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Vanilla Sky (2001)

August 16th, 2007 · 2 Comments

John Huston once said: “”There is a willful lemming-like persistence in remaking past successes time after time. They can’t make them as good as they are in our memories, but they go on doing them and each time it’s a disaster. Why don’t we remake some of our bad pictures … and make them good?” This Distracted Globe recycles itself and examines the best and worst remakes.

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By Joe Valdez

After waking from a nightmare in which all of New York – including Times Square – is devoid of people, 33-year-old David Aames (Tom Cruise) is introduced. He has the perfect job – ownership of a publishing firm inherited from his father – the ideal best friend (Jason Lee), and the devotion of a failed actress named Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) who brings him chicken soup and has sex with him.

At his birthday party, he meets Sofia (Penélope Cruz), a blithe spirit. They’re both social animals, and they both experience something like love at first sight. The couple stays up all morning talking. When David leaves her place, Julie confronts him. She convinces David to let her give him a ride, becomes unhinged with unrequited love and drives her Buick Skylark off a bridge.

David emerges with a disfigured face which doctors are unable to fix, except to offer him a prosthetic mask. Sofia no longer feels comfortable around him and David becomes withdrawn. The story jumps to a mental institution, where David is being held for murder and is questioned by a psychiatrist (Kurt Russell) who wants to understand him. David begins to suspect he may be inside a dream.

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Open Your Eyes was the title of a genre bending Spanish language film directed by Alejandro Amenábar, from a screenplay by Amenábar & Mateo Gil. It starred Eduardo Noreiga as Cesar, a playboy disfigured in a car accident in Madrid, who becomes unable to distinguish the waking world from his dreams. Penélope Cruz played Sofia, a woman he meets at a party and falls in love with, while Najwa Nimri played Nuria, his jaded lover.

Upon its release in 1997, Tom Cruise became one of the film’s fans. His C/W Productions bought the English language remake rights from Summit Entertainment. Cameron Crowe also saw the film and couldn’t get it out of his mind. The movie felt like a folk song to him, and after agreeing to adapt and direct a remake, chose to call it Vanilla Sky, a title he felt had a musical quality.

Crowe shot the picture back-to-back with Almost Famous, retaining director of photography John Toll and composer Nancy Wilson. Test audiences had plenty of suggested changes, but after Crowe cut 30 minutes out of the movie, the shorter version tested mediocre. Crowe reinserted 15 minutes for a running time of 135 minutes, and the film was generally a success with critics and audiences when released in theaters.

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While Open Your Eyes is a masterpiece of some sort – a bizarre, yet perfectly made film that defies convention – Vanilla Sky is like drinking spiked punch. I’ve watched this twice and still can’t decide whether it’s a really good movie, or an ambitious failure. There could be potent stuff here, or I could just be giving the pranksters more credit than they deserve.

If Almost Famous was his gift to fans of ’70s rock, Vanilla Sky is Crowe’s gift to film geeks. He takes cues from Roman Polanski (David lives in the Dakota Hotel, the setting for Rosemary’s Baby) and Stanley Kubrick throughout. But this isn’t a horror movie. Crowe’s ability to write sophisticated and witty repartee, to examine the growing pains of maturity, is what – like all of his work – really drives the story.

The film is wonderfully cast, but goes in so many different directions, it ultimately doesn’t do much of anything well. There’s wit, but the movie isn’t funny. There’s horror, but this isn’t scary. There’s romance, but I prefer Penélope Cruz when she’s speaking Spanish. Open Your Eyes felt like a waking dream, unsettling throughout. Vanilla Sky is nostalgic and rosy-cheeked. It nudges its boundaries instead of pushing them.

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Vanilla Sky is a bold film with tons of ambition, a quality I truly appreciate in films today because it is so rare. Want to exercise your mind? Well here is the treadmill,” writes TC Candler at Independent Critics.

Rose “Bams” Cooper at 3BlackChicks Review says, “Vanilla Sky proves again that a bunch of mumbo-jumbo nonsense muddled together in a long-running package does not a Deep Thriller make.”

“Crowe hasn’t really brought anything new to the party, other than a bag full of cool soundtrack tunes. It’s a more honest attempt at a remake than we could normally expect from a major studio picture, but frustrating and disappointing all the same,” writes at Jason Arber at Pixelsurgeon.

Tags: Ambiguous ending · Dreams and visions · Femme fatale · No opening credits · Paranoia · Psychoanalysis · Unconventional romance

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 matt // Aug 20, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    I saw the original version of this movie but never got around to watching the non-subtitled edition.I think it was because Tom Cruise as a rich playboy seemed too far-fetched.

  • 2 Sedate Me // Aug 19, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    I liked Vanilla Sky and probably would have liked it more with the missing 15 minutes. It just seemed like it was missing a couple of scenes. It was good, but it was so close to being great.

    I never saw the original Spanish version, but I’m willing to bet this was largely a case of “made for America” rearing its ugly head. Even in an artistic sci-fi-ish film, only so much thinking is tolerable, especially with such a high profile cast.

    The whole Cruz-Cruise romance thing was a distraction that hurt the watchability because it kept pulling you out of the movie make-believe world and into the real make-believe world.

    Unfortunately, Cruise is such a self-parody now he’s ruined the chance to see it again and delve deeper into it. I too suspect I’d see more if I watched it a couple more times.

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