I’ll be honest – I hated this movie.
Then… I loved it so much I wanted to be in it... somewhere... anywhere... A fly on the wall I suppose. I wanted to feel the pain and the loss. I wanted it all. I wanted to be David Aames. That’s my Vanilla Sky, my fantasy! I didn’t get what I wanted from this film the first time but I watched it again and got what I missed.
As Cameron Crowe puts it, "You’re not going to get a movie about a love affair between two people." He’s right. And it’s the want and yearning for a love story that never really happens. What you get is a thought provoking film that has more meaning every time you watch it (like "Joe vs the Volcano" - seriously).
There are so many little things that make this movie a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Paraphrasing Tom Cruise’s commentary about the movie: "People always overlook those little moments. It’s always those little moments that add to a performance in a scene." People who ‘got it’ really ‘got it’. They took the ride and appreciated it. If you’re able to accept the movie for those little moments you’ll get a ‘buzz’.
I’ve heard, ’the ending came out of nowhere’. This was honestly my first impression. But it didn’t. Crowe set it up throughout the film and the overall structure and thematic elements hit every beat.
Vanilla Sky is a remake of the Alejandro Amen&aaucte;bar film, "Abre los ojos." This movie is about David Aames (Tom Cruise) a boy, figuratively speaking, who lives in a fantasy world built by his father, and wants desperately to fall in love. He has it all: Great looks, money, toys, and a woman who desperately wants him, Julie Gianni (Cammeron Diaz). When his best friend, Brian (Jason Lee), introduces him to the perfect woman, Sofia (Penelope Cruz), there is no doubt that he has fallen in love. But when he makes a decision to get into a car with Julie, her obsession rears its ugly head and she determines his fate by driving them both off a bridge in a jealous rage. She dies and David’s face is "Phantom of the Opera-ishly" disfigured
We learn that we are actually watching back-story of an investigation of a murder that David is allegedly involved in and the movie becomes a murder mystery as well as a ‘coming to terms with ones reality’ story.
A therapist, Dr. Curtis McCabe (Kurt Russell), who wants to get the true story behind the murder, analyzes David. Russell’s honest and convincing performance is overshadowed by the performances of Cruise, Diaz and Cruz.
After the accident, David secludes himself from work, friends and the potential of true love with Sofia. Then, like a schoolboy asking a girl out for the very first time, he approaches Sofia and they agree to a date. David’s insecurity and self-consciousness lead to a disastrous night with Sofia which leaves David passed out on the street overdosed on drugs and alcohol.
Sofia rescues him the next morning and his world is suddenly perfect. He gets reconstructive surgery, he has the love of his life with him, and he finally has everything he wants and needs. And as soon as all is perfect… all is not. His mind plays tricks on him.
Julie suddenly appears in what seems like a nightmare and claims that she is actually Sofia. David’s world becomes a mind-blowing sequence of confusing events where reality and nightmare are completely indistinguishable. Confused and frustrated, David beats up Julie but is arrested for beating up Sophia. At Sophia’s apartment David finds every single picture and detail of Sophia are actually pictures and details of Julie. David is relieved when Sofia actually appears and his nightmare seems to be over. They make love and during lovemaking Sofia turns back into Julie (they literally switch places in the scene during filmmaking). David snaps and kills Julie by suffocating her with a pillow. As it turns out, he realizes the person he really killed is Sofia - in a brilliant filmmaking reveal. The mix of music and the editing in this past sequence is breathtakingly genius! And trust me, it’s not that confusing.
David, in jail, is convinced he did not kill anyone but knows someone has died. He recognizes the same commercial he saw about cryonics on the first night with Sofia. McCabe whisks David off to the Life Extension (cryonics) office and both are informed that David signed a contract with "LE" and chose the Lucid Dreams option where he can be suspended in a dream based frozen state. In an exceptional performance by Noah Taylor, who you may recognize as the Band Manager in "Almost Famous", David’s life, death and the start of his Lucid Dream is explained.
When he died, "LE" froze him and he started his Lucid Dream, which picks up after he passed out on the street that one night with Sofia. He did not kill Sofia nor did he kill Julie. But he did overdose through a binge of alcohol and drugs and realizes it is he that has died. His suicide was erased from his memory during cryonization. The dream program had a glitch that caused David’s nightmare. Noah Taylor is acting as Tech Support and has entered David’s dream to pull him out and offer him a different scenario and gives him two options to choose from.
By facing his fear of heights and jumping from a tall building to his death David can start his life again 150 years after his original death, still disfigured, without his company and without Sophia. Or, he can go back to his Lucid Dream without nightmares. David shows that he has grown from a boy to a man ready to face reality without his father, money and people who pampered him and decides to jump. This ends the movie only to spark questions of what was really a dream and what was really reality. Is it possible the whole movie was a dream? It is up to the viewers’ interpretation. There is no right answer. This, along with David’s decision to jump, has created many hot topics in movie discussion groups on the Internet.
The movie is warm, cold, edgy, honest, a bit romantic, and thought provoking. For most, it does warrant a second viewing in order to appreciate the little nuances and details that make up all the brilliant performances and story structure that this cast has put together.
The biggest problem with the movie is the exposition in which ‘Tech Support’ explains what has happened. I felt the same way I felt when watching "A.I." after the ’real’ ending when the boy found his Blue Fairy. I was reluctant, but within the story of "Vanilla Sky", I accepted the exposition.
This transfer is presented by Paramount in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Cameron works again with a spectacular Director of Photography, John Toll from "Almost Famous", whose cinematography creates an image quality that is beautiful in the transfer. There were a few shots that seemed a bit soft but overall, it is sharp and detailed - which is exactly what this film deserved. There weren’t any obvious pixelation or other flaws throughout.
Crowe and Toll really paid attention to their colors from scene to scene which presented a visually crisp and ‘cool’ look and feel overall. Every director would want to work with Toll after his amazing cinematography in "Vanilla Sky".
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, which probably features Crowe’s vast library of CDs and records. The music is reinforced by the surrounds and the best description I can use is: it rocks! Audio quality is excellent, and the dialogue and sound effects are clear. It’s a cool arrangement of music which made me run out to get the CD.
The DVD provides an insightful and extremely casual commentary by Cameron Crowe and his wife, Nancy Wilson, as well as a few candid phone calls - one notably by Tom Cruise.
Two featurettes are included: "Prelude To A Dream" - an introduction to the film with Cameron Crowe narrating his dream and inspiration to reproduce "Abre Los Ojos". "Hitting It Hard" - a behind-the-scenes look at the movie making and promotional tours the Stars went on prior to the movie’s release.
Accompanying the special features are an interview with Paul McCartney, a music video "Afrika Shox" by Leftfield/Afrika Bambaataa, Photo gallery with audio introduction by photographer Neal Preston, an Unreleased teaser trailer and the International theatrical trailer.
The DVD Menu is simple and calming with Nancy Wilson’s "Elevator Beat" playing in the background. The two featurettes provide a wonderful fervor prior to watching the movie literally pumping you with excitement before your movie experience.
Cameron Crowe fans won’t be disappointed. His story, visualization, music and characters always seem to be memorable. Even if the roles are small, notably Jason Lee, Kurt Russell and Noah Taylor, Crowe makes sure the characters bring something to the table. Vanilla Sky adds depth to my DVD library. From wonderful performances by Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, to the insightful commentary by Cameron Crowe and special features, this DVD is a must have for DVD collectors and film buffs. The love story and romance you want from this film don’t happen. Or do they? That’s up to you to decide. If you’ve seen it once, ‘open your eyes’ to it again. You’ll get a ‘buzz’. (then give "Joe vs the Volcano" another chance!)