The Cell - Blu-ray Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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The Cell - Blu-ray Review

Title: The Cell


HTS Overall Score:73

It’s been 15 years since “The Cell” came out in theaters and Tarsem Singh’s very first feature film still is as bizarre and surreal today as it was those 15 years ago. Tarsem Singh is a unique director, with only about 6 major films under his belt, but he not only commands a stunning use of visuals in his film base, but a solid fan base who love the bizarre and dreamy structure that he entwines into his pictures. Before doing “The Cell”, Tarsem had one singular short under his video belt and this was his claim to fame. His later films show some significant maturity in his directing style, and a better grasp of telling a narrative with visual instead of just dialog, but “The Cell” remains his most provocative and introspective piece to date.

Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) is a psychiatrist dealing with one of society’s most troubling mental illnesses, Schizophrenia. She and Dr. Henry West (Dylan Baker) are using an experimental drug therapy infused with new technology to have Catherine actually enter the mind of a comatose patient and speak with the inner person hidden under the psychotic disease and physical unconsciousness. All of this comes to an abrupt halt when a serial killer named Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) is captured by the FBI and brought to her proverbial doorstep. The problem with the capture of Carl is the fact that he has slaughtered and tortured 7 women in the last couple years and his final kidnapping victim is presumed alive some place. Oh, did I happen to mention that Carl has a severe form of Schizophrenia and that when he was apprehended went into a coma? Well, that sets the stage J-Lo taking a quick dip into the mind of another patient, this time a patient whose mind is so twisted and disturbed that Catherine may not be able to find her way out before finding out the location of Carl’s latest victim.

Aided by FBI agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn), Catherine has to wind her way through the horrible maze that is Carl Stargher’s mind and uncover just what secrets his mind holds. To make matters worse, this mind is so confused and tortured that the experience is incredibly different than anything she’s ever experienced before. The schizophrenia has separated Carl into three distinct personalities. His childlike state where he came from, pure and innocent, a grown man free from the fractured personality disorders, and a maniacal kind who dominates his twisted kingdom with evil glee. These three people each share the knowledge of where his next victim is, but the problem for Catherine is trying find a way to ferret it out without sacrificing herself and her Hippocratic Oath in the process.

“The Cell” is one of the more cerebral films that I have watched in quite some time, using spectacular visuals as a storytelling method in ways that most western film makers can’t grasp well enough to use effectively. The luscious beauty and incredibly eastern uses of color and style make the film seem even more foreign and disorienting to western audiences than it would be to someone of an East Indian persuasion, adding another layer to the already dense imagery. Heavily influenced by Tarsem’s native Indian culture, the distinct and stunning flair of the east blends with the modern metallic and chrome structure of the modern west to create a hyper kinetic and surreal dreamscape that truly has to be felt to be understood completely. The basics of the story are all there in black and white. Girl has to go into crazy guys mind and find out the location of his latest victim, things go wrong and she has to find her way out. That being said, the imagery itself tells most of the story, many times forgoing periods of dialog to watch the faces and movements of the actors themselves and absorb oneself into the picture as if it is a word of creative dance.

Imagery in “The Cell” do not always make perfect sense, but they are not always meant to, instead allowing the viewer to “sense” or “feel” the direction that the movie is taking instead of letting a narrator tell you. At the same time there is a distinctly western attempt by Tarsem Singh to tell a cohesive story, as many of the plot machinations feel very “Hollywood”. Some of his later films like “The Fall” take greater liberties with visual imagery and rely less on stereotypical dialog points to drive the story forward. The three main actors are each varied in their characters as well as their performances. Vince Vaughn is the weakest link in the chain, playing a bit of a deadpan character here, but that is not to say he is bad in the role. His portrayal of Novak is fairly straightforward, but he seems comfortable enough in the role. J-Lo has never been a fantastic actress, but she does a very good job at playing the kind and well-meaning heroine. The real star of the film comes in Vincent D’Onofrio’s complete transformation into the demented Carl Stragher. He absorbed himself so much into the role and was covered with so much makeup that he’s virtually unrecognizable in whichever version of himself that he is.


Rated R for bizarre violence and sexual images, nudity and language

The 2.40:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray disc is a bit of a mixed bag here. There has not been a U.S. release of “The Cell” till now, but Alliance up in Canada released a 1080i version that was definitely from the 2000 DVD master that was released. This version is a little nicer upon comparison, but still uses that dated 15 year old master and the associated flaws of being targeted for a DVD release. There is some very solid pop in the color spectrum, as Tarsem Singh infuses an incredible amount of beautiful and lush primary colors into his film. Golds, reds, blues, greens and whites are all radiant and heavily saturated, but at the same time there is a rather flat look to the transfer, with some drab textures, a bit of nasty aliasing on the disc and a layer of softness that robs the picture of some of the detail. Certain scenes can really be crisp and clear, especially inside of Carl’s mind, but there are so many soft shots that it kind of counterbalances those moments of brilliant clarity. Blacks are usually good, but there are some moments of crush, although not a whole lot. It’s a decent looking image, and probably the best we’ll get for quite some time, but the use of a 15 year old master certainly leaves us with just a “decent” looking image.

The main 5.1 DTS-HD MA track stands up a bit better, giving a very good experience for the sonically detailed track. There’s plenty of dialog heavy moments in the outside world, without a whole lot of immersion, but once you descend into the twisted mind of the killer all bets are off. The surrounds get a good amount of use with all of the spooky ambient noises, and the dynamic range is incredible. Sometimes I felt it was a bit TOO wide, as dialog had to be boosted a tad and then we’d get blasted back into the seat with a roaring helicopter assault that felt more than a bit loud. LFE is deep and throbbing, adding power and intensity to the already lethal track, and every word of dialog was intelligible and perfectly replicated. Well worth the price of admission, the audio track remains the single best part of the whole disc.


• Director's Commentary
• Commentary with Production Team
• Style as Substance: Reflections on Tarsem
• Visual Effects Vignettes
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailers


“The Cell” is a very unique experience that really shows off the incredible visual flair that Tarsem Singh brings to his pictures. It has a few hiccups, mainly in the casting department, but is a fun and rather creepy, if I do say so myself, romp inside the mind of a crazy person. One of the most visually sumptuous and disturbing movies in my repertoire, it is one I like to revisit every once in a while and marvel at the beauty and visual storytelling contained within. The disc itself from Warner is a decent effort, with very good audio and the full range of extras ported across, with the only disappointment being the older transfer used for such a visually stimulating film. Definitely recommended for a watch.

Additional Information:

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D'Onofrio
Directed by: Tarsem Singh
Written by: Mark Protosevich
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish, German Japanese, Italian DD 5.1, Spanish DD 2.0
Studio: Warner
Rated: R
Runtime: 110 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: July 7th 2015

Buy The Cell On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Worth Watching

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