Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn star in this haunting criminal thriller with unforgettable visuals.
A child therapist must enter the mind of a serial killer using experimental technology to find the whereabouts of a missing woman. The Cell is most known for its stunning aesthetic and wildly original design, directed with style by former music video director Tarsem Singh. New Line was clearly hoping to make a different kind of adult thriller after the success of Seven and partially succeeded in this adept, entertaining scenario. The Cell overcomes pedestrian performances by its leads with inventive fantasy scenarios that come to life on the big screen.
Psychiatrist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) specializes in reaching comatose children through experimental VR technology that allows her to enter their mindscape. Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a serial killer suffering from a rare form of schizophrenia. He kidnaps women and then drowns them, performing bizarre rituals with their corpses. Vince Vaughn plays the detective in charge of the investigation hunting Stargher down. Stargher falls into a coma before his last victim is found, forcing Catherine to use the experimental technology to enter his psychotic mind’s fantasy world and discover the location. Will the chaotic dreamscape that is Stargher’s mind trap Catherine in it for good?
The Cell’s narrative isn’t particularly complex. What you see is what you get. It’s a standard thriller about a serial killer and the frantic search for his last victim. The twist is that much of it takes place inside the fantastical dreamland that is the killer’s warped mind. Director Tarsem Singh delivers a kaleidoscope of twisted imagery using new-at-the-time digital techniques. While newer films have left its special effects a bit dated by today’s standards, they still continue to impress in 2015 with their fantastic design. It is visionary stuff, a rare feat in an industry starved for creativity and originality.
What prevents it from becoming an all-time classic thriller are the ho-hum performances by Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn. Vaughn at this point in his career was still figuring things out. Mostly known for his comedic roles, the grizzled detective’s role was a stretch for him. Jennifer Lopez was cast as an attractive female lead. She simply lacks the gravitas and acting chops to give Catherine the edge she needed. The chemistry between Vaughn and Lopez is also lacking at times, which is possibly why that potential relationship is left almost entirely out of the script.
The Cell remains a memorable thriller from the turn of the century despite a cookie-cutter plot with forgettable turns from its stars. Director Tarsem Singh crafted one of the more creative-looking films in recent memory with an array of grotesque imagery that should haunt your dreams.
Warner Bros. has delivered a very satisfying film transfer for The Cell, making the older Canadian Blu-ray released by Alliance in 2009 obsolete. The main feature runs 109:12 minutes, encoded in AVC on a BD-50. This appears to be the alternate director’s cut of the film despite the R-rated insignia found on the package. The R-rated theatrical version had a few alternate shots, snipping a few of the more graphic frames. The differences between the cuts are fairly minute, anyway.
The AVC video encode transparently handles the film’s grain structure and dense exposure levels found inside Carl’s demented mind. It averages a solid 24.92 Mbps. The 1080P presentation is framed in its native 2.39:1 aspect ratio, retaining the sophisticated cinematography by Paul Laufer. The Cell was made before digital tools were easily available to grade film and that is apparent in the starker moments inside Carl’s mind. The drastic change in color timing for those fantasy scenes pushes the black levels to their breaking point with grittier saturation and exposure.
Everything about this new film transfer for The Cell is superior to that older Canadian BD which was likely sourced from a HDTV broadcast master. While a hint of sharpening remains, color saturation is far deeper with better contrast and flesh-tones. It represents a dramatic improvement in high-frequency content and fine detail, providing much better definition and clarity.
The Cell is a visual tour de force by director Tarsem Singh. The former music video director made a splash with the wild, surreal imagery he created for its warped reality. This new transfer from WB makes the Canadian BD obsolete in every way. Better contrast, improved color rendition, far more stable black levels, there isn’t an attribute this 2015 BD doesn’t improve upon by a wide margin. A trace of sharpening still remains but it’s a minor sin when all is said and done.
The dated effects hurt depth a bit at times. It would be interesting to see the film remade with newer CGI tools. This is one case where the newer technology might actually improve upon the original.
The Cell features an impressive 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. It is immersive with rich sound design, pushed to the max with a dense mix. Howard Shore’s fine musical score adds a very distinctive touch, smartly capturing the moody visuals with its Eastern-influenced music. The Cell was a big-budget Hollywood release and everything about this audio presentation is top-notch. The mix includes excellent panning moments as a train crosses the screen and a number of effective surround moments. It’s loud, clean, and engaging. It does pay to keep the older New Line DVD. That DVD included an isolated score for Shore’s music which is absent here.
WB has authored this BD for multiple regions with a multitude of both dubs and subtitles. The optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font, always remaining outside the scope framing of the film. The following subtitles are also included: French, Spanish, Japanese, German SDH, Dutch, Italian SDH.
WB ports all of the special features found on the original New Line DVD to this Blu-ray. It’s a decent package with two commentaries and several deleted scenes, produced when the home video industry was nearing its apex.
Audio commentary with director Tarsem Singh – An informative commentary that sounds like his honest feelings on a number of production problems and reactions.
Audio commentary with the production team – More of a faux commentary stitched together from separate interviews with various crew members, including Howard Shore and Paul Laufer.
Style As Substance documentary (11:51 in SD) – An archival featurette with Tarsem Singh and crew discussing their approach on the film.
Deleted scenes with optional commentary (19:36 in SD)
– Trapped in the Cell (1:00)
– Despair in the Cell (0:40)
– Extended Raid (3:26)
– Early Exit (1:52)
– Novak and Ramsey (1:29)
– Stargher’s Room (3:23)
– Extended Confrontation with Carl (4:14)
– Extended Police Briefing (3:32)
Special effects Vignettes – Visual effects supervisor Kevin Tod Haug narrates while different angles play of the same featurette.
– The Hoist
– First Entry
– Second Entry
– Novak’s Entry
– Catherine’s World
– Edward’s World
US theatrical trailer (01:23 in SD)
International teaser trailer (01:20 in SD)
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.