Vanilla Sky (Blu-ray)

July 2, 2015 13 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Director Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise team up once again in another striking tale about love — but this time told in the most unconventional of ways. A remake of the 1997 Spanish thriller Open Your Eyes, Vanilla Sky gives viewers that breath of fresh air and gets the wheels turning, while Cruise and company deliver with some of their best performances to date. And all of the above is showcased by way of director Crowe’s unique love of music.

Cruise is David Aames, a young playboy enjoying the life of owning his own magazine company. After inheriting the controlling share of the company from his father, Aames is loaded with fame and fortune. He has yet to find true love, but once he does (in the form of Spanish beauty Sofia Serrano, played by Penelope Cruz), his current obsession (the comely Julie Gianni, done by Cameron Diaz) won’t let him off so easy. In a fit of anger, Julie takes David for a drive and runs the car off the road, killing herself and seriously injuring David. His life seems to take a turn for the better when reconstructive surgery helps his outward appearance, but his joy is short-lived; he’s soon made out to have had a hand in killing Julie, and his grasp on reality soon begins to loosen.

Tom Cruise once again pulls off that combination of boyish charm and powerful drama, struggling to find what his character really wants — sometimes you have to go back to what you do best in order to expand your horizons. Which works because his character in Vanilla Sky is similar to the role he played in Jerry Maguire: Both characters are good at what they do, but aren’t exactly what you’d consider outwardly good people. Cruise definitely knows the role and plays it even more extraordinarily the second time around (and it might even be said that the character is a little more complex, too).

Opposite him, Cruz, who played the same role in Open Your Eyes, does the role once again and just as beautifully — she generated a convincing love story with Cruise that simply danced on the screen. Likewise, Cameron Diaz even was able to transcend her typical Hollywood facade to give the audience something more than her usual one-dimensional performances. And even though Kurt Russell (playing David’s court-appointed attorney) wasn’t a major player, he was able to take the little that he had and prove that there is life after Soldier.

Of course, these actors would’ve gone nowhere if not for Cameron Crowe’s team. The film is original and provocative enough to get the mind moving during the show and keep it rolling even afterwards at the Starbucks down the street, where you’ll doubtlessly want to talk it over with your friends. Alejandro Amenabar (director of the domestic sleeper hit The Others) and Mateo Gil created the concept that definitely has the more daring foreign undertones not normally seen on America’s conventional stage, and Crowe was the director for the job because he has that knack for authentic storytelling.

Asking for realism in film is like asking to know the meaning of life — there’s only a million possible answers and the nagging doubt that there may not even be an answer. But somehow Crowe finesses the project just right to come off as convincing, and just as he did in Jerry Maguire and especially in Almost Famous, he’s able to let the music tell the story; every song is thoughtfully placed, and there are even some moments when the soundtrack takes precedence over the on-screen action.

Cinematographer John Toll (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Almost Famous) and editor Joe Hutshing put their talents to work, aiding Crowe in creating a complex, non-linear, picturesque feature that has a style rarely captured. The title gains meaning through Toll’s stunning images that mimic Monet. Even the makeup head, Michelle Burke, did up Cruise’s disfigured face to look not only realistic, but also a travesty.

The film is slightly lacking toward the end, where there might be a little too much wrap-up, like the classic Scooby-Doo mysteries where the bad guy reveals his plan while the good guy musters his strength to untie the ropes that hold him down. But with this point aside, Vanilla Sky is a film that will have the audience thinking introspectively — just think: “When are you the happiest?”

Video: How’s it look?

As much as I like the film, I’m sad to say that it’s been nearly a dozen years since I’ve seen it in any way, shape or form. I remember watching it on DVD when it first came out (this would have been early 2002) and wasn’t too pleased with the way it looked. Time has passed and now we’ve got the long-awaited (and oft-delayed) film on Blu-ray with better, but not mind-blowingly better, results. The main thing that I noticed and the thing that’s always bothered me is the persistence of grain. Yes, I realize there are some process shots, the entire final scene was done via green screen and so forth, but I think we’ve all become so spoiled by the precise, razor sharp, picture-perfect presentation set by so many other films. Granted, the 1.85:1 AVC HD image isn’t “bad” by any means, it’s just not up to the same standard that I’d thought it would be. Colors are a bit on the muted side, though detail seems to be improved over the DVD version.

Audio: How’s it sound?

We get an enhanced DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack and, being a Cameron Crowe film, we can pretty much assume that a good soundtrack will be included and we’re not let down here. Vanilla Sky is a very surreal movie and as such, has a few instances in which the surrounds are kicking and we get the full broadband of sound. One of my favorite scenes is when Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” is playing in the background and if you’ve ever heard the song, you will appreciate the dynamic of the first few notes. While the movie is more oriented to the action going on the screen as opposed to the speakers, it’s understandable that the soundtrack isn’t too powerful. Still, it’s a good-sounding track and one that more than serves its purpose here.

Supplements: What are the extras?

A majority of these supplements are recycled from the previous Paramount DVD, but one of the main draws of this on Blu-ray (aside from the fact that is indeed finally on the format) is the alternate ending, which is six minutes longer than the theatrical cut of the film. The DVD certainly wasn’t lacking when it came to supplemental materials, so it’s nice to see them make the leap to this HD version.

  • Alternate Ending – If you’re looking for the culprit as to why this was delayed so long on the Blu-ray format, well, look no further. Crowe wanted to include this ending on this disc and while I won’t give away what it is, it adds a few minutes to the film. I personally preferred the original ending, but that’s just me. And, as always, it’s nice to have this included.
  • Audio Commentary – Screenwriter/Director Cameron Crowe and Composer Nancy Wilson deliver a pretty good commentary track here as he has done with his Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire tracks (though it should be noted that he only did commentary tracks for the two titles once they were re-released as Special Editions and not the first time around). The track is full of information and though Crowe does tend to take control, it’s ok because we know that it’s essentially his (and Cruise’s) movie.
  • Deleted Scenes – New to this Blu-ray are a baker’s dozen of deleted scenes with all but three having optional commentary from Crowe.
  • Mask Test – Another new feature is this “test” in which it shows the painstaking process as to exactly which mask was used for the film. Crowe provides optional commentary.
  • Kurt Russell Single Take – This eight minute sequence is also new and shows the wide range of emotion that Kurt Russell brought to the ending scene. He breaks down in laughter a few times, but with Crowe’s optional commentary – we can tell how well-acted it was. Crowe also lets us know that Russell got a few tips from Kate Hudson, having worked with Crowe on Almost Famous the year before.
  • Prelude to a Dream – A 6 minute featurette that tells (and is narrated) how Cameron Crowe came up with the idea for the story. It’s based on a 1997 movie called Open Your Eyes and this shows how he cast and wrote the movie.
  • Hitting it Hard – This shows the very tiring press junket that Penelope Cruz, Tom Cruise and Cameron Crowe had while literally going around the world promoting the movie. Visit Australia, Italy, France, Great Britian and Japan with the gang as they show us how to really promote a “Tom Cruise” movie!
  • An Interview with Paul McCartney – An interview with the one and only Paul McCartney who performed the title song from the movie, “Vanilla Sky”. Having just lost the great George Harrison, it’s nice to see one of the two remaining Beatles and Paul is good to see in his interview here. It’s not that long and looks to be taken from an episode of Entertainment Tonight.
  • Gag Reel – No further explanation necessary.
  • Music Video – “Africa Shox” by Leftfield/Afrika Bambaataa and still unknown to me is why they didn’t include the “Vanilla Sky” video if they went ahead and had a Paul McCartney interview.
  • Photo Gallery with Audio Introduction by Photographer Neal Preston – A nice little feature with several shots from the movie. Plenty of eye candy for everyone!
  • Theatrical Trailers – An “Unreleased” teaser trailer and the International Theatrical Trailer are both included.

The Bottom Line

Well, the wait is over. Vanilla Sky is on Blu-ray at last. Is it better than it was when I first saw it? A bit. But not much. It’s not Cameron Crowe’s best film, but it does have its moments.  This Blu-ray delivers the goods in terms of supplements and it’s nice to see that Paramount (on behalf of Warner, who is distributing a lot of older Paramount catalog titles) has even added several new features. I usually don’t comment on cover art, but one of my staff tells me that Crowe personally picked this art over the familiar Tom Cruise, shaggy-haired-looking-to-the-left-of-center-with-sky-in-the-background cover (see below).  Ok, I can deal.

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