[box cover]

The Cell: Platinum Series

New Line Home Video

Starring Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vicent D'onofrio,
Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jake Weber, and Dylan Baker

Written by Mark Protosevich
Directed by Tarsem Singh

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Review by Joe Barlow                    

A brief overview of New Line Cinema's The Cell is a difficult — if not downright impossible — undertaking. Even knowing where to begin is problematic, for the film is so rich in tone, atmosphere and story that a mere summary seems woefully insufficient. I could praise its landmark visuals, its cerebral storyline, or its fine acting, directing and editing, but perhaps the best way to describe The Cell would be to simply call it the most visually engrossing and disturbing film since Alan Parker's Pink Floyd The Wall.

The story revolves around a scientist named Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez), who possesses the ability to enter the minds of other people, a technique she's been using to communicate with a young boy named Edward (Colton James), who has been in a coma for most of his short life. But when serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio) falls victim to a coma of his own, with one of his victims still unaccounted for, Catherine must enter the murderer's psyche and discover where the girl is being held. Carl's not about to go quietly, however, and the battle of wits between the two characters results in a dreamy, Nightmare on Elm Street-type atmosphere where, literally, anything goes.

The Cell is a compelling story, but what really sets it apart — and makes it an incredible DVD experience to boot — are its mesmerizing special effects, which, unlike certain recent Hollywood blockbusters I could name, actually serve the plot rather than merely showing off the movie's budget. While the locales and images seen here recall such visionary cinematic landmarks as What Dreams May Come and Dark City, the focus remains firmly on the characters and their interactions, rather than visual glory. It's this simple distinction that elevates the film from yet another cyber-thriller into a cinematic extravaganza that will stay with the viewer long after the end credits begin to roll.

Other nuances add to the movie's considerable visceral power, including a dissonant score by composer Howard Shore that sets an appropriately off-kilter mood from the very first frame. Mark Protosevich's dark screenplay also serves to heighten the disturbing tone director Tarsem Singh creates with lighting and mood. The music, script, and direction could not be more perfectly matched, resulting in one of the most cohesively disturbing viewing experiences to hit DVD this year.

None of which is to say, of course, that The Cell is a perfect film. A couple of the performances — most notably Vince Vaughn, who barely seems to be going through the motions in his role as an FBI agent assigned to rescue Catherine from the nightmare landscape of Carl's psyche — don't ring true. The dialogue is occasionally trite and ham-fisted, and, especially towards the end of the movie, some of the sequences start to feel a bit like padding, rather than employing the minimalist storytelling approach featured in the rest of the film. But none of this changes the fact that The Cell is a brilliant — albeit flawed — cinematic masterpiece.

New Line has proven themselves one of the most consistent manufacturers of high-quality DVDs, and The Cell: Platinum Series is no exception. In addition to an astonishingly clear anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) transfer — one of the best I've seen, incidentally — the disc boasts two feature-length commentary tracks (one with director Singh, and another with the production team), an isolated music score, eight deleted scenes (with optional director commentary), a 12-minute overview of Singh's pre-Cell career, a visual-effects vignette (in which, by employing their DVD player's multi-angle capability, viewers can watch six of the film's special effects sequences make their way from storyboard to finished product), two theatrical trailers, a Cell-related game, and more.

— Joe Barlow

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