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Science fiction has been rightfully called “the literature of ideas.” A truly excellent science fiction movie, then, would be one that does what the best science fiction does: plays with new ideas, challenges your perceptions, and tells a compelling story along the way. In contrast, the Hollywood definition of a science fiction movie appears to be “has a special effects budget in the millions, with lots of flashy computer-generated effects and a full complement of explosions.” The Spanish science fiction film Open Your Eyes (original title: Abre los ojos) is more than a breath of fresh air into the stale realm of box-office-hit sci-fi: it’s a full-blown wind of fresh air.

Open Your Eyes
César (Eduardo Noriega) seems to have it all: good looks, money, an admiring best friend, and a surplus of attractive women eager to share his bed. But this state of affairs is not fated to last long... Open Your Eyes leads viewers through a twisting maze of alternate views of reality, dreams, and nightmares, with each turn of the story offering another piece of the puzzle while at the same time revealing that the puzzle is more complex than we had guessed. For the sake of keeping away from any potential spoilers of the film’s extremely interesting plot, I’ll leave the description of the movie at that... an add a word to the wise: Open Your Eyes is the kind of movie that is much more intense and effective on the first watching if you do not know what’s coming up. If you are at all bothered by having surprises spoiled for you, I suggest that you do not read anything at all about the story before you watch the movie. I do promise that there are no spoilers in the rest of this review, so you can finish reading it safely. But after that, go watch the DVD!

It’s incredible to think that Open Your Eyes is only director Alejandro Amenábar’s second film. Amenábar’s first film, the chilling Thesis, displayed his promise as a filmmaker; Open Your Eyes takes a leap forward to reach a level that few filmmakers ever reach, much less in their second attempt. Then again, it’s abundantly clear that Amenábar is multi-talented; in addition to directing and co-writing Open Your Eyes, Thesis, directing and writing The Others, and writing Vanilla Sky, the U.S. remake of Open Your Eyes, Amenábar wrote the original musical score for Open Your Eyes, Thesis, The Others, and Butterfly.

One of the aspects of filmmaking that Amenábar clearly knows how to handle is structure and pacing. From the first frame of the movie to the last, Open Your Eyes is captivating, chilling, and utterly engaging. Though it’s not a horror or terror film, it spikes its drama with moments of intense tension, anticipation, and dread of the unseen or half-seen. Open Your Eyes is a psychological thriller in the best sense of the term, a film in which the mental state of the protagonist is the central focus of the storyline, both literally and thematically. Certain images and objects such as mirrors, masks, photographs recur throughout the film, offering meaning on both a literal and thematic level.

Open Your Eyes
Open Your Eyes features top-notch casting for all its roles, from Eduardo Noriega as César, to Penélope Cruz as Sofía, to Najwa Nimri as Nuria. By this I mean not that big-name actors have been used, but that the actors have been cast perfectly to their roles. Each one fits the part and brings his or her character to life in a completely convincing way... which is particularly impressive when you consider that the script demands that each major actor is called on to present his or her character at different moments in subtly different ways. I can’t say more without giving away too much of the story... let me just repeat that the acting in this film is outstanding.

To top it off, Open Your Eyes is a movie that liberally rewards repeat viewing. The plot is just as gripping on the second watching, if not more so, and a second viewing lets you appreciate the narrative structure more fully as well as to see elements of the story that you might have missed the first time.

Open Your Eyes is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and is anamorphically enhanced. The image quality overall is good, but it could have been better. There’s some edge enhancement and a moderate amount of noise in the picture. The level of clarity in the image is reasonable, but it’s still somewhat lower than I expected. I suspect that the transfer uses an overly high compression; the fact that I did not observe a layer change, even though the disc is listed on some retailers’ web sites as being dual-layer, suggests that for some reason the film was made to fit on only one of the two available layers of the DVD.

A variety of lighting situations appear throughout the film, from bright outdoor shots to the dim interior of a nightclub; in all these circumstances, the contrast stands up very well. Colours are likewise attractive and accurate-looking; the palette is generally fairly subtle, but the colours that are used show up nicely.

I was extremely pleased to see that the English subtitles are optional, not burned-in. For me, this is an essential feature, which allows viewers who understand the original language to enjoy the film in its completely theatrical state, without the distraction of unnecessary subtitles.

The DVD comes with a Dolby 2.0 Spanish soundtrack, which I would consider to be a touch above average. Open Your Eyes is a fairly dialogue-based film in which the main effect is carried through scenes of human interaction, not flashy (and loud) special effects, so there’s not much need for surround effects. The dialogue is clear and understandable.

Open Your Eyes comes with cast and crew information and production notes in its special features section.

Open Your Eyes
I don’t give out “perfect 10” ratings lightly, but Open Your Eyes earns one by all accounts. There’s nothing at all that I’d change in this movie; all the pieces fit together to form one of the best movies I’ve seen, period. The DVD could have been a little better, but on the other hand it’s a respectable transfer that’s anamorphically enhanced and has optional subtitles, so it’s nothing to complain about, either. In short, there’s no excuse to pass up this DVD and every reason to go out and buy it now.