Starring: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, Jim Caviezel and Adam Goldberg 

Written by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio 

Directed by Tony Scott 

128 mins 

Starting out as a murder mystery, Déjà Vu turns into a hybrid sci-fi, romantic thriller done with all the verve and flamboyant style from director Tony Scott (Top Gun, Spy Game and Domino). Denzel plays a cop who finds a dead woman (Patton) at the scene of a ferry explosion. The medical examiner pins her death as occurring a few hours before the explosion. Now Denzel knows she’s the key to solving the investigation and finding the terrorist(s). With the help of a top secret government surveillance operation via satellite and finally a time travel device (yes, take that narrative leap) to go back a few days earlier to piece together the mystery to save the woman and prevent the ferry explosion. 

It’s a convoluted concept but one filled with a certain amount of intrigue. There are the requisite gadgets and car chases, all shot dexterously. But with so many clues and questions, Déjà Vu does a demand a second viewing in telling its story of love through a parallel universe because of how clues are laid out that you might want to revisit again. All throughout, the performances are excellent and setting of New Orleans is especially unique, considering the film was shot right after Hurricane Katrina. 


The Surveillance Window 

This special feature is an interesting and unique meshing of 2 usual staples of special features – the audio commentary and behind-the-scenes moments and interviews. It’s a seamless behind the scenes experience with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott and screenwriter Bill Marsilii as they take you to certain moments in the film where they peel back the curtain and unveil some of the filmmaking techniques.   It starts out as an audio commentary and when it reaches a certain point in the film, it stops the film and goes into the behind-the-scenes moments. When it’s done, it comes back to the film and the audio commentary continues. It’s an efficient way to dole out a lot of information without the excessive menu navigating without smaller featurettes. I wish more films would employ this method on their DVD special features section. 

The commentary and behind-the-scenes material are chockfull of information that both filmmakers and film buffs can take something away from. Among the salient points: 

  • Tony Scott’s struggle with trying to find a spine to bridge the story between sci-fi and the real world
  • Bill Marsilii’s talks about his collaboration with Terry Rossio and the genesis of the project. Marsilii does get into the minutiae of the narrative to explain all the clues and jumps.
  • The anatomy of a ferry explosion through interviews with stunt and special effects coordinators. Scott used 16 cameras to cover the explosion and spent half a day on camera positioning alone. He also eschewed the use of CGI.
  • Scott likes working with Denzel because he delivers and he’s tough. The director likes to give a real life model for his actors to hang his characters on and in this case he found one for Denzel’s character in Jerry Rudden, an ATF agent.
  • A segue into the make-up effects for Paula Patton’s dead body on a morgue slab
  • Marsilii speaks and shows and example of Scott’s ability to open up scenes and give them a visual sense
  • A look into the main design of the lab where the time shift and time travel occurs with interviews from the cinematographer Paul Cameron and production designer Chris Seagers.
  • Scott insists that HD is great for low light and night scenes but not for daylight because the contrast ratio doesn’t hold up well. He employed the Panavision Genesis HD camera for the night sequences.
  • The challenge of shooting 40 minutes of the story in an enclosed space, i.e. the lab and how Scott works around that visually – this is a great tip for shooting in enclosed spaces.
  • An overview into the use of Light Distance and Ranging (LIDAR) as an effect in a motion picture. Déjà Vu is the first movie to employ this technology. Used mostly as measuring device in engineering and surveying, it can render an image in a 3-dimensional space.
  • Scott insists that style is dictated by the world of the story. He feels the movie is about the science of surveillance that segues into time travel.
  • Scott breaks down a car chase. He asserts that the secret of a great car chase is an idea behind it and in Déjà Vu it’s another time travel gadget. The car chase in question here incorporates the use of the Ultimate arm crane, a truly nifty tool that allows the camera to get some amazing moving angles.
  • Scott storyboards every shot. He’s known to wake up at 4 in the morning to do his storyboards but complete the more complex shots months earlier.
  • The setting for the story was originally Long Island and Scott had scouted
    Washington DC and Seattle as possible locations because of access to ferries.  The production finally decided on New Orleans. Scott says the city’s sense of mystery supports the love story. The production was ready to roll in October but disaster struck when Hurricane Katrina hit and left New Orleans incapacitated. Despite this setback, the production team decided to wait till February of the following year to shoot there.
  • Scott uses a lot of cameras for coverage. For even a basic scene with two people in a room, he will use a minimum of 4 cameras. Denzel likes working with Scott for this reason:

“That’s one of the reasons I like working with Tony because he uses a lot of cameras we don’t have to do a lot of set-up. He’s got all of that in one. So it allows me to get a little more over the top and to improvise so that if something good happens, something spontaneous happens he has it in a variety of angles.”

  • Scott cites his editor Chris Levinson as being crucial in keeping the pace and timing of his film level. Scott and Levinson’s first cut of the film came in at 2 hours 3 mins.  He estimates that in his films usually 1 page of script translates to 2/3 of a minute on film
  • It’s also interesting to note that Scott admits some mistakes in shooting certain scenes. He cites a scene between Denzel, Val Kilmer and Bruce Greenwood and felt the scene would have played better if Denzel and Kilmer took off their shades and one could see their eyes. Advice to directors: shoot your actors without shades so you can see their eyes.

Scott doesn’t skimp on the special features of his projects, something his shares with brother Ridley Scott. In this special feature, he is very engaging about his process and we really get to see some useful behind-the-scenes moments that allow us a great deal of access into the creative process. 

Deleted Scenes: 

Roughly about 8 minutes cut from the film 

  1. Church choir – small insert of a gospel hymn that Denzel’s character, adds a small spiritual dimension
  2. A scene between Denzel and Kilmer where a turtle story figures prominently
  3. A montage scene in the lab where Denzel and the surveillance team pore over Paula’s belongings and observe her in her apartment through the time portal
  4. A scene where a character on the ferry recognizes Claire as she makes her way to the ferry
  5. The ending where the character and her daughter (played by Elle Fanning, Dakota’s sister) come to Claire’s side in the aftermath of the explosion

Extended Scenes:

The extended scenes just add more exposition and tone to the scenes and not a loss at all if they were cut.

  1. The opening scene just adds quick elements of introducing the surveillance equipment that would orient audience when they see it later
  2. The brutality of the scene when Caviezel douses Claire with gasoline and punches her had to be toned down
  3. A scene where Carlin shares more info with Claire

The Déjà Vu DVD is worthy alone for the ‘Surveillance Window’ special feature but because of the dense story, it’s a film that may beg for repeat viewings.

DVD, Filmmaking

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