Tarsem Singh’s controversial science fiction thriller The Cell has a fairly deserved reputation for being quite dark and heavy, but for the director it was an altogether different experience. Singh actually found a scene such as the film’s final, bloody confrontation between psychologist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) and serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio)… hilarious.
That’s just a taste of the ebullient, if not always intelligible (his lightly accented words are often rendered unclear by his tendency to talk fast), Singh on his commentary track, one of two on New Line’s Platinum Series DVD. Singh speaks enthusiastically and rather honestly about his film, in which Catherine literally enters the mind of the comatose Stargher to locate his last victim. His love of the medium shines through while frankly discussing his dislike of the actress who plays said victim (stemming from a lie she told about her swimming ability–which was a crucial consideration in casting), lapses in plot logic, and how he knowingly shunned realism for purposes of drama.
However, one doesn’t get the fantasy-over-realism vibe from a couple of interactive features elsewhere on the disc. One is an empathy test designed to measure one’s ability to relate to others; while clearly labeled as being for entertainment purposes, there is an earnestness to the background literature provided that goes against that disclaimer. Presented with no disclaimer and with all seriousness are a wealth of facts about the human brain, presented under the umbrella heading “Brain Map.” There’s no denying the value of this information, but it gives the disc a slight air of self-importance.
After all, the film is a complete fantasy–a gorgeously mounted one at that (pristinely captured on the disc), and the other features get down to the nitty gritty of what fans want to see: how this stunning technical achievement came to be. The disc’s second commentary is a clip job assembling thoughts from director of photography Paul Laufer, production designer Tom Folden, costume designer April Napier, makeup supervisor Michelle Burke, visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug, and composer Howard Shore (whose score is also featured in an isolated audio track). This track comprehensively covers all the technical bases in a lively fashion though the last comments Shore makes sound as if they were read off of a script. Even more detail about the film’s impressive visual effects are offered in individual spotlights on several key sequences; these use DVD’s multi-angle capability, offering viewers a choice between video of interviews with principal technicians, or listening to the interview while viewing storyboard and concept art or on-the-set footage.
In lieu of a typical making-of featurette, there’s a piece called “Style as Substance,” which is basically a ten-minute collection of cast and crew interviews complimenting Singh’s unique vision–a sentiment already expressed in the techie commentary and visual effects segments. This feature also points up a big shortcoming in this otherwise characteristically strong package from New Line: the virtual absence of any thoughts from the actors, whose presence is reduced to the Singh-praising soundbites in this featurette and the film itself. The lack of an actor commentary is understandable, but at least more substantial interview footage, even if culled from the electronic press kit, would have been welcome.
Specifications: 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Surround; English subtitles; English closed captioning; DVD-ROM features.