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Called in to recover evidence in the aftermath of a horrific explosion on a New Orleans ferry, Federal agent Doug Carlin gets pulled away from the scene and taken to a top-secret government lab that uses a time-shifting surveillance device to help prevent crime. But can it help Carlin change the past?
For more about Déjà Vu and the Déjà Vu Blu-ray release, see Déjà Vu Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on July 16, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, James Caviezel, Adam Goldberg, Elden Henson
Director: Tony Scott
» See full cast & crew
Déjà Vu Blu-ray Review
“We have some unique time constraints.”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 16, 2009
Déjà Vu is a Tony Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer/Denzel Washington joint production, and the three, who have previously worked together on Crimson Tide, make a pretty good team. Tony Scott's action-heavy oeuvre certainly appeals to the money-minded producer, and Bruckheimer manages to rein in the director's often-overindulgent visual eccentricities, making box office gold with his Midas-like touch. And Denzel Washington is just plain good, giving his all no matter the role. So, you'd expect Déjà Vu—the trio's second collaboration—to be a well- executed thriller, with some big budget action sequences and a thin, but narrative-propelling romance. For the most part, that's exactly what it is. At the film's core, however, is a science fiction plot device that, no matter how hard it tries to sell itself as science fact, comes off as patently ridiculous, making it extremely hard to suspend your disbelief.
Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, the film opens with the enormous, fiery explosion of a passenger ferry, filmed in slow motion with multiple cameras, as if to announce that, yes, this is a Tony Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer production. The blast kills over five hundred people, and ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is called in to investigate. He made a name for himself working the Oklahoma City bombing case, and it's clear that the ferry incident was the act of another homegrown, right wing terrorist. At his office, Carlin is informed of a burned body that has washed up onshore, but he dismisses this as just another blast victim. However, when the fact comes out that the body was found before the explosion, Carlin has his best lead, knowing that whoever killed Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton)—and went to great lengths to burn her post-mortem—must've known about the terrorist attack, and may have even caused it. Later, FBI agent Paul Pryzwarra (Val Kilmer) invites Carlin to join a super-secretive, government- sponsored investigative unit that has some hefty surveillance technology at its disposal. Code- named "Snow White," the program allows its operators to see exactly 4 days and 6 hours into the past, from any angle and with full audio. The trick is, they can never rewind and can only view one place at a time. Carlin has the team watch Claire Kuchever's soon-to-be extinguished life for clues, but after getting an intimate glimpse of her personality and innocence, he becomes obsessed with finding a way to save her.
It's no real spoiler to say that "Snow White" is actually a time machine and that Carlin inevitably travels back four days in an attempt to stop Claire's murder and the ferry bombing. Actually, Déjà Vu asks most of the same questions raised more recently by season five of ABC's Lost. Can you change the past? If yes, what happens to the present? Do the time travel mechanics hold to a branching, many-worlds theory, or does the creation of a new timeline completely obliterate the old one? Whereas Lost had a whole season to dwell on the subject, however, Déjà Vu's explanation of time travel phenomenon feels half-hearted and rushed. Dr. Alexander Denny (Adam Goldberg), who leads the unit of chrono-dectectives, tries to explain it to Carlin in the simplest terms possible, by using a sheet of paper to demonstrate how to "fold" time. It's almost as if the film was saying, "look, this technology exists in our movie world, so don't think too hard about it, and just watch what we can do with it."
This attitude—treating time travel as a gimmicky twist on the police procedural genre—never allows the plot to become plausible and leads to a number of anachronisms and moments of sheer scientific stupidity. If I've pieced it together correctly, some of the plot's apparent holes can be filled if you allow for at least three timelines—the film only shows two—but I'm not sure that director Tony Scott even cares about the continuity. From what I've read, writers Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean) claim their original script was airtight, and that Scott made "several hundred small mistakes and eight or nine deadly mistakes." Clearly, there are some regrets about the finished product. And, honestly, Déjà Vu has more tangents than 10th-grade geometry and Japanese fish markets would be put to shame by the number of red herrings on display. In particular, we're led to think that terrorist Carrol Oerstadt, played with crazed conviction by the underused Jim Caviezel, is far more powerful or insightful than he actually is. In reality, he's just a simmering rube, a misguided patriot with delusions of grandeur.
It's not all bad though, and if Déjà Vu had either ditched the time travel or fleshed it out a bit more, the film could have been great. While he doesn't quite nail the scientific aspects, Tony Scott's directing is visually fantastic. The middle of the film features an innovative car chase that has Carlin driving with one eye on the present and the other—quite literally—on the past. Scott trades quick cuts for long, swooping camera motions that trail the cars, and the "Snow White" scenes incorporate some interesting visual effects, including the use of a LIDAR device, which can create an almost pointillist, 3-D digital map. The actors too give it their best, despite the sometimes-silly material. Denzel Washington is a genius at creating empathy, and in Déjà Vu he once again plays the intelligent everyman, focused and capable, but appropriately moved when the situation calls for it. In the end though, Déjà Vu is mostly forgettable. I can picture myself watching TV a few years from now, casually catching the film on TNT, and saying, "I swear I've seen this before."
Déjà Vu Blu-ray, Video Quality
There's so much eye candy in this film that I'm pretty sure my retinas now have cavities. Presented in 1080p, with a VC-1 encoded transfer, Déjà Vu's video quality may not make up for its lackluster narrative, but it sure comes close. As expected from recent Tony Scott productions, the film definitely has a stylized look, but not nearly as overblown as the excesses of Domino. The color palette is lush and mildly oversaturated, giving an almost cross-processed appearance that bumps blue levels and pulls bright whites into warm, yellowish tones. See the summery haze of the opening sequence for reference. When cars and bodies from the ferry come crashing into the Mississippi, there's some beautiful underwater photography that shows the deep blue gradient of the watery depths contrasted against the raging fire above. Contrast is a good word for this transfer, as everything about the image absolutely pops. Overall clarity is spectacular—the ferry explosion is a truly stunning HD moment—and even the tiniest textures, like the stubbly suede of Denzel's jacket, are cleanly detailed. Contrast can be a bit too hot at times, though this— along with skin tones that veer toward yellow—is a stylistic choice more than anything. I noticed a few slight, isolated instances of wavering, but other than that, the film is free of any troublesome transfer issues.
Déjà Vu Blu-ray, Audio Quality
When Déjà Vu's action sequences ramp up, the film's Linear PCM 5.1 track can roar with the best of them. Take the opening ferry bombing, for instance. The rippling explosion thunders and pops with clear concussive blasts, riding a rumbling, LFE earthquake. Cars nose into the water with deep, bubbly plunging sounds, and piercing, directionally accurate screams are cleverly truncated, snuffed out by shrapnel or water. Rescue choppers fly overhead, and the sound of their rotors pans convincingly from back to front and side to side. When the film's audio and image match up in such a bombastic, immersive way, Déjà Vu truly becomes a wild ride. The more pedestrian, expository scenes, however, are nearly barren in contrast. To be fair, there's not a lot going on audio-wise during the "Snow White" scenes, but what is there is rendered cleanly and faithfully. The various whizzes, bleeps, and bloops of the time machine's controls are convincing, and voices are always crisp and well represented. There's also some nice environmental ambience during the sequence in the bayou, with crickets and birds singing in the rears. Though there's a fairly big disparity between the loud and quiet portions of the film, the mix is generally fantastic, and I even rewound several moments to listen to them twice.
Déjà Vu Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This is a great way to present bonus material. By turning Surveillance Window on, you can watch the film with audio commentary by Tony Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer, Bill Marsilii, and Terry Rossio. Periodically, a featurette will interrupt the film and give some appropriate, behind-the-scenes information. There are ten such interruptions—with 37 total minutes of 1080p footage—and they detail everything from the pyrotechnics of the ferry explosion, to the realities of filming in post- Katrina New Orleans. Standout segments include "The Cameras of Déjà Vu," which gives a look at the LIDAR and Time Track cameras used for the "Snow White" footage, and "Split Time Car Chase," where Tony Scott talks about the "Ultimate Arm," a camera boom built on top of an SUV that can swivel around the car and give an unprecedented sense of momentum. The commentary is hit-or-miss, as each speaker was recorded and dubbed in separately. Scott seems kind of ambivalent about the whole picture, and the two writers share an undercurrent of animosity about how their material was handled. Though the behind-the-scenes features are pretty standard movie-making fare, I did enjoy how they were presented as an almost organic part of the film. Do note that you can also select and play them independently from an index in the special features menu.
Deleted Scenes (1080p, 7:56)
Five mostly disposable scenes are presented, with optional commentary by Tony Scott.
Extended Scenes (1080p, 5:26)
There are three extended scenes, also with optional commentary.
This feature allows you to demo three of the film's biggest cinematic moments, from a picture and sound perspective. Do note that the audio is only Dolby Digital, so you're not really getting a full HD experience.
Déjà Vu Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As the film stars Denzel, Jim Caviezel, and Val Kilmer, director Tony Scott reportedly had cast and crew t-shirts made that read: "Malcolm X, Jesus Christ, and Jim Morrison: Déjà Vu. How Can We Fail?" It's a loaded question, so I'll let Jim Morrison answer that one. At one point during the disc's special features, Val Kilmer says that Tony Scott is not a "purely intellectual" director, but is rather "visceral and emotional." Now, that's all well and good if you're making an average crime caper or a mindless summer blockbuster, but I hope you've got your thinking cap on when making a movie about time manipulation. I mean, we casually throw around the phrase, "look, it's not rocket science," but I bet actual rocket scientists replace that with, "come on guys, this isn't time travel." Déjà Vu's biggest stumbling block seems to be the fact that it's too brainy for your run-of-the-mill action enthusiast, but not nearly complex or carefully constructed enough to appease hardcore fans of, say, Primer or Donnie Darko. With some stunning visuals and bold, immersive audio, however, the film does get an impressive Blu-ray treatment, and I'd cautiously recommend the film for anyone who can put aside its somewhat suspect science.
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