Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Film Cemetery

Case Study #12

Where we explore the more obscure 
films that bombed

Oh, Tony're back again

 Why didn't you just stick 
to the shooting script?

First things first. This 2006 film did make money overseas, and it it did extremely well as a DVD. And rightfully so. I saw Déjà vu in the theater and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

But this is Film Cemetery, where good films go to die and be remembered. Say the title of this flick to nearly anyone, and all you'll get is a blank stare. 

Two things hurt this movie. One, it is most definitely a summer popcorn muncher, but it was released in November. WTF? Two, Tony Scott scrapped a lot of the sci-fi elements and inserted some unnecessary action.

Déjà vu really shouldn't be here, yet it is. I am sorry to say that Tony Scott is once again on this post, but this time he deserves to be.

The premise of Déjà vu is simple at first. The movie opens with the incredible destruction of a river ferry in New Orleans

A bomb blasts the thing to pieces, after we are let in on the fact that it's carrying Navy personnel and their families to a Mardi Gras party called Fat Tuesday.

Denzel Washington plays investigating ATF agent Doug Carlin. As a thoughtful and intelligent detective, Washington is in fine form, and this was a very wise casting choice. 

Let's get something out of the way here. Washington insisted that this movie be shot in New Orleans, after the production company planned to move the whole affair to New York after Katrina rolled through.

You handsome man, you

I don't have anything against New Orleans. I just spent two years there working at NASA, and even today you can feel the affects of Katrina. 

I had my motorhome parked next to a powerpole that had Katrina's high-water mark on it....25 feet up. Here in Florida we have our share of storms - but two and a half stories of water? It's very difficult to even imagine such things.

The reason I am mentioning Washington's insistence to shoot in New Orleans is A: It takes away from the film as a whole, and B: When the reviews came in saying the same thing, Washington backed away and said he had nothing to do with that decision

You see, Denzel, we go to films to escape the reality of our lives and the horrible things that sometimes intrude.

But that is not the film's real problem. The real problem is the science involved and how it is presented to the audience. 

The story revolves around a new type of machine discovered at MIT. This machine can not only see backwards in time exactly four days, it is also a part of that timeline. 

The ATF, DEA and other agencies are interested in using this device to look back and find the ferry bomber before he plants the bomb.

Val Kilmer as Special Agent Paul Pryzwarra

And I can see Tony Scott's dilema. A large portion of Déjà vu is told in the control room for the time machine...and a lot of science is thrown at the viewer by Dr. Alexander Denny played by Adam Goldberg.

I'm all about the science, baby

So, Scott decided to add a bunch of action to break up the science talk. 

I can't really blame him, but screenwriters Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio certainly do. They felt Scott ruined the film with his action sequences, and opened up a bunch of holes in the plot.

I can see both sides of the argument. To his credit, Tony Scott has admitted he dropped the ball with Déjà vu. He's also stated that the shooting schedule was way too tight.

The wonderful Paula Patton

James Caviezel plays Carroll Oerstadt, the bomber - a Timothy McVeigh kind of figure who, in my opinion, is not well established at all. 

Jim Caviezel

The real story, however, is centered on Paula Patton as Claire Kuchever. Washington falls in love with her at Patton's autopsy. And yes, you read that correctly.

Patton and Caviezel both do terrific jobs with the material they were given. This film is Patton's breakout performance. I never cared for Caviezel until the show Person of Interest changed my mind about him.

Patton's character is a working-class girl who's Bronco is up for sale. In a twist of events that kills Washington's partner, Caviezel now needs a replacement vehicle to carry the bomb aboard the ferry, and the Bronco fits the bill.

And here's where it gets tricky. Washington is aware of these events because he's viewing them through the special machine. 

He's looking four days into the past. Patton is already dead, as are the ferry bombing victims. 

Washington's character is an upstanding and very smart ATF agent that has seen some bad shit in his day. He wants to know...can the machine do more than just view the past? Can he go back and stop Caviezel from bombing the ferry, thus saving Patton's life as well.

Am I going to tell you? 

For all its problems, Déjà vu is well worth watching. You may love it or you may hate it....but this film deserves better than to be simply forgotten. 

Tony Scott took a cutting edge idea and mixed it with some decent - if difficult to follow - action. 

Seriously, at one point, Washington is speeding through traffic, looking four days into the past using a 'Goggle-Rig'. 

Another neat effect is Scott's use of LIDAR to put together composite shots of Patton at work and at home as she is spied on with the special machine. 

Watch the movie, then look it up. Fascinating stuff.

One more thing. Those Hummers used in the production chase scenes? Tony Scott bought them off of a geology team that were hunting for oil. No prep for the vehicle was needed.

All in all, a nice way to spend an evening at home. Don't forget the popcorn.

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