Back in 2000, director Tarsem Singh made his incredibly startling feature film debut with the bizarre science-fiction thriller “The Cell.” It was a very divisive film, with some dismissing it for a few inconsequential narrative shortcomings, and others praising it for its boldness of vision, gorgeous production design, and technical prowess (including the late Roger Ebert, who named it one of the best films of its year). One thing’s for sure, upon its release 15 years ago, it was certainly a little something different than what we had seen up to that point.
As the film opens, we are introduced to Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez), a therapist who uses a revolutionary machine to enter the mind of one of her patients, a comatose young boy that she has formed a special bond with over the course of several visits. Meanwhile, we also follow Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn), a detective on the trail of a serial killer, Carl Stargher (Vincent D‘Onofrio), who drowns his victims in a small cell before turning them into dolls. Peter and his colleagues manage to track him down and are just about to arrest him when Carl suddenly falls into a coma, rendering him unable to divulge where his latest victim, Julia (Tara Subkoff), is being kept. In his desperation, Peter turns to Catherine in hopes of learning where Julia is before it’s too late, but in order to accomplish this, she must enter the disturbed mind of this twisted individual where there’s absolutely no telling what she will find.
“The Cell” is the kind of movie that grabs you little by little. From its opening desert landscapes of incredible beauty and the discovery of what’s really happening, we are instantly intrigued by what we can already tell is not going to be your average sci-fi tale. However, this is just the beginning, for we are also treated to a thrilling crime drama that features the hunt for a psychopath with a bizarre fetish. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, once he goes into a coma, two and two are going to be combined in order to continue driving the story forward, but this is where all of those little pieces that have been grabbing us up to this point come smashing together for the long-awaited moment of when Catherine first enters Carl’s mind.
What Catherine finds within is shocking, gorgeous, disturbing, perplexing, and all-around unforgettable. If we truly had the ability to look into the mind of someone like Carl, these are quite possibly the kinds of things you would find: fragments of a terrible childhood, parts connected to his fetish (an enjoyment of dolls as a youth), and various representations of the killer himself (his “evil side” so to speak). Singh and his brilliant crew of production designers, costume designers, and visual effects artists took the stuff of nightmares and turned it into a believable representation of one man’s sick mind, throwing scenery at us that could just as easily inhabit a horror film, for what goes on in the mind of a serial killer is nothing short of a horror film itself.
As Catherine goes deeper and deeper, navigating this maze, the clock is continually ticking down towards Julia’s fate, giving the film the needed sense of urgency, but obviously this is no simple case of asking someone in Carl’s head where the girl is. In fact, this is what leads to what I believe is the one true narrative shortcoming that the story has (yes, the film is great, but the major claim made by its detractors is not entirely without some merit), which lies in where the vital clue to the case is found. After all our protagonists have been through, it is a bit disappointing to see that a little clue that has been seen before ends up helping out as much as it does.
However, it’s a rather minimal problem compared to the rest of the tale, which is weaved together in a thrilling and compelling fashion. There is barely a moment where your eyes aren’t fixed on the screen either in awe of its stunning design or in anticipation of what will happen next. “The Cell” was the kind of film that didn’t deserve to be dismissed by so many all those years ago, but for those who saw the greatness within, it will remain one of those impactful cinematic experiences that stays with them for a long, long time.
“The Cell” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of mostly outstanding quality. There are times at which grain is noticeable in the image, but for the most part, you are treated to a stunning remastered image that shows off the film’s beautiful sets/locations, costumes, and effects. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is rather soft, especially when it comes to dialogue, but this is easily fixed with a slight volume adjustment, though you should be cautious due to certain parts being louder than others. Overall, the film has been given great treatment, allowing for a top-notch experience.
Feature-Length Commentary with Director Tarsem Singh: A commentary track that has the director divulging his thoughts on certain elements throughout the film. Unfortunately he doesn’t really have anything interesting to say, leading to a track that is not particularly worth listening to.
Feature-Length Commentary with the Production Team: This track has been assembled from several participants, including the cinematographer, costume designer, and costume designer, which makes it a little choppy, but there are lots of interesting bits of information to be learned, so it’s very much worth hearing.
Style as Substance: Reflections on Tarsem: A 12-minute featurette that is really nothing more than a glorification of the director, so it’s easily skippable.
Visual Effects Vignettes: Six visual effects sequences are explored via interviews, storyboards, and behind the scenes footage. It’s a fascinating glimpse at how these scenes came together and is most definitely worth watching.
Deleted Scenes: A selection of deleted material consisting of little pieces that were easily lost during the editing of the film.
“The Cell” is a dazzling mind-bender of a film that features spectacular visuals from the elegant sets to the gorgeous costumes, all encompassed in a thrilling story that will have you on the edge of your seat. It may have taken a long time for the film to finally get a Blu-ray release in the United States, but there’s certainly no time limit on going back and discovering (or rediscovering) a great and underappreciated film like this. This is the release that fans have been waiting for, and I’m glad to say that, for the most part, it was well worth it.
Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
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