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Deja Vu

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG-13 // April 24, 2007
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted April 21, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Tony Scott can be quite the hit-or-miss director.

Man on Fire achieves a potent demeanor that'll likely knock your socks off, while Domino will probably leave you scrambling to throw them back on and bolt for the door. If Domino was Tony Scott's cinematic equivalent of a brash acid trip, then Déjà Vu is his triumphant intervention with Denzel Washington serving as the old friend and mediator to bring him back home. Though it gets a bit talky when trying to explain every detail of what makes the film unique, Déjà Vu succeeds as a tight, fast-paced time-travel flick that rejuvenates the knotted talent brimming underneath Scott's crafty eye.

The Film:

Set in modern day New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina ransacked the town, Déjà Vu starts with a sea of peaceful faces of all lifestyles ushering onto a ferry. Shortly after, a throbbing explosion obliterates the craft, rendering a dreadful incident of cataclysmic destruction. Doug Carlin, a federal agent, dispatches riverside with a strong, weathered eye to find out the direct root of this catastrophe. Along the banks of the Mississippi lie a smattering of debris washed onto the shore, ranging from planks and flakes of plastic to more grueling remnants. Carlin hones his intuitive, empathetic nature, gathering the energy of the weather-torn town into his resolve to nail the culprit of such a travesty.

Another investigator from a different agency (Val Kilmer) lights a spark in Carlin and offers him an analytical job regarding the ferry disaster with "unique time constraints". This taps into Doug's vested interest in this case after his discovery of a familiar car parked in the ferry's lot, an area that should only have automobiles belonging to the deceased. This "unique" opportunity is splayed across a few computer monitors in a hush-hush agency operation revolving around a revolutionary discovery: the ability to delve entirely into a past occurrence with a blend of highly sophisticated camerawork and interlinking satellites. A four-and-a-half days passed image translates onto the screen in vivid, full rotational detail that's thoroughly able to be manipulated through this breakthrough technology.

This direct focus zooms in on a young adult female named Claire (Paula Patton) that Doug is investigating as a link to the terrible explosion. However, as the surveillance on this time-elapsed camerawork goes on, there seems to be something strikingly amiss about the way the present and past realms interrelate. Can those from the past, especially this female victim under watchful eye, sense this technology peering upon them? Once the answer to that question reveals itself, then Déjà Vu hits the tracks barreling at full-force as a breakneck thrill ride through time's countless ripples and repercussions.

As a science fiction film with reality discharged, Tony Scott and his writers have constructed some genuine visual and conceptual strength behind a crazy, improbable story. With a focused eye, Scott downshifts his usual burnt, oversaturated psychotropic cinematography to a more muted, polished level. Most, mind you most, of the frenetic editing work occurs on the distant computer screens. Tony Scott's been able to fuse a well-saturated color palette with particular moods in the past, and he does so again here. But Scott gets a lot more right than just visual gleam. Without insulting the audience's intelligence, everything within this twisty little mystery unfolds at a grand pace without a substantial amount of cliché in this film. Most importantly, Déjà Vu is an intensely exciting suspense that flails you through the fabric of time without stripping the steadfast dramatic tone. This is not a serious whodunit crime film, but it's not supposed to be.

One criticism as of late with science fiction films is the lack of explanation for all the meticulous details. Well, Déjà Vu certainly doesn't cruise down that path. Instead, every single detail of how this entire series of events takes place pours through in droves from the "in-crowd" of the secret operation. This material can get dizzying; yeah, it all makes sense in a metaphysical sense, but explaining wormholes and the effects of spirituality and infallibility amidst a full-throttle suspense gets a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, the material focuses shortly on this just for a taste, and then goes about its regular scheduled flow.

Even if the material Denzel Washington was working with wasn't interesting like Déjà Vu's narrative, he would have one hell of a hard time churning out a bad performance with anything he tackles. Even when almost nothing but his natural charisma pours through a straightforward character, as it does here, he remains a winning hero with visibly unique quirks. Doug Carlin is a shade on the empathetic and soft side, but other than that, it's typical, always enjoyable Denzel territory. Where the unexpected strength lies is within the supporting cast, especially the four-man crew accompanying Carlin through his investigation. Comprised of Val Kilmer, Adam Goldberg, Elden Henson, and a terrific Erika Alexander, this group of space-brain time gurus is understated, yet incredibly well shaped for the scenario. Instead of trying to give all the craziness more weight and believability, they instead add humor, emotion, and desirable speckles of knowledgeable insight.

Like Back to the Future injected with adrenaline and testosterone, Déjà Vu proves to be winning entertainment. By no means perfect or without a plot blemish or two, this two-hour rollercoaster through hi-tech time shifts doesn't really need to be believed. Instead, this scenario works as a well formulated vehicle for kick-ass entertainment that'll toss out a few contemplations about the effects of manipulating time. It's not quite as good as Man on Fire, but Scott's journey into the world of science fiction claims its own piece of the pie as an exhilarating, emotive display of twisty mindplay.

The DVD:

Buena Vista Home Entertainment has presented Déjà Vu in a standard keepcase DVD with a snazzy, glossy slipcase.

The Video:

Part of the visceral enjoyment from Déjà Vu comes from the quality camerawork and saturated color scheme. Displayed in an anamorphic widescreen presentation, this flick looks smashing spread across the screen. All the details and colors just popped from the print in lurid bombast. Nothing detectably horrible popped up, though a very small bit of enhancement and grain showed in a few spots. Overall, the fine points, saturated tinting, and the exquisite use of transparencies / translucent material looks fantastic.

The Audio:

Everything, from the crisp voices to the electric score, poured through nicely in this Dolby 5.1 audio presentation. A lot of the film revolves around technical jargon and verbal development towards the giant twist. The voices remained clean and clearly audible all the way through. Though vibrant bursts of sound were few and far between, what did echo through the sub and surround channels sounded great. Rear channel activity come into use quite well, picking up more as the film ramps up in excitement further along. It's not reference material or anything, but the audio presentation provided is rather nice. Audio is also available in French and Spanish, while subtitles are available for those languages as well.

The Extras:

Most of the supplemental material reflects on either conceiving specific scenes or how other scenes become whittled down or removed.

Surveillance Window works like a well-segmented Making of Featurette that covers a wide plethora of features within the film. It earns this title because of the nifty layout of this material. When activated, the material turns into a Director and Producer commentary with Scott and company that instantly fazes into small Making Of clips at key points. This reminds me a lot of his brother Ridley's nice A Good Year DVD feature Postcards from Provence. It's a unique play on the commentary with some video accompaniment. The items range from character motivation in Developing the Character of Doug Carlin to aesthetical achievements in Cameras of Déjà Vu and Filming in New Orleans.

A few Deleted Scenes are available with optional commentary from director Tony Scott. In all, the edits seem to be choices that helped the pacing of a film already stretched over two hours. Most of the scenes are well shot and add some generally good depth to characters, but were generally dispensable. It's a shame; a few of the scenes, namely one of Doug Carlin in the silhouette of a jubilant church and another sequence of flashes into Claire's everyday activities, add a nice dash of flavor.

Also included are some Extended Scenes that build onto a few of the included scenarios. Once again, for pacing issues, some good quality dispensable material gets clipped in order to aid in the pacing of the film. All of the material, including some dialogue from Claire later on in the film, could've been easily utilized in the final cut.

The extra material included with this DVD is short and relatively surface level. However, for those casual fans of the flick, these bits and pieces are spread out just right and entertaining to boot. A few Still Galleries and poster art would have been nice, but the material here isn't too shabby.


Final Thoughts:

As far as science fiction movies go, Déjà Vu has the potential to strike a wicked chord with viewers willing to give it a shot. It has everything the typical blockbuster should have, from a few choice explosions and sumptuous cinematography to romantic tendencies brewing underneath a tense story. In addition, the blitzed dialogue revolving around the technology is appealing and lacks any mistreatment to the viewer's intellect. If you're in the mood for a fast-paced, suspenseful mystery flick, Tony Scott's venture in sci-fi comes Highly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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