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Vanilla Sky Blu-ray Review

Vanilla Sky (2001) movie poster Vanilla Sky

Theatrical Release: December 14, 2001 / Running Time: 136 Minutes (theatrical), 142 Minutes (alternate ending cut) / Rating: R (theatrical), Unrated (alternate ending cut)

Director: Cameron Crowe / Writers: Cameron Crowe (screenplay); Alejandro Amenábar, Mateo Gil (film Abre Los Ojos)

Cast: Tom Cruise (David Aames Jr.), Penélope Cruz (Sofia Serrano), Cameron Diaz (Julianna Gianni), Kurt Russell (Dr. Curtis McCabe), Jason Lee (Brian Shelby), Noah Taylor (Edmund Ventura), Timothy Spall (Thomas Tipp), Tilda Swinton (Rebecca Dearborn), Alicia Witt (Libby), Johnny Galecki (Peter Brown), Michael Shannon (Aaron), Delaina Mitchell (David's Assistant), Ivana Milicevic (Emma), Armand Schultz (Dr. Pomeranz), Conan O'Brien (Himself)

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The 21st century has been fraught with disappointment for Cameron Crowe. The writer-director of Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, and Say Anything... faced significant, substantial critical disdain as well as moviegoer apathy on the romantic dramedies Elizabethtown and Aloha. In the ten years between those flops,
Crowe only gave us the respected but soon forgotten We Bought a Zoo and a documentary about Pearl Jam. It is easy to forget that Crowe actually began the century on a high note: Vanilla Sky, his 2001 English language remake of Alejandro Amenábar's 1997 Spanish drama Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), drew mixed reviews but grossed $100 million domestically and another $100 million overseas, milestones increasingly meaningless yet at the same time decreasingly obtainable for this filmmaker.

Vanilla Sky was not the typical Cameron Crowe movie, nor was it a project that leading man Tom Cruise would make at most points in his career. Since earning an Oscar nomination on his first collaboration with Crowe, Cruise had tested his movie stardom on movies riskier than his running string of blockbusters: a supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia and the lead in Stanley Kubrick's final work, Eyes Wide Shut. After a lucrative return to the Mission: Impossible well, Cruise reunited with his Jerry Maguire director on a film Wikipedia calls a psychological thriller and IMDb classifies as a fantasy, mystery, and romance.

"Vanilla Sky" opens with David Aames (Tom Cruise) finding Times Square unsettlingly void of people.

Cruise plays David Aames, Jr., the son of a publishing magnate and adventurer. David inherited the business after both of his parents were killed by a drunk driver. Ten years later, he has a great job that begins whenever he gets there, a killer bachelor pad in the heart of Manhattan whose decor includes a Monet original, and the type of existence that sees his birthdays observed by parties featuring a John Coltrane hologram and Steven Spielberg in the flesh.

At the party in question, 33-year-old David is accosted by his friend with benefits, Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), who isn't happy to not have been invited. While dodging her, David meets Sofia (Penélope Cruz), a dancer he thinks might be the last "semi-guileless girl in New York City." She came to the party with David's best friend (Jason Lee), who thinks she could be his dream girl. Instead, she quickly fills that role for David, clicking with him deeply even as he seeks to delay their pleasure.

The pleasure is indefinitely delayed when David is involved in a car accident. Severely disfigured facially, plagued by blinding migraines, and subjected to power grabs by the board of seven old timers whose disdain for him is an open secret, David finds himself relaying his unbelievable story to a psychologist (Kurt Russell) from prison, about to stand trial for murder.

David's is a fascinating tale with the line between dreams and reality firmly blurred. Fitted with a plastic facial prosthetic that looks like a blank mask, David tries to keep things afloat with Sofia while also looking into Life Extension, a company offering cryogenics-fueled resurrection services, first applied to a dog who's now a celebrity.

David (Tom Cruise) quickly falls hard for Sofia (Penélope Cruz), who attends his birthday party alongside his best friend.

Vanilla Sky boasts the desirable qualities of a Cameron Crowe movie: three-dimensional human characters, compassion, contemporary relevance, and a great soundtrack utilizing a wide array of pop/rock music.
But it doesn't ask Crowe to tell this story from scratch. The dialogue and highly imaginative plot are adapted from Amenábar's film, which cast the then-unknown 23-year-old Cruz in the same role she plays here.

This creative production marks Crowe's only real work in a genre outside of comedy-drama and romance. For someone that has clung to those niches and has tended to stick to straightforward original storytelling, he is remarkably adept at adaptation, nonlinearity, inventive visuals, and provocative, ambiguous storytelling. Vanilla Sky is powerful, haunting, and deeply moving. It explores the human experience at the turn of the millennium with wisdom and profundity. Cruise gets to tackle more than the on-the-run heroics to which he had grown accustomed and even if the character and story stand out more, there is still appropriate weight to the performance. Despite her three subsequent Oscar nominations and one win, Cruz has arguably never been better than here, even if it's the three-year offscreen Cruise/Cruz relationship born out of it that might be better remembered by some. Diaz, meanwhile, has never been easier to hate.

The film includes supporting performances by three heavyweight actors who have grown much more recognizable in the past fourteen years: Timothy Spall, Tilda Swinton, and Michael Shannon. In one of his first Hollywood roles, Noah Taylor also makes an impression as a mysterious, lurking tech support figure.

Vanilla Sky is the kind of challenging, head-scratching movie you can easily imagine making distributors uncomfortable and financers fidgety before languishing in limited release today. But back in the wake of 9/11, Cruise had enough star power to ensure that any movie with him on the poster would get wide release and be noticed by the masses. This $68 million production opened in first place shortly before Christmas 2001, in between the first installments of Harry Potter, Ocean's Eleven, and The Lord of the Rings. It did not get the awards attention Paramount Pictures may have hoped for, settling for original song nominations for Paul McCartney's film-closing title tune from the Oscars and many other organizations. Diaz did pick up some supporting actress nods, most notably from the star-loving Golden Globes, while Cruz curiously contended for the Worst Actress Razzie Award on the basis of this, Blow, and Captain Corelli's Mandolin. (She "lost" to Glitter's Mariah Carey.)

Most Noughties box office successes have already made their way to Blu-ray Disc. Vanilla Sky finally joined them this week as part of the substantial portion of Paramount catalog now handled by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Though most catalog Blu-rays are simply a matter of upgrading a film to high definition and retaining some of the DVD bonus features, Warner has actually put real effort into this release (which may explain why it was delayed repeatedly). They treat the film to a new edit with an alternate ending. This unrated cut extends the film by 5 minutes and 32 seconds, but does not alter anything before the 111-minute mark. The reinserted scenes -- a bathroom chat between David and psychologist McCabe and a shootout between David and Shannon's cop -- do not look nearly as polished as the rest of the film and even feature an unfinished visual effect in passing. Even so, the prospect of a catalog movie getting a new edit for Blu-ray has become rare enough to warrant cherishing this.

Vanilla Sky Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
Both Cuts: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Theatrical Cut only: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Most Video Extras Subtitled
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Release Date: June 30, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase
Still available on DVD (May 21, 2002) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released in DVD (February 23, 1999), 4 Film Favorites: Cruise Collection DVD with The Firm, Collateral, and Days of Thunder (October 14, 2014) and Double Feature DVD with The Firm (July 1, 2008)


Vanilla Sky looks about as good on Blu-ray as you would hope for a 2001 film to. The 1.78:1 presentation, an acceptable approximation of the 1.85:1 original aspect ratio, doesn't have the sharpness and detail of modern fare, but it is clean and untroubled nonetheless, at least in the theatrical cut. (The version with the alternate ending is even less sharp and detailed in the grainy latter parts it seamlessly branches to.) The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is perfectly satisfactory, staying crisp throughout while frequently getting your attention with dynamic sound effects.

A crew member gives writer-director Cameron Crowe bunny ears on the set in "Prelude to a Dream." Penélope Cruz and others endure red carpet questions in the international press tour documentary "Hitting It Hard." Sir Paul McCartney wears his finest pajamas in this short "Entertainment Tonight" interview.


The loaded disc's extras begin with a 2001 audio commentary on by Cameron Crowe and his then-wife Nancy Wilson, the Heart rocker who composed the score. Crowe does the bulk of talking and is full of passionate revelations and observations, while Wilson supplies some gentle original guitar music. Crowe even gets Cruise to contribute briefly via phone call.

Admirably, both cuts can be viewed with the commentary, because Crowe recently recorded a new solo commentary over the alternate ending, which was originally in place and remains somewhat preferred by him.
The occasion gives the filmmaker some new perspective to reflect on the film, which he admits to searching on Twitter to see what people are saying about from time to time. Very few studios and filmmakers would spend effort these days on a commentary's alternate ending. It is appreciated.

On the video side, where unless noted all is encoded in standard definition (and most within a 1.33:1 frame), we start with "Prelude to a Dream" (6:15), a featurette narrated by Crowe over audition footage, rehearsals, and assorted behind-the-scenes clips. It's a nice alternative to more conventional making-of pieces.

"Hitting It Hard" (10:06) documents the film's 2001-02 international press tour, with cameras turned on the journalists questioning the cast and crew and capturing some of the excitement from red carpets to TV interviews with Charlie Rose and Larry King. It presents a side of filmmaking we rarely see conveyed with such candor and grace.

"An Interview with Paul McCartney" (1:36) comes from "Entertainment Tonight" and collects thoughts from the artist on the title song, then freshly nominated for a Golden Globe.

Alicia Witt cracks up in Vanilla Sky's gag reel. The music video for Leftfield and Afrika Bambaataa's "Afrika Shox" is a little bit different.

A gag reel (5:30), which was an Easter egg on DVD, captures outtakes, ad libs, and miscellany from the unusually long filming period.

The music video for "Afrika Shox" (3:59) by Leftfield and Afrika Bambaataa blends clips from the films with psychedelic views of the artists. This dance club number is not your typical Cameron Crowe movie song.

Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz strike an artsy pose together in this black and white photo gallery still. Tom Cruise makes sure his mask works both ways in this mask test.

A behind-the-scenes photo gallery (HD) showcases 156 stills from production. It can be enjoyed as an 18-minute, 13-second leisurely self-advancing slideshow, if you don't wish to make use of the chapter skip buttons. The gallery is accompanied by an optional audio introduction (2:51) by still photographer Neal Preston discussing the shoot, which might have been easier to enjoy laid over the slideshow.

The next two vignettes are new for Blu-ray and appear in high definition.

A mask test (3:24) lets Cruise test out and experiment with a few different versions of the mask his character wears for parts of the film. It can be viewed with score or with Crowe commentary.

Kurt Russell's world comes crashing down in this protracted single take of a climactic rooftop scene. In this deleted scene, David (Tom Cruise) looks in on his own memorial service between tech support (Noah Taylor) and his lawyer (Timothy Spall).

"Kurt Russell single take" (6:10) is what it sounds like, with the actor performing his climactic rooftop scene (Tommy Wiseau-style on greenscreen) across from nobody, repeatedly insisting he has two daughters while occasionally cracking up and breaking down. It too can be viewed with admiring Crowe commentary.

Two Vanilla Sky theatrical trailers are preserved: an unreleased, mostly wordless teaser (1:43) and an international trailer (2:51).
It's kind of weird we don't get the one used domestically, but these windowboxed previews certainly beat the nothing that most new films get.

A section of 13 HD all-new deleted scenes runs 34 minutes and 52 seconds. They offer more from David's birthday party (with a better look at Tara Lipinski's self-cameo), more of David and Julia's pre-drive talk, more of David and McCabe (whose teenage daughters are glimpsed at), an extended version of the dance club scene, and an extended ending. The alternate ending bits are not included here, but you can watch 23 minutes and 19 seconds of the lot with newly-recorded Crowe commentary.

Finally, there are 23 navigable pages of credits, which identify music from and contributions to the bonus features.

The Blu-ray uses a static, silent menu you wouldn't quickly recognize as belonging to this film. The disc kindly gives you an option to resume playback of any unfinished item viewed.

Vanilla Sky gets no inserts or slipcover, but the disc does feature a full-color label.

Wearing a plastic facial prosthetic that most would call a mask, David (Tom Cruise) tries to make sense of his strange situation to a psychologist.


Vanilla Sky has not yet gotten its proper due as a creative and thought-provoking near-masterpiece unlike anything else its star and director have given us. This millennial mind-bender holds up extremely well and benefits from the occasional revisit.

The film's high quality makes it easy to recommend Warner's long-awaited Blu-ray release, which unearths an alternate ending and a wealth of really good bonus material, much of it previously unseen, to complement a fine HD feature presentation.

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Related Reviews:
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Tom Cruise: The FirmKnight & DayEdge of TomorrowJack ReacherEyes Wide ShutTop GunOblivionTropic ThunderRock of Ages
Penelope Cruz: NineThe CounselorTo Rome with LovePirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides | Kurt Russell: The Art of the Steal
Cameron Diaz: Being John MalkovichBad TeacherAny Given SundayGambit
Third PersonHerThe Great Beauty | New to Blu-ray: Danny Collins

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Reviewed July 1, 2015.

Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2001 Paramount Pictures, Cruise/Wagner, Vinyl Films, and 2015 Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.