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Blu-ray Review Vanilla Sky Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Ken_McAlinden

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Vanilla Sky Blu-ray Review

Hot on the heals of his critically lauded Almost Famous, writer/director Caneron Crowe assembled a lot of the same crew to film an English language adaptation of Alejandro Amenábar's Abre Los Ojos. While Hollywood adaptations of successful foreign language films have a long, rocky, and usually unsatisfactory history, the musically inclined Crowe approached Vanilla Sky like a "cover version" on which he would graft his own style and throw in a new wrinkle by casting arguably the world's biggest movie star in the central role of a man psychologically devastated when his vanity leads to terrible disfigurement.



Studio: Warner Brothers

Distributed By: N/A

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Rating: R

Run Time: 2 Hr. 16 Min. (Theatrical Version) 2 Hr. 22 Min. (Alternate Ending Version)

Package Includes: Blu-ray

Standard sized single disc Blu-ray case

Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: A

Release Date: 06/30/2015

MSRP: $19.98




The Production Rating: 3.5/5

Vanilla Sky (2001)

 

Directed by: Cameron Crowe

 

Starring: Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Timothy Spall, Tilda Swinton, Michael Shannon

 

In Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise plays David Aames, an heir to a publishing empire in Manhattan who apparently "has it all" and has every intention of enjoying it. When his closest friend, Brian (Lee), brings a date, Sofia (Cruz - recreating her role from Abre Los Ojos), to a party in David's honor, he thinks nothing of stealing her way and ends up spending the night at her apartment. The next morning, he is confronted by Julie (Diaz), a recent sexual conquest, who convinces him to get in her car. Over the course of the car ride Julie gradually reveals herself to be both jealous and very angry culminating in her driving the car off of a bridge, killing herself and injuring and facially disfiguring David. David wrestles with his injuries and eventually attempts to re-establish his relationship with Sofia, while at the same time, "flash forward" scenes show him in a prison being encouraged to discuss some unidentified personal events with a psychiatrist (Russell). As David progresses in re-establishing a connection to Sofia, he finds himself gradually losing his grasp on reality.

 

Alejandro Amenábar's Abre Los Ojos was something of a cinematic magic trick, and while it is not unheard of for two magicians to do variations of the same trick, it is usually not advisable unless the second magician does so with an elevated level of style and skill that puts a completely fresh spin on it. In the case of Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe does manage to add a few new wrinkles, inclusive of his usual impeccable use of pop music and the inspired casting of full-on movie star Tom Cruise in the role of David. Seeing Cruise as David punished for his vanity and stripped of his looks adds a layer of meta-commentary on celebrity that works within the story's framework.

 

Aside from that, though, it plays as a lesser and somewhat bloated variation on its superior predecessor. Crowe lays a lot more track than Amenábar pointing towards the film's ultimate resolution and also draws out the exposition in the final reel so that all of the film's themes ultimately feel double underlined and yellow-highlighted. Even if you have not seen the previous film, it feels like one is not being trusted as an audience member, which turns a finale that should be a mind blowing moment of satori for both David and the audience into a protracted bore.

 

That being said, the strong cast and central conceit of Vanilla Sky is interesting enough to merit at least a rental if one has never seen Alejandro Amenábar's Abre Los Ojos. It is arguably even more interesting for fans of the original since it includes variations on that film's themes and approaches to the story that are interesting even if not superior.


Theatrical Trailer


Video Rating: 3/5  3D Rating: NA

The 1080p AVC-encoded presentation of Vanilla Sky approximates the film's original aspect ration by filling the entire 16:9 frame. The overall look of the film on disc is disappointingly soft. There does not appear to be obvious grain filtering, as it is plentiful and overall consistent, but it looks like the element used was a couple more generations removed from the original negative than I am used to seeing for a Blu-ray release of a 21st century film production. The film was shot by Crowe and cinematographer John Toll in a consistently flat style so as not to tip-off viewers about the nature of the fractured reality David seems to be experiencing, but I find it hard to believe the look on disc is consistent with what they were trying to achieve. There are certain scenes where exposure appears to be pushed gently, but never so much and so consistently that I would expect the film to look this soft and grainy. Then again, I have no recent memory of how the film looked theatrically, so I cannot definitively weigh in on whether this is the intended look or not.

 

Note, the alternate ending for the film is derived from a print source inferior to the rest of the film. More about that appears in the Special Features portion of this review.



Audio Rating: 4/5

The film's original soundtrack is presented via a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that really benefits from the lossless encoding, The film's mix is very deeply layered and carefully constructed, and all of the inherent subtleties are rendered accurately for a home viewing environment. I am withholding a half star just because I would have liked the mix to take a bit more advantage of the full 5.1 sound field, but other than that, I was impressed and have no complaints. Alternate language Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are available in French and Spanish.



Special Features Rating: 4.5/5

The Blu-ray release of this film was held up for more than a year so that Cameron Crowe could assemble additional special features above and beyond the generous amount already included on the previous SD DVD release of the film. New special features are highlighted below in red text.

 

Alternate Ending This Blu-ray release includes the option to view the film with the ending of the film that was shown to preview audiences. It branches from the middle of Tilda Swinton’s one and only scene. It expands the film’s conclusion by five and a half minutes. The added scenes give Kurt Russell and Michael Shannon a lot more to do. Content wise, it gets to the same ultimate exposition, but wrestles a lot more with the themes of guilt and questioning reality.

 

Audio Commentary by Cameron Crowe with Nancy Wilson - is a full length screen specific commentary from Crowe with occasional interjections (verbal and musical) from composer (and Crowe’s wife) Nancy Wilson. This is the same extensive and informative commentary that appeared on the original DVD release of the film with additional commentary from Crowe appended to the alternate ending version.

 

Prelude to a Dream (6:15) is a video essay narrated by Cameron Crowe discussing the conception and production of the film. Narrated by director Cameron Crowe, it includes behind the scenes, casting, and rehearsal footage. He blends both practical and philosophical musings

 

Hitting it Hard (10:06) is a featurette focusing on the extensive international press tour for the movie. It includes candid shot on video footage as well as occasional excerpts from TV appearances. It actually conveys the exhaustive pace and chaos associated with these promotional tours, and aspect of releasing high profile movies most folks would rarely contemplate, in a visceral and immersive way.

 

An Interview with Paul McCartney (1:36) is a brief excerpt from an Entertainment Tonight segment in which Paul McCartney discusses how he conceived of and recorded the title track for the film that kicked off the closing credits.

 

Gag Reel (5:30) is an above average set of amusing outtakes and flubs from the film’s production. It benefits from a bit more attention being paid to editorial detail than usual for such features including cutting it to a music underscore. This was previously available as an "Easter egg" on the SD DVD edition, but is not hidden in any way with this Blu-ray release.

 

Music Video: “Afrika Shox” by Leftfield/Afrika Bambaata (3:59) incorporates footage from the film into a fast paced video for the generation spanning collaboration of electro funk pioneer Bambaata and electronic music artist Leftfield.

 

Photo Gallery with Audio Introduction by Photographer Neal Preston (2:51 intro followed by an 18:13 still photo scroll that users can also move through with the chapter advance and reverse buttons on their remotes ). In the intro, on-set production photographer Preston discusses his long relationship with Cameron Crowe, Crowe’s fondness for capturing candid behind the scenes shots of his production, working in New York, and the eerie Times Square sequence.

 

Mask Test (3:24) is viewable with or without commentary by Cameron Crowe and includes several minutes of footage of tests for the prosthetic mask worn by Cruise in the movie.

 

Kurt Russell Single Take (6:10) is viewable with or without commentary by Cameron Crowe. It shows a long take from Russell’s emotional and deconstructive rooftop scene near the film’s conclusion. It is an interesting insight into what went into what became a much shorter, but emotionally affecting scene in the finished film.

 

Theatrical Trailers includes two promos cut together for the film:

  • Unreleased Teaser Trailer (1:43) is an arty trailer with minimal dialog cut to Chemical Brothers and Mint Royale music
  • International Trailer (2:51) is a lengthy trailer that lays out a lot more of the plot including the mandatory for the era inclusion of Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill for the parts of the trailer emphasizing the love story.

 

Deleted Scenes (23:19 w/Play All) Is a collection of 13 deleted or alternate scenes viewable with or without commentary from Cameron Crowe on the first ten

  • Be Real
  • Two Daughters
  • Career Advice
  • Dog Porno
  • Ebooks
  • Great Sex
  • He Gets it All
  • Livin’ the Dream
  • The Pleasure of Sofia
  • Memorial
  • Attention to Detail
  • “Fix Your Face” Jump
  • L. E. Infomercial



Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Vanilla Sky does not have quite the impact of its predecessor, Alejandro Amenábar's Abre Los Ojos, but it is worth at least a single viewing due to the intriguing high concept and excellent performances by the principle cast. Viewers interested in peeling back the layers of Writer/Director Cameron Crowe's elaborate construction and those interested in comparing and contrasting with Amenábar's original, may want to view it even more than that. It is presented on disc with surprisingly soft video, a nice lossless rendering of its detailed audio mix, and a generous complement of extras including a new to disc alternate ending.


Reviewed By: Ken_McAlinden


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Nick*Z

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Warner continues to do half-hearted justice to their back catalog. It's really a sin to see so many worthy films get the bare minimum in remastering; Warner's new outlook more focused on quantity of releases than quality. Even so, their quantity lags too. Too many truly outstanding movies from their MGM/Warner/Selznick/RKO/Samuel Goldwyn holdings are MIA. It takes time and money to do catalog releases justice, mostly due to improper storage of elements overlooked by past regimes. But Warner's catalog is so vast it's staggering to decided how and where best to begin the work to preserve and remaster. I've said it before, so I'll say it again - NO one studio ought to be holding this much catalog under one umbrella because there isn't either enough time or enough money to adequately spread around and get these movies out there looking the way they should.


Had the old MGM/UA survived I have no doubt they would have had a focus on their catalog, just as Paramount should have hung on to their rights and invested themselves in releasing their catalog. Warner seems to think it can do everything on its own. It can't! We're entering a critical period where back catalog elements are in very grave danger of eroding to a state where no restoration work will be possible for future generations.


We haven't the luxury to simply wait and see what the future will hold. Vanilla Sky isn't too far gone but it does not look anywhere near the way it should. Why? Clearly, Warner thought it a lesser title in its catalog, unnecessary to receive the 'full Monty treatment. So why release it at all? Well, because too many rabid fans have been clamoring for it in hi-def. So, Warner went the quick and dirty route. You want it? You got it! Do real fans of Vanilla Sky want it looking like this? Decidedly not, and those with only marginal interest in the title will probably not want to collect it at all. So, what niche market did this release satisfy. Answer: NONE! Badly done is badly done - period!!!
 

Ken_McAlinden

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This release was put on hold for several months so that the alternate ending, deleted scenes, etc. could be added, making the authoring of the disc significantly more complex. It is hard to dismiss it as "quick and dirty" from that perspective.
The end result seems to be a combination of extraordinary effort on the special features and a ball drop somewhere along the line on the video presentation. Whether the problem started with what Paramount gave Warner to work with or further down the mastering/encoding chain, I can't say.
 

Josh Steinberg

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I don't mean to contradict Ken (and thanks for the great write-up by the way, I really appreciated especially your notes on what was new to this disc vs what was on the old DVD), but the picture quality looked good to me - I wasn't disappointed. I haven't seen the film in theaters since its original release but there was nothing about the Blu-ray that looked "wrong" to me. Obviously that's a very unscientific observation on my part and I don't mean to dismiss these concerns, but for what it's worth, from my perspective this is a satisfying release.
 

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