Blu Reviewed: The Cell

Last week, The Cell finally got a proper blu-ray release. Check out our review of the disc.

In the year 2000, Indian music video director Tarsem Singh unleashed the science fiction thriller The Cell on unsuspecting audiences and took them on a journey unlike anything they had seen or experienced before: a virtual reality journey into the surreal and visually arresting mindscape of a serial killer.  Starring Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D’Onofrio and Vince Vaughn, the film concerns a team of scientists working with an experimental sensory deprivation process allowing outside parties to enter the minds of comatose patients in an effort to bring them back to consciousness.  

Best remembered for its lush vistas full of rich colors, incredible set design and costumes provided by Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters designer Eiko Ishioka, this is the film that marked Tarsem’s debut into the feature film world and to this day his visual style remains unmatched in terms of inventiveness, practicality and technical proficiency.  It’s one hell of a debut that makes a viable argument against the criticism of MTV film making as ‘style over substance’, using the expressionistic images in this case as substance.  With the recent upgrades in home theater high-definition television viewing and blu-ray media, you would think this long awaited title would have made it to the elite video format by now.  

Previously only available in a 1080 interlaced transfer courtesy of Canadian distributor Alliance Entertainment, Warner Brothers has now provided as of last week a newly remastered blu-ray edition that boasts both the original uncut version of the film (previously only available in a censored R rated version) and a beautiful transfer that perfectly replicates the high-contrast grain levels and deep textures of the original theatrical release.  It’s also only selling on Amazon currently for $7.50, making this an essential purchase for any cinephile’s home video library!  Now, on with the blu-ray review.

The Video
As previously mentioned, The Cell was released by Alliance Entertainment in a 1080 interlaced master without the studio’s support or sophisticated telecine equipment and it cost a lot of money to import the sub-par disc.  Thankfully the guys at Warner Brothers have paid special attention to the remastering process for this one and they’ve provided a really wonderful transfer that looks rich and filmic.  I remember seeing the censored DVD version of The Cell years ago and the shot of a turtle crawling within the beige grasslands as the camera pulls back to a wide angle crane shot of Stargher driving to the location of his latest victim always was rife with shimmering and aliasing.  It’s also worth noting the Alliance Entertainment blu-ray suffered from digital noise reduction, thus ruining many sequences dependent on how much grain levels you saw onscreen. 

Thankfully that’s not the case anymore and as with the theatrical release, the high contrast grain levels of the sequences inside Stargher’s mind remain intact on this remastered blu-ray.  A shot of a dog shaking blood off its body in slow motion has never looked more stunning than it is here with startling sharpness and depth of field.  It looks also as though the transfer was made from a film print also as the title sequence has a slight filmic movement to the credits, giving viewers a completely authentic viewing experience that’s closer to the source than expected.  Colors are far more saturated here as well, replicating the lushness of the film’s still startling cacophony of images.  Great job, Warner!


The Audio
Equally important to the disorienting and otherworldly experience is of course the soundscape full of strange metaphysical sounds engineered in such a way you’ve never heard before.  The soundtrack by Howard Shore is equal parts The Silence of the Lambs and an extraterrestrial mixture of atonal instruments supplied by the Master of Musicians of Joujouka, this is as close to John Corigliano’s Academy Award nominated score for Altered States as any film score has ever sounded!  Reportedly for the DVD, the sound mix was scaled back for Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, giving listeners a tone down version of what they heard in theaters.  Now we have a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 surround remaster and the results are pretty much identical to the alien strength of the theatrical experience.  Scenes inside Stargher’s mind with sounds of disembodied voices, echoes, water dripping and peculiar unearthly noises have a depth and envelopment not present on previous editions.  Dialogue is loud and clear with the distorted, indistinct voices of Stargher flooding the soundstage with an edge they didn’t before.  All in all, it sounds terrific and will give your home theater a powerful listening experience!


The Extras
All of the DVD extras have been ported over in their original 480 interlaced resolution, including the deleted scenes such as the infamous European version (restored to the actual film exclusively on this blu-ray) of the scene where Stargher hoists his naked body above one of his victims previously toned down to avoid the NC-17.  The special effects vignettes have all been retained in their entirety including the multi-angle feature showing the pre and post-production versions of visual effects shots.  The standout extra on both the DVD and blu-ray editions is the audio commentary with Tarsem Singh.  Seriously, Martin Scorsese has met his match in terms of who can talk faster, who is more passionate and who can articulate all the decisions that went into producing what we see onscreen.  It’s an incredible listen and marks one of the best audio commentaries ever recorded on DVD.  There’s also an eleven minute documentary entirely about Tarsem’s visual style with members of his team elaborating on why he’s still one of the most distinctive and original cinematic visionaries still working today.  For owners of the DVD expecting new retrospective interviews and musings on the film, you won’t get anything you haven’t seen or heard before but I’m glad everything was ported over and Tarsem’s commentary is worth the price of the disc alone!


This long awaited title on blu-ray is pretty much essential viewing and owning and the good guys at Warner Brothers have done a wonderful job giving viewers a proper home video release.  For those of you who still own the DVD or may have gone ahead and imported the Alliance Entertainment release, all I can say is this new blu-ray blows both of those editions away and the price is a steal!  You really can’t go wrong with this upgrade of this visually magnificent masterwork!  Buy this one with confidence!

-Andrew Kotwicki