of the romantic material of the movie, Making of The Next Best Thing where you would get the cast and crew glad handing the production, and Visualizing The Next Move where some of the effects were explored in more detail than the generalized making of flick did. I liked the extras and appreciated that they were all presented in high definition but would have appreciated seeing something more to them than previously released material. This might amount to a triple dip for some people (admittedly unlikely given how lame the movie tended to be) so giving something truly "extra" would have been a nice touch to make. Boilerplate making of and special effect reels are okay but I suspect we will see a future version (just hopefully more than two minutes into the future) with more stuff added in but I don't profess to be Cris Johnson.

Final Thoughts: Next was based on a short story called The Golden Man but the quality of Cage's character here reminded me of another metal man from The Wizard of Oz. The Blu-ray version of the movie added plenty of sparkling detail to the eye candy nature of the flick but except to showcase your system during the avalanche scene, it came across as a convoluted and watered down bit of science fiction masquerading as a good time. I place most of the blame on the writers here but the reported $70 million it cost to manufacture this piece of marginal crud (even more to advertise it) could have gone a lot further with scores of other treatments less focused on the gee whiz special effects and more on the genuine dramatic elements given the short shrift this time.



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