Let me start off by saying that “The Cell” is not for the timid. It can be as disturbing as it is visually stunning. On the surface this is a serial killer thriller but in reality the film is much more. Elements of suspense and graphic horror combine with a science fiction premise that one can enter the dreams of another person. It’s hard not to make comparisons with the 1980’s film “Dreamscape”; both have created elaborate larger than life dream worlds where if you die in your dream you die in reality. “The Cell” goes much further with its stark contrasts of often gritty environments followed by lavish and brightly colored settings.
Carl (D’Onofrio) is a serial killer who drowns woman who he keeps caged in an aquarium-like room that slowly fills with water. Carl collapses in a coma just as the feds catch up with him. They don’t know where his latest victim is. They only know that in 40 hours she will drown.
Enter Catherine (Lopez) who has mastered a process to enter another person’s mind. She enters Carl’s thoughts and wonders a labyrinth of his sadomasochistic world. She finds clues that eventually lead to the trapped girl.
“The Cell” is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. If ever a movie relied heavily on ambient sounds to create atmosphere this is it. Sound adjustments will be difficult because there are many times in the soundtrack where it falls virtually silent and suddenly your ears will be pummeled by an explosion of sound. There is no question that this mix enhances the scenes inside of Carl’s mind. After several viewings I am still hearing things I hadn’t noticed before. Dialogue is usually clear and well centered. There are times when the actors are speaking so softly that you might find it harder to hear.
There are 2 audio commentary tracks… the main of which is by Tarsem Singh (director). This track is very wordy and he barely stops to take a breath. I found it particularly amusing to hear how annoyed he was with one of the victim actresses. He spends tons of time letting us know how bad he thought she was. That was more brutal honesty than these commentaries usually provide. The production team makes up the 2nd commentary. This is the track for you if your interest lies mostly in the technical side of the film’s construction. It is obvious they were not recorded together so overlap is common.
The film is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The true genius of this film can be best summed up in one word: Color. Seldom have I seen such stunning and vivid use of colors and hues. Carl’s wonderful cape melting into the water is pristine. There is no edge distortion and the print is as clean as they come. Blacks are deep and hauntingly accurate. This DVD simply must be viewed on a good monitor. Singh uses the film like an artist uses canvas. Your screen will overflow with every color of the rainbow all accurately reproduced.
There are 8 deleted scenes. My advice is to view them without the optional commentary by Singh. He just wears me out. They are trivial and mostly just points of interest to elements already expressed in the film.
There is a collection of vignettes showing how 6 of the larger effects shots were created. You can use the alternative angle option for these shorts. “Style Over Substance” is a short documentary with the usual interviews. Mostly it deals with the vision of Singh and may come across as a bit self indulgent. The menus are elaborate yet easy to use.
The rest of the features include trailers, storyboards, and cast and crew bios.
“The Cell” weathered more than its share of controversy. There were outcries over the dissected horse and complaints of the baptismal symbols. Is it a good film? Visually it is incredible, but the pace can be slow. The acting wasn’t going to win any awards and the dialogue doesn’t seem to connect most of the time. Vince Vaughn said it best: “Strange is par for the course around here.”