Vanilla Sky

January 28, 2012 12 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 (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) 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 (Coneheads), 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 does it look?

As much as I hate to say it, I was extremely disappointed with the quality of video presented in Vanilla Sky. The movie is brand new to DVD and as such, should benefit from the "new" technology that has come around in the last few years. For example, I was watching my copy of "GoodFellas" that was one of the first DVD’s released. Granted, it’s not enhanced for 16:9 TV’s but I seem to remember that the quality was fairly good despite this fact. I put Vanilla Sky just a notch above where I would "GoodFellas". In most every scene, there is some shimmering going on and a LOT of noise in the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. I don’t know if this is how it’s supposed to be presented or not, but color me un-impressed. Some scenes did look good, as expected, though. Flesh tones were accurate and no sign of edge enhancement could be found. So while I tend to think that there might just be too much stuff packed on this one little disc I’m at a loss as to how this looks. It’s watchable, don’t get me wrong, but I hold Paramount up to a higher standard that they didn’t meet here.

Audio: How does it sound?

The included Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty active here and it has a lot of room to get all of those wonderful songs in. Being a Cameron Crowe music, 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 of the song. 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?

What we can expect from a rather high-profile release from Paramount is a disc that has not a lot, but more than a few extras. It’s not often that they (Paramount) go "all out" for a DVD release, but this isn’t a bad effort. The first, and most notable, feature is the feature-length commentary with Screenwriter/Director Cameron Crowe and Composer Nancy Wilson. Crowe delivers 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. 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. Still, it’s a nice feature and good to have on the disc. A music video are included from the soundtrack, "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. A few trailers are also included, an "Unreleased" teaser trailer and the International Theatrical Trailer, both in 5.1 sound. This leads us to the Photo Gallery with an audio introduction by Photographer Neal Preston. It’s a nice little feature with several shots from the movie. Plenty of eye candy for everyone! Lastly, two featurettes are included. The first, "Prelude to a Dream" is 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. A little longer featurette is "Hitting it Hard" which shows the very tiring schedule 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!

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