Vanilla Sky Review
It's worrying that Hollywood feels the need to remake an intriguing Spanish film just four years after it was made, as opposed to re-releasing the original with strong marketing campaigns. Alejandro Amenábar, talented writer/director of The Others and Tesis, released unto the world Abre Los Ojos in 1997, which was a dreamy surrealist voyage into the realms of the intellectual state. It starred Penelope Cruz and Eduardo Noriega, and was met with respectable critical claim.
Enter Tom Cruise, desperate to do his own version of Abre Los Ojos. Cruise sweet-talks Amenábar into allowing a remake by producing The Others for his then wife Nicole Kidman, which was directed and written by Amenábar. The almost exact remake of Abre Los Ojos was renamed Vanilla Sky and was to again carry with it the inclusion of Penelope Cruz, who made the headlines for allegedly splitting up Cruise and Kidman. The director of the remake, Cameron Crowe, fresh from the successes of Jerry Maguire (also Tom Cruise) and Almost Famous, claimed that it was apparent to everyone working on the production that Cruise and Cruz(!) were in love, and the divorce followed shortly.
Abre Los Ojos as a film exists in a permanent state between what is real and what is a dream, and just when you think you are finally ahead of the plot, another story element enters that was never even hinted at earlier in the film. Essentially, the film changes its status in terms of genre nearly every act, and at the end, the film is poles apart from its beginning.
For those that require a brief allusion as to the plot, Vanilla Sky starts off with the film's protagonist David Aames (Tom Cruise) living a life of luxury as a young, womanising millionaire. After using the attractive Juliana Gianni (Cameron Diaz) for sex, David is having trouble giving Juliana the push. After throwing a large party in which Juliana is not invited, David is annoyed further when she shows up, crying over her rejection and spying on his every move. To hide from Juliana's stalking, David convinces Sofia (Penelope Cruz), the date of David's best friend Brian (Jason Lee) to talk to him. Soon the pair form a quick sexual friendship, and the next morning David is bothered by the fact that Juliana is waiting for him outside Sofia's home. Juliana offers to drive David home, and during the journey starts to frantically pour out her frustrations to him. Pushing herself to a psychotically distressed level, Juliana drives the car off a bridge, and kills herself in the process. David awakens scarred and broken, and needs severe facial reconstruction work to be done. This is the least of his problems however, as the nightmare scenarios start from here, and David's life continues to take a turn for the stranger.
Acting wise, Cruise does his usual job but never seems anything other than Tom Cruise. Penelope Cruz is sexy in an enchanting way, but there are times in which her pouting looks dominate her acting. Cameron Diaz is sexy yet deliciously scary as the obsessive Juliana, and Jason Lee portrays what is his usual typecast role of the best friend who wants to be more like the protagonist. Arguably the best performance is by Kurt Russell, who drifts in and out of the film as David's caring psychologist McCabe, although his performance is very similar to Chete Lera's performance of Antonio in Abre Los Ojos.
Is Vanilla Sky better or worse than Abre Los Ojos? Yes and no. Considering the two films are very similar to each other, Vanilla Sky is obviously going to suit Western audiences more because of the language barriers and its Hollywood star cast, which bring with them a more identifiable status. The strong use of a song-filled soundtrack, backed by splendid cuts from Radiohead's Kid A & Amnesiac albums, a delightfully sparse Paul McCartney-penned title track and a host of other big names, also helps matters considerably. Visually, Vanilla Sky is more impressive than Abre Los Ojos, in particular the sequence of David running along an empty Times Square which carries The Omega Man overtones. John Toll's photography is much more fantastical than Hans Burman's on Abre Los Ojos, and it's debatable whether this effect works better or not. The makeup of David's disfigurement by Michèle Burke is also very impressive in a deliberately grotesque way, and should have been Oscar nominated. However, Cameron Crowe's spin on the subject matter of Abre Los Ojos is all wrong, and detracts from the sinister impact Amenábar aimed to make. Crowe clearly sees Vanilla Sky as a romantic-pop-culture trip, as opposed to the surrealistic nightmare Amenábar rendered Abre Los Ojos, and it's very hard to swallow Crowe's version of the film after seeing Amenábar's version. Granted, Crowe should be congratulated for attempting to mould Abre Los Ojos into his own film, but it doesn't work quite as well, and Crowe's final act of Vanilla Sky carries with it too much waffle and self-indulgent worship of his pop-culture heroes. This is a shame, as the first two acts of Vanilla Sky are arguably better than Abre Los Ojos, yet the final act falls behind quite considerably in comparison.
Essentially, the viewer has to choose between two films in which the ambiguous message is the same but the messengers delivering it are different. It's a matter of taste as to which one is better. Abre Los Ojos scores marks for being the original, creative piece of filmmaking, and Vanilla Sky betters many elements of Amenábar's film but fails on many other elements, making it even harder to choose between the two. It's probably fair to conclude with the idea that the two films sit comfortably alongside each other, and complement each other well, as opposed to Vanilla Sky cheapening Abre Los Ojos or the original Spanish film being shown up by a more expensive Hollywood update. Both are very entertaining pieces of moviemaking, and will leave you engaged in heated discussions days afterwards.
Academy Awards 2001
Academy Award Nominations 2001
Best Original Song - Paul McCartney - "Vanilla Sky"
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer of Vanilla Sky is excellent, with sharp and detailed imagery coupled with a dynamic range of colour tones. There is hardly a trace of grain or digital artefacts, and considering the film is such a visual treat the transfer truly complements the viewing experience.
Presented in Dolby 5.1 but without a DTS mix, the sound in Vanilla Sky is presented in a very atmospheric mix, with good use of spatial channelling that helps to serve the almost surrealistic narrative of the film. The heavy presence of an important music soundtrack is given appropriate importance on the sound mix, and the songs are presented sharply and with strong dynamic range. Overall, the mix is excellent, and even comes with a 2.0 mix as well.
Menu: A menu system very similar in tone to that of the Almost Famous: Bootleg Cut menu, Vanilla Sky has an animated, extremely minimalist system that is presented on a stark, white background and with very dreamy sound effects.
Packaging: A boring packaging from Paramount with their usual Widescreen Collection complete with cover artwork that aims to do nothing more for than the film than to cash in on Tom Cruise's fanbase. Also, the Canadian release of this Region 1 version is in both French and English language, even on the front cover.
Audio Commentary By Cameron Crowe & Nancy Wilson, With short Telephone Conversation By Tom Cruise: Cameron Crowe always contributes fine audio commentaries to his DVDs, as Almost Famous: Bootleg Cut suggested, and this commentary is no exception. Obviously, Crowe takes the spotlight almost completely, with Nancy Wilson his wife and composer of the film's score resorting to making short comments from the background on seldom occasions. Crowe is forthright and honest about his opinions on the film, even if he can be accused of being too praising of everything on screen. He divulges much on the subject of in-film pop-culture references and clues to the plot, and he even phones up Tom Cruise for approximately twelve minutes to have a chat about one sequence, though this conversation is more gimmicky than interesting. It's a pity more collaborators aren't involved, such as Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz or frequent commentator on Kevin Smith DVDs Jason Lee.
Prelude To A Dream: This is a six minute short featurette designed to give a glossy and superficial overhaul of the making of the film, complete with Cameron Crowe narration. It's enjoyable if ultimately pointless, and doesn't substitute for the lack of a proper 'making of' documentary. Valuable, only because it contains Cameron Crowe subtly hinting at the love-affair blossoming between Cruise and Cruz on set.
Hitting It Hard: This is a ten minute featurette chronicling the very hectic round-the-world touring schedule undertaken by Crowe, Cruise and Cruz to promote Vanilla Sky. The featurette does nothing but suggest the insanity of the ultra-celebrity lifestyle, and clearly aims to de-glamourise the media-frenzy of moviemaking. Also, Tom Cruise can be seen claiming at a press conference that Vanilla Sky is the greatest film he has ever been involved in. Kubrick would be turning in his grave, if he even cared at the fact that Cruise also said that about his Eyes Wide Shut.
Interview With Paul McCartney: This is a two minute short interview with Paul McCartney, composer of the excellent title song of the film, conducted for the Golden Globe nomination programme, and features Paul explaining how he came to write the song for the film and his methods behind composing Vanilla Sky.
"Afrika Shox" by Leftfield/Afrika Bambaataa - Music Video: This is a rather boring music video complete with obligatory tie-in footage of the film backed by a rather underwhelming techno-dance effort from a collaboration between Leftfield and Afrika Bambaataa. Lasts for four minutes and is presented in fullscreen.
Photo Galleries: Usually, the photo galleries featured on DVDs are just fillers in order to bulk up the extras' contents. However, the photo galleries featured on this Vanilla Sky DVD is very good indeed, and even features an audio introduction from the on-set photographer Neal Preston, who used to work alongside Cameron Crowe for Rolling Stone magazine. The galleries are spilt up into eight different sections, and each contains approximately twenty photos devoted to a specific set location and film sequence. The stills are accessed via user navigation as opposed to being featured on a continuous roll.
Trailer: Two trailers are featured, the International trailer and the Unreleased Teaser trailer. Both are lengthy and quite interesting to watch as trailers, considering the difficulty associated with pigeon-holing a film such as Vanilla Sky. However, it is strange that the original US trailer is not included on the DVD release.
Easter Egg: There is an amusing Easter Egg that can be found on the DVD. Go to Photo Galleries page and highlight Special Features without selecting it, now select RIGHT on the remote and a mask resembling David's in the film will be highlighted red, select this option and you will be taken to a five minute gag reel.
Whether you prefer the original Abre Los Ojos version or the Cameron Crowe remake Vanilla Sky, it is fair to say that Vanilla Sky has been given the best DVD release in Region 1 land, with fantastic picture and sound quality and some decent if very sparse extras. Be warned, that there is talk that Crowe will do the same as he did with Almost Famous: Bootleg Cut and release a better version with his director's cut included, so it might be advised to hang on until the full details for that release are revealed.