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Deja Vu DVD Review

Déjà Vu (2006) movie poster - click to buy Deja Vu

Theatrical Release: November 22, 2006 / Running Time: 126 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Tony Scott

Cast: Denzel Washington (Doug Carlin), Paula Patton (Claire Kuchever), Val Kilmer (Andrew Pryzwarra), Jim Caviezel (Caroll Oerstadt), Adam Goldberg (Denny), Elden Henson (Gunnars), Erika Alexander (Shanti), Bruce Greenwood (Jack McCready), Rick Hutchman (Agent Stalhuth), Matt Craven (Larry Minuti), Donna Scott (Beth), Elle Fanning (Abbey), Brian Howe (Medical Examiner)

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The title Deja Vu and the trailers for this recent film give potential viewers certain expectations. These expectations appear to be met quickly, as the Touchstone and Jerry Bruckheimer company logos as well as select opening credits
are repeated in such a way that you're not sure you saw what you think you did. But the movie that follows these mood-establishing minutes is different and much better than the murky memory mystery anticipated.

On Fat Tuesday morning in post-Katrina New Orleans, a ferry containing hordes of navy soldiers explodes, resulting in many fiery deaths. Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington), a local officer of the federal Bureau of ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosions), is assigned to the case, which is promptly deemed a terrorist act. Initially, the observant Carlin seems to be part of a criminal investigation common to today's primetime television (thanks largely to Bruckheimer's "CSI" and spin-offs). Fellow no-nonsense investigators (Bruce Greenwood, Val Kilmer) and he begin pooling clues and posing theories. Then, Carlin joins a secret team handling the case and things suddenly feel a lot like the paranoia-fueled Enemy of the State, the prior union of Touchstone, Bruckheimer, and director Tony Scott.

In "Deja Vu", Denzel Washington plays ATF officer Doug Carlin, who has a knack for piecing together forensic evidence, in a slightly inconsistent, but largely good leading performance. Tracking the murder of this woman, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), may be the key to cracking the ferry explosion case.

Amidst the high-tech gadgetry and satellite surveillance is a device like no other, which allows a thorough recreation of past events. Alas, this window into the past comes with limitations; due to the demands of image-rendering, it only shows footage from 4¼ days ago and it does so in a steady stream, prohibiting rewinding and fast-forwarding, even while allowing viewers to move around to witness any location as it was at the recent time. At this point, clearly, Deja Vu needs to be granted some artistic license. For all the advanced technology that now exists, nothing comes close to approximating such an event-recreation process. Audience speculation doesn't go ignored, however. It's vocalized in Carlin's curiosity which moves the film from crime drama to science fiction.

While the genre shift occurs just a bit before the hour mark (roughly halfway into the film), there is no change in tone or consistency. Deja Vu proceeds to cover the exhaustive probe into the ferry explosion and an abduction/murder of a young woman that may be pivotal to it. Carlin and company are able to relive the final moments of the victim (Paula Patton) while hoping they will bring them closer to the unstable miscreant behind both heinous acts. Only, the device that was essentially a time machine on video? It's an actual time machine.

Scientists (Adam Goldberg, right) and law enforcement (Val Kilmer) combine to oversee a top-secret device that may be unparalleled in solving crimes. "Passion of the Christ" star Jim Caviezel has a very un-Jesus part as the tell-all suspect Caroll Oerstadt.

Deja Vu takes the always-interesting concept of time travel and puts a unique spin on it. While it is nearly as imaginative and inspired as Back to the Future or 12 Monkeys, on the surface, it appears to be (and was essentially advertised as) just another Jerry Bruckheimer crime drama. The mix of realism (Bruckheimer and Scott exhibit enough restraint to keep this from being hyper-realistic) with fantastical elements works far better than you'd suspect.
Suspension of disbelief is required and not necessarily earned, but once submitted, Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio's clever script yields a compelling and exciting time. The film even gets away with things that border on hokey by playing them out as anything but.

As a result, elements common to Bruckheimer's repertoire -- men being men in the face of tough situations, a partner's death, an everyman protagonist -- mesh surprisingly well with grander themes (physics, religion, fate), which are considered but not explored in pretentious, question-answering ways. Aspects of Deja Vu can't easily be classified as Bruckheimer or better; there is an affecting opening blast, what is probably the first car chase divided by time, and genuine emotion to Carlin's yearning to solve a crime without tragedy lingering. It's the type of movie which lends itself to close repeat viewings, dissections, and discussions. These things are inherent to cinema that challenges the space-time continuum. They're fairly rare for films from this recognizable producer, though the commoner's mentality that has long marked Bruckheimer's work is becoming less applicable as he and some of his regularly-enlisted directors become better-rounded filmmakers.

Deja Vu merited a mere PG rating in Canada and is largely void of profanity and sex. Still, grisly images and intense moments, coupled with the dark subject matter, justify the U.S.'s PG-13 classification, making this best for teens and up.

Buy Deja Vu on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: April 24, 2007
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase with Embossed, Holographic Cardboard Slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

DVD presents Deja Vu exclusively in its 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 displays, and without any major trouble. Of course, that isn't counting deliberate anomalies that convey surveillance/satellite imagery and its shortcomings. Colors aren't quite as stylized as they are on some Bruckheimer films; the palette has good range. On scenes without visual gimmicks, sharpness and clarity are terrific. Large televisions will reveal quite a bit of grain, but this appears to fall into a deliberate visual style.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack cannot be faulted in any way. It offers aural clarity and a nice amount of directionality. Some may lament the lack of a DTS version, but then how else could an upgrade improve upon this?

Val Kilmer listens intently to a story about an Oklahoma City turtle in this deleted/extended scene. Actress Paula Patton (daughter-in-law of Alan Thicke) walks happily through post-Katrina New Orleans in one of ten Surveillance Window featurettes. Denzel is on the case in this stretch of the stylized, animated Main Menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The first and most substantial bonus, "Surveillance Window", encourages viewers to "go back in time and experience behind-the-scenes moments." Though the package makes no mention of it, the central element of this supplement is a feature-length audio commentary which patches together remarks from director Tony Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and writer Bill Marsilii. It's an informative track, which gladly says more about dramatic intentions ("science fact") than it does about technical how-we-did-it matters.

At ten different points, the track jumps to brief making-of vignettes that explore a specific subject: standout action sequences, the protagonist, visual effects, filming in devastated New Orleans, stunts, and so on. They usually correspond to that point of the film and mix on-location footage with a variety of cast/crew interview comments.
While these ten featurettes can also be viewed individually or altogether (running 37:13) on their own, the only way to experience the commentary is with these programmed interruptions, which can't even be chapter-skipped. That might irritate commentary buffs, but those looking for a complete, tidy production overview might appreciate what they get, as long they can devote the time required (2:43:39).

Rounding out the platter are five deleted scenes (8:15) and three extended scenes (5:35), presented in widescreen. A few deletions are really extensions, so the distinction is curious. Par for a Bruckheimer movie, these look just as polished as they would have in the final film. In fact, based on the producer's penchant for extended versions, they could end up there one day. Here, they're presented with insightful optional commentary from director Tony Scott. Most interestingly, he elaborates on the one extension that would have given the film an R rating, while noting the MPAA's growing leniency towards violence.

The 16x9-enhanced animated menus aspire to recreate some of the surveillance imagery which figure largely in the film. Before the main menu loads, there are auto-playing previews for "Kyle XY": The Complete First Season and The Queen, and against illegal downloading. The first two are also found on the Sneak Peeks menu.

Strap on your goggles (or goggle, as the case may be), it's a car chase across time! Come on, you can't have a Jerry Bruckheimer movie without an explosion.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Those expecting a standard crime drama or more of the fast-paced action typical of the director and producer's past five collaborations might be pleasantly surprised to discover Deja Vu is better. With an atypical application of science fiction, a strong premise is skillfully executed. The usual Bruckheimer spectacle and suspense are accompanied by pathos, an underplayed romance, and high levels of intrigue. In short, this is a fun and fairy intelligent movie. It easily surpasses the producer's more violent and mindless efforts that struck the box office gold Deja Vu didn't.

The fine DVD delivers expert picture and sound, a commentary which expands beyond the film with focused behind-the-scenes short videos, and a worthwhile group of deleted scenes. It may not be the perfect package, but it's plenty sufficient for a film you definitely ought to discover.

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Also available on Blu-ray Disc

Related Reviews:
Crimson Tide: Unrated Extended Edition • Enemy of the State: Unrated Extended Edition • Remember the Titans: Director's Cut
The Prestige • The Guardian • Stay Alive: Unrated Director's Cut • Eight Below • Invincible • Step Up
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest • Aladdin: Platinum Edition • Treasure Planet
National Treasure • King Arthur: Director's Cut • Glory Road • Con Air: Unrated Extended Edition

Related Interview:
Click to read UD's exclusive interview with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the writers of all three "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.
Deja Vu writer/executive producer Terry Rossio and executive producer Ted Elliott
(writers of Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin, Shrek, The Mask of Zorro and Treasure Planet)

Related Previews:
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (in theaters May 25, 2007)
National Treasure: The Book of Secrets (in theaters December 21, 2007)

Reviewed April 7, 2007.