The delayed appearance of Next on Blu-ray Disc was a victim of Paramount’s decision to deliver high-definition titles exclusively on HD-DVD last fall. The move came mere weeks from Next’s release date, meaning the title was likely ready to go on Blu-ray and simply shelved for future consideration. With Paramount’s quick return to Blu-ray and the need for new inventory to fill shelves quickly, Next made for a logical — and easy — Blu-ray “debut.”
Next reads like a slam-dunk hit on paper: Nicholas Cage playing yet another reluctant hero, Cris, with the ability to see two minutes into his own future; a shimmering wet Jessica Biel in a towel; Julianne Moore trying to be tough like Jodie Foster and failing miserably; and multiple special effects sequences, including the detonation of a nuclear device featured prominently in previews. The questionable casting of Julianne Moore and her bland vanilla foreign terrorists sends up a red flag. But there’s certainly enough raw material to shape a rousing adventure.
To do so, Next needed to gain strength and jump the hurdle of telling a compelling story that works with the effects rather than being trampled by them. Unfortunately, this is where Lee Tamahori’s translation of the Philip Dick story goes shockingly awry. The script gets so caught up in what’s about to happen that it never takes the time to explain what just happened, or why it did.
Within the film’s opening minutes, Cris finds himself on the run from Moore and the FBI as well as terrorists, with no explanation given as to how these groups discovered his power and ultimately determined he was the key to either preventing or ensuring a nuclear device would be detonated in Los Angeles. Just like that, Cris is on the run with his only pit stop being a diner he frequents twice a day in hopes of finding a woman whose future he’s been able to see well beyond his own two-minute limit.
Another unexplainable encounter is the appearance of Peter Falk playing, assumedly, a Whistler role from Blade to Cris — “assumedly” because we meet Peter for all of 60 seconds before he’s gone for good. The “why” Peter is hanging out in a garage in the middle of the night and “how” he knows Cris are never explored or even touched upon.
What really throws Next into a wild tangent is the inconsistent use of Cris’ abilities to solve countless sticky situations. Every time Cris looks into the future, it changes because he looked. So theoretically, he could look 120 times for two seconds into the future and see a different outcome every single time. When Chis attempts to woo Liz (Biel) at a diner after he’s had visions of her, he replays picking her up over and over again until it finally works. Other times, such as when Cris is caught by the FBI, we don’t see any replays of what’s transpiring, but we do see Cris making superhuman decisions on the fly. He should have replayed getting caught over and over until he found a way out of it.
Next’s lack of cohesion and direction is unfortunate, as Cage and Biel are generally likeable and oddly make a great couple — however forced their relationship is written. Everything beyond their dialogue exchanges and natural charisma are throwaway nonsense devoid of fun, the action sequences included, leaving Next no place to go but backwards for a laughable and unimaginable Bob Newhart Show conclusion.
Paramount has ported the AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1080p transfer directly from the previous HD-DVD, and after watching the film for a second time on Blu-ray Disc, the presentation is naturally identical and equally as impressive. The picture is nearly grain-free when it needs to be, most notably during an avalanche sequence in the Grand Canyon. Some instances of heavy grain plague a handful of motionless scenes but are easily forgotten once the pace picks up. A bouncing camera and loads of active CGI are presented naturally and not artificially with enhancement or other annoyances. Unfortunately for the CGI artists, the crisp detail 1080p offers exposes some obviously fake effects work.
The HD-DVD edition of Next included an “in your face” lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track that has been replicated via lossless PCM on Blu-ray Disc. The avalanche scene, select scenes of gunfire, a brief car chase, and the deep bass effect associated with Cris’ looking into the future benefit greatly from lossless versus lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 found on the DVD edition. When the action tones down a notch and dialogue plays alongside the score and ambient sounds, the balance is spot-on so one element doesn’t drown out the next.
Paramount was able to pack in all of Next’s supplemental materials in 1080i or 1080p high-definition on HD-DVD, so it was easy to port them to Blu-ray Disc with the option of added storage capacity. Given the quick turnaround of this release, there are no new exclusive features on Blu-ray not found on the previous HD-DVD.
Paramount is usually good with loading new theatrical releases up with several hours worth of interviews and making-of material. With Next, they’ve taken a less-is-more approach with the longest featurette, Making the Next Best Thing, running a mere 17 minutes. This featurette is mostly a collection of interview snippets from the cast, director and producers, while the remaining Three Featurettes focus on special effects, filming in the Grand Canyon, and asking Jessica Biel if she’d like to have Cris’ powers in real life. Other than these quick snippets, the only other extra feature is a lone Theatrical Trailer in high definition.
Next flew under the radar at the box office, and for good reason. It’s a film you desperately want to like, but a convoluted plot and poor storytelling shred any hope of enjoyment within the opening act. For Blu-ray owners who missed out on Next when it came out exclusively on HD-DVD last fall, it does offer a couple demo-worthy sequences and Jessica Biel in high definition. That winning combination is definitely worth a look.
- Score: 7.6