What if there was a way to go back ever so slightly in time to right a wrong and rescue an impossible love worth more than your lonely life? Agent Doug Carlin falls at first sight for a beautiful dead woman killed in an act of civil war rivaling the Oklahoma City bombing in scope and terror.
Entering into the high tech realm of super physics, territory commonly reserved for mad men and magicians, Carlin is visually escorted by several eccentric young government scientists, armed with well researched string theory jargon and an array of complex viewing screens, into a time/space juncture a few days prior to the tragedy. Peering through walls and picking up sound events as the practical process of time travel is revealed to him, Carlin becomes more deeply attached to the life of lovely Claire Kuchever, driving him to meet her father and visit her apartment for clues.
After a failed attempt to alert his partner by sending a note back in time, Carlin is so moved by the horror of witnessing his murder and losing his new love before they have the opportunity to meet, that he throws caution to the wind and asks to be sent back in time to stop the senseless killing of Claire and hundreds of innocent people. The young scientists bend the ruler and grant his wish.
Soon Carlin is on the trail of Carroll Oerstadt, grimly portrayed by Jim Caviezal, who is certainly in no danger of being type cast as Jesus Christ. Oerstadt, a frustrated Special Forces wannabe, hell bent on following his destiny: committing an act of domestic war against the United States of America. He is powerful in his obsession and I found myself gasping in fear at what he might do – truly a sinister and terrifying character.
In the end, the bad guy gets his and the good guy gets the girl. Love always wins – no matter what forces oppose it. Down deep inside, most people want to believe in the victorious power of love, making this film a winner on a very visceral level, supported by a great cast and some fine action filmmaking.
Of special note is the fact that this film is the first major motion picture entirely filmed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, adding to the emotional climate of the story.
Some technical details from studio press notes:
SECRETS OF SURVEILLANCE:
CREATING THE TIME-WINDOW LAB
Doug Carlin’s search to understand what happened at the moment the ferry bomb exploded and what it has to do with his past and future ultimately takes him to one of DÉJÀ VU’s most intriguing locations: the secret time-window lab in which Doug can view surveillance footage of past events. The lab was built on a stage in Los Angeles under the aegis of production designer Chris Seagers, who was given a distinct mission from Tony Scott: to give the lab a raw-edged, high-tech feel in which everything was digital and state-of-the art and yet cables, wires and ducts were exposed. Says Seagers, “Tony wanted it to feel like the lab was a work in progress and that every day the scientists and Secret Service would come in and hack away at trial and error to improve it. Plus, he wanted the feeling that these people spend their entire day working intensely in the lab, so there is also a chaos to this very tight, claustrophobic space.”
The whole concept of the time window lab reflects a new world in which visual surveillance is increasingly used to watch over human traffic at airports, gas stations, ATMs, stores, offices and on freeways, as well as to reconstruct criminal activity. Indeed, prior to Katrina, New Orleans already had in place a surveillance system with six satellite cameras at various locations, though these were destroyed during the storm. Surveillance also came to fore in the story of the recent London Underground bombings, as the culprits were apprehended using clues provided by the cameras set up in the underground system. Thus, at the center of the lab’s design is the main surveillance screen, made up of 72 tiles, so that an image at any given time can be blown up from one foot to 20 larger-than-life feet. A special video-unit crew was assigned the task of capturing every visual that appears on the tiles. Ultimately, over 500 hours of footage were shot that would be edited and projected in this time-window labset.
HIGH SPEED AND HIGH DEFINITION:
THE VISUAL DESIGN OF DÉJÀ VU
The look of DÉJÀ VU is as innovative as its storyline. Says Jerry Bruckheimer, “Tony
Scott’s films have a signature look with fast cuts and unusual camera angles. In DÉJÀ VU, he uses many unique visual techniques to enhance the storytelling.”
Rather than sticking to one form of camera equipment, DÉJÀ VU uses a high-tech fusion
of several, including the high-definition Genesis camera, which provides the ability to shoot in low light while maintaining high quality, as well as being incredibly mobile. Cinematographer Paul Cameron was thrilled to use them. “We couldn’t have shot DÉJÀ VU without using Genesis cameras because they gave us a ton of flexibility,” he comments. “The main reason for using Genesis conceptually in DÉJÀ VU is our time window lab set that looks into the past had to be photographed on a stage with rear-screen projection. We wanted the absolute sharpest, clearest image so that when we
re-photographed the time window with actors in front of it, it would be absolutely sharp and as 3-D as possible.”
In a movie first, the visionary Time Track camera by Digital Air, which has been used often in film to create a stop-motion frozen look, was used as an effect in DÉJÀ VU. When shooting interiors of Claire’s house, the movement of Paula Patton was tracked with trails to produce a stunning ghosting effect as 160 small camera lenses shot in sequence. A Lydar camera, which was originally made for the military, was also used to scan structures such as Claire’s house to show diagrams and create a sense of place in the time-window lab. The Lydar technology is not able to scan human beings, so Tony Scott asked DÉJÀ VU’s visual effects house, Asylum, to create a computer-generated Lydar version of a person. Asylum created an additional 100 visual effects shots for the film.
In addition, several military techniques, such as Infrared, Thermal Imaging, and Heat
Impulse visual imagery, were utilized in DÉJÀ VU, adding further to the realism.
For Tony Scott, using different cameras was just another way of getting to the heart of a
story that is about the way love and action occur in split-seconds that seem divorced from the usual framework of time. “I see different cameras sort of like different tools used in an investigation,” he summarizes. “All the imagery used in DÉJÀ VU works to make the story’s mix of romance, crime investigation and time travel more convincing.”
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Paula Patton and Jim Caviezal
Location: New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina