Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thoughts on the old film: Deja Vu

I finally caught Deja Vu on some channel or other yesterday. Good grief. What a good idea taken in completely the wrong direction.


Usually I'm big on explosions and action sequences, but for once I was wishing they'd taken that move down a notch. It would have made a terrific low budget indie.

Hear me out here.

Okay so the story is, there's an explosion on a boat and an investigator uses a time travel video thing to see what happened 4 days ago. He knows the bomber is connected to a girl so he uses the device to spy on her past and figure out who the bomber is. Then he goes back in time himself to save the girl he's fallen in love with by watching her in the shower. And somewhere in there his partner dies, but it seems to be thrown into the story for the fuck of it. Like Laura, but with more explosions and not as good.

The investigators spend the first half hour of the movie mostly locked in a room watching a video. That could have been the entire movie. The investigator in charge, Denzel, becomes obsessed with this girl to the point where his fellow investigators are concerned. In the meantime, another investigator works to solve the crime the old fashioned way.

Also, if you're going to set a movie in New Orleans, can you actually make it set in New Orleans? There was like ONE Southern accent in the entire movie, and we really could have been living in pretty much any city with a boat. There's this one scene with some alligators where it was kind of like Hey look! Alligators! See, we are so in New Orleans!

And for heaven's sake, if you're writing a movie with time travel, you have two choices. Either you go with the Terminator model or the Back to the Future model. So either you go back and change things and the future changes, or you go back and can't change things because everything you did you will do again. But YOU CAN'T HAVE BOTH. This movie had both. When the investigator goes back in time to save the girl, he discovers that some of the clues he picked up on are only there because he went back in time - a bunch of bloody clothes he found in her apartment were actually his clothes. That would indicate that this is Terminator logic, where nothing changes because you already did it. But then later on he changes the future using Back to the Future logic. You can't simultaneously change the future and have already not changed the future. I have the same problem with Primeval, even though I love Primeval.

And that leaves an interesting dilemma that was completely ignored: the blood on the clothes in the murder victim's apartment belongs to the investigator on the case, a man who didn't meet her until she died. That's pretty damned interesting, but it went unnoticed.

But my main issue is the hastily put together small story element. Every story, no matter how loaded with special effects, is best when it is a small story. The Hurt Locker is about the Iraq war. Scratch that. The Hurt Locker is about three soldiers in the Iraq war. Titanic is about the sinking of a - oh wait, no it wasn't. Titanic is about two people falling in love on a sinking ship.

Had all those people involved made Deja Vu concentrated more on the investigator's development and relationship with the girl he's obsessing over, instead of blowing up random cars and playing with shiny objects, this would have been a much cheaper movie to make. And it might have been good.


  1. There is another time travel type of story. Star Trek TNG and the infinite loop. The premise being if we fail to learn from our history we are doomed to repeat it. If we go back in time to save a life and fail the events that took place to send us back in time are still present. So we can keep trying to save the life until we get it right.

  2. Fair enough. But nothing in this story hinted that this was a possibility. I just think it was a mess.

  3. John's got it right. If you watch the movie again, when Denzel shows up at the crime scene, his cell phone is ringing and there is also a cell phone ringing at the same time in a body bag.

    Later in the movie, Adam Goldberg talks about Denzel getting a call to a crime scene where he's looking at his own dead body. So the infinite loop time travel theory works here. Also, in the scene where he rearranges the words on the refrigerator to remind himself for when he comes back show the whole infinite loop thing.

    I really liked this movie. But a lot of people didn't but if you watch it another time and pick up on those clues as well as others, it might get better for you.

  4. That still makes no sense. His phone rings over his dead body. Yep, that's because it's Terminator logic. He already went back in time so everything he does has already been done.

    But then he saves the girl and that's a change. You can't have change and then have everything be the same. If it was a loop then how can he have already done everything and yet change everything?

    This is the point I am making in that part of my post.

  5. It's not supposed to make sense. It's a Tony Scott film, and I worship at the bug fuck crazy altar of Tony Scott.

    Watch Deja Vu back to back to back with Man On Fire and Domino. You will not regret it.

    It helps if you're stoned.

  6. Dude, I am 100% certain I would regret that.

    That said, I did not hate Man on Fire. If nothing else, it has a fantastic title.

  7. I think the problem with the script is not that the time travel doesn't make sense, it's that it does make sense but it's such a complicated explanation that it could really do with Doc Brown drawing alternate timelines on a chalkboard.

    Here's how it goes:

    Prior to the film starting, there's an explosion on a ferry. Denzel goes to investigate, he learns about the time window project and then discovers he can send himself back through time.

    He does this. At the point he has gone back in time, he changes history by his mere presence. This creates a divergent timeline that runs parallel to the original one.

    In this second timeline, Denzel #1 tries and fails to stop the ferry exploding, dying in the process. He does leave messages on the fridge and so forth. In the same timeline, Denzel #2 (the character we follow through most of the movie) also investigates the ferry, also comes across the time window. He investigates as Denzel #1 did - but he can also see what Denzel #1 has done in the past (the messages).

    Denzel #2 then goes back in time and creates another divergent timeline (#3). Presumably he's gone back to the exact same moment (or before) when Denzel #1 arrived - otherwise he would be creating a divergence from timeline #2 (which would then have three Denzels running about in it (from timeline #1, timeline #2 and the one who belongs to timeline #3).

    So Denzel #2 now repeats a lot of what Denzel #1 had already done. But he manages to make slightly different decisions (because he's learned from the events that Denzel #1 affected (it's iterative timeline changing), and so saves the ferry, even though he ends up dead.

    Denzel #3 on the other hand doesn't need to investigate the ferry bombing because his counterpart from timeline #2 has solved the case, so he doesn't encounter the time window, doesn't travel back in time and so gets to live.

    Of course in the other timelines, everyone on the ferry is still dead and really all the first Denzel did was compound the misery by making it happen to the same people twice.

    So it's not an infinite loop, although there's no guarantee that my timeline #1 was the first point from which Denzel went back - it's just the only one of which there's any evidence in the film.

    The script was better than the finished movie. It still made my brain hurt though.

  8. Either way, that's some complicated shit and it didn't have to be. This could have been a small story without the necessary intellectual gymnastics.

  9. As I recall, the original script had Washington's character watch the woman and fall in love, but not travel back in time. When Tony Scott came on the project, that was the first change he wanted, and the writers couldn't talk him out of it.

  10. That makes complete sense. I was thinking this story probably used to be much less complicated. This is an example of a time when I'd like to see the first version and the shooting script side by side.

  11. The spec, as sold, is right here. I don't know how to find the shooting script.


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