Recent SF films have mainly (though not exclusively) been about loud
explosions and cool special effects. That's fine; I'm an SF fan and
can dig that sort of thing if it's well done. What is even better
than a bitchin' space fight though is a thoughtful SF film that extrapolates
scientific and social trends in order to comment on today. It's rare
of course, but one such film is 1997's Gattaca. This film
set in the near future looks towards a time when people aren't discriminated
against because of their race or religion, but because of their genetic
predispositions. A film that asks where a person's genetic make-up
ends and where their spirit begins, it's one of the underrated films of
the 1990's. The new Blu-ray release of the film looks and sounds
fantastic and will certainly create new fans of the movie.
Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) has grown up disadvantaged. Not
because his family was poor, but because he was created naturally, in the
back seat of a car. In the not too distant future, just about all
children will be genetically modified as embryos, eliminating predispositions
to alcohol and heart disease as well as enhancing their looks and abilities.
Vincent, not having gone through that, is a normal person who unfortunately
has a bad heart.
Because of this imperfection, Vincent can't get a job. Though
discriminating on the basis of a genetic flaw is illegal, it's universally
practiced and because of that the only job Vincent can get is performing
His DNA doesn't define him however. Vincent wants to go into space
and studies and trains tirelessly. The problem is that no matter
how good he is, he'll never even get in the door due to his poor genetics.
That's where Jerome Morrow (Jude Law) enters the picture. An athlete
with an amazing IQ and perfect genetics, he's been crippled and can't make
a living. Through an intermediary, Vincent and Jerome make an arrangement:
Jerome will provide Vincent with genetic material; skin, hair, urine and
blood samples, and let him take over his identity. In exchange Vincent
(now Jerome) will support his genetic donor in the lifestyle he's been
The plan works without a flaw. The new Jerome gets a job with
Gattaca, a space exploration firm, and is even set to man a mission to
an outer planet. When a project leader is murdered in the Gattaca
offices after hours however the police come in to investigate and discover
some of Vincent's DNA near the scene. Not being a registered worker
there, and having dropped off the grid, Vincent immediately becomes the
prime suspect. So close to his goal though Vincent/Jerome can't give
up and even though he denies killing the manager, he has to stay one step
ahead of the police.
This is a low key film that is a pleasure to watch. There aren't
any elaborate special effects and the story seems to be more detective
show the SF adventure. At its core however, this film is more than
that, it's a comment on the human spirit. A person isn't limited
by their DNA anymore than winning the genetic lottery assures happiness
or living a full life. There's something unquenchable about the human
spirit, and this movie celebrates that drive that pushes people to climb
the highest mountains and explore the deepest jungles.
Writer/director Andrew Niccol wraps his message in an intriguing story
and an interesting world. This prevents the film's meaning from becoming
overbearing and obnoxious. The world he creates is filled with paranoia
and uncertainty. It's a place where women will steal a sample of
their boyfriend's genetic material to see if they'll be a good genetic
donor for their children, and where employees have to have blood samples
taken every day in order to enter their work place.
The amazing thing about the film is that Niccol's does create a very
paranoid environment, but it's not a depressing distopia like Blade Runner
or Brazil. This world is filled with beautiful people and gorgeous
architecture where mankind has advanced greatly. A sterile version
of utopia that is so close to our society that it could actually happen.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC transfer looks just great and this disc is sure
to please fans of the film. The colors are gorgeous, with nice warm
skin tones offset by the sterile cold blue of the Gattaca offices.
Blacks are deep and rich and the whites are nice and solid too. The
level of detail is wonderful...this is why we invested in HD technology folks,
to see fine details like the pores on Uma Thurman's face and each one of
Jude Law's eyebrows.
The only real complaint I have is that there's a bit of digital noise
in some of the dark scenes, especially noticeable in sections with large
patches of black. This wasn't distracting at all, and I'd bet that
most casual viewers won't even notice it.
Just to see how strong the transfer was, I got out my SD DVD copy of
the film. (That's where the screen caps are from.) There have
been a couple of people in various forums recently proclaiming that an
upconverted SD DVD is nearly as good as a true 1080p image. I don't
know how things look on their systems, but comparing the video quality
of the DVD to the Blu-ray was like night and day. The increased definition,
stronger colors, deeper blacks, and an overall clearer picture made this
Blu-ray disc shine much more brightly than the upconverted DVD.
This film comes with a lossless Dolby True HD soundtrack that does the
movie justice. There's not a lot going on, sonically speaking, for
the vast majority of this movie. It's a quite film that's dialog
driven and even then there are lots of sequences where no one is talking.
The voices are crisp and clear throughout thought they're mainly centered
on the screen. The rears are only sparsely used, and the sub only
really gets a workout at the very end when a rocket is being launched.
Even so, audio to this film was carefully thought out and purposefully
sparse in order to reproduce the clean, sterile world of the future.
It seems like publishers are finally realizing that consumers want the
extras included on their HD discs. Thankfully Sony has seen fit to
put all of the bonus features on this disc that are on the newest release
of the film, some of them even in HD!
First off is a new documentary, Welcome to Gattaca. This
22 minute featurette is presented in HD and is a fairly standard behind-the-scenes
look at the film. The main stars are interviewed and talk about their
characters and the plot a bit. There wasn't quite enough substance
to justify 22 minutes, but it only started to drag at the end.
The oddly named Original Featurette is the making of short that
appeared on the first release of the film. I'm really glad that they
included this on the disc since I'm a completist and would be the first
to moan and complain had they omitted it. Having said that,
this really isn't worth watching. A poor back-patting fluff piece,
this featurette is one of the reasons I inwardly groan when I see a BTS
piece listed in the special features.
Do Not Alter is a new featurette that runs 15 minutes and is
narrated by Gore Vidal (who also appears in the film.) This looks
at the science behind the film and how closely reality could mirror this
fiction. An interesting piece, though nothing that they said was
really new or novel.
The disc is rounded out by a series of deleted scenes that haven't aged
that well, including an alternate ending that was best left off, and outtake
- "Substance Test" that was amusing, and a series of trailers which are
presented in HD.
With some magnificent performances and a wonderful script, this thought-provoking
film is one of the underrated classics of the 1990's. This
Blu-ray disc presents the movie with a wonderful picture and an accurate
sounding audio track that really makes the film shine. For those
that like their SF with a bit of a cerebral kick, this disc is highly
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.