Sony // 1997 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // January 14th, 2002
There is no gene for the human spirit.
"Uma, Oprah. Oprah, Uma."
Yes, that classic line was derived from David Letterman's hosting gig at the Academy Awards a few years back. Of course, those of you who don't know who Oprah is apparently are living in a small tin shack somewhere off the coast of Alaska without any newspapers, TVs, or radios. As for Uma, Letterman was referring to the actress who looms around 34 feet and has lips the size of two fresh-baked croissants. In 1997, Uma Thurman starred with soon-to-be lover/father-of-her-child Ethan Hawke (Reality Bites, Before Sunrise) in the science-fiction murder mystery Gattaca. Columbia has decreed that Gattaca was to be part of their second wave of "Superbit" titles, along with Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Set in the not-so-distant future, Gattaca tells the story of one man's quest to beat the system and defy the odds! Wait, hasn't this story been told before? No matter!
Gattaca shows us that these days babies born the "natural way" (i.e., two people humping in the backseat of a Volvo) are considered lesser than the babies born perfectly (i.e., through genetic altering sans diseases, imperfections, et cetera). In this vision of the future, doctors and scientists can determine the age that someone will die just as soon as they're born.
Young Vincent (Hawke) dreams of going into space but knows that because of his human imperfections would never be eligible at "Gattaca," a sleek and futuristic looking space station. With the help of an identity bookie (Tony Shalhoub, Men In Black), Vincent is able to get a new identity as Jerome (Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley), a genetic perfection who was crippled in a car accident and now vents his frustrations through bitterness and spite. Using Jerome's urine, skin, and blood samples at the Gattaca offices (to make sure everything is in order, Gattaca checks body samples that can be read as genetic codes), Vincent is able to secretly become part of the elite and genetically superior team.
However, when a murder takes place at the Gattaca offices, Vincent's new identity is at risk of being exposed. A few smart detectives (Alan Arkin, Edward Scissorhands and Loren Dean, Mumford) seem to be hot on Vincent's trail, though never suspecting that Vincent is really Jerome (uh, see the movie if you want to know what the heck I'm talking about). At the same time, Vincent has met Irene (Thurman), a beautiful blonde that also works at Gattaca and may have more in common with Vincent than he knows. With the police hot on his trail and a dream in his head, Vincent will stop at nothing to beat a system that is perfect -- to a fault.
For those going into Gattaca hoping for an exciting sci-fi thrill ride, be warned -- Gattaca is a slow, character driven story that takes its time to unfold. It's science fiction all right, but it's also a character study and a murder mystery. Writer/director Andrew Niccol (author of The Truman Show) weaves this film together with a different look and spin on the future. In today's day and age of cloning sheep and test tube babies, can the world of Gattaca be that far off? An eerie thought, indeed.
I first saw Gattaca upon its theatrical release back in 1997 and thought little of it. Upon a second viewing I was more impressed, though I still thought the story moved a tad too slowly for my tastes. This isn't to say that Gattaca is a bad movie -- far from it. Niccol includes some striking images and excellent set designs in the film. The performances by Thurman, Hawke, Law, and Arkin are all low-key and well suited for the film. I've never been a huge fan of Ethan Hawke, though here he is appropriate for the role of Vincent. Thurman is another actor that I don't particularly care for (who saw The Avengers? Batman and Robin, anyone?). However, past blunders can be overlooked as both of these rather bland actors look and feel their parts. It's always a pleasure to see Alan Arkin in a movie, though this is the first time I've ever seen him in such a dead serious role.
The real star of Gattaca is the sets and costumes by Jan Roelfs, Sarah Knowles, Nancy Nye, and Colleen Atwood. Sparse, gray and sprawling, this is the type of uncomfortable future that nobody wants to live in. I've never seen a washroom that was as colder or more impersonal as Jerome's.
I can't say that I loved Gattaca, though I do think that this is one of the more intelligent and thoughtful sci-fi films to come out of Hollywood in the last few years. If that's your cup of genetically enhanced coca, then by all means snatch up Gattaca as soon as you can.
Gattaca: Superbit Edition is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This newly presented "Superbit" edition looks excellent and is marred only by a slight halo effect in a few scenes. Otherwise, this is a great looking transfer: colors are vibrant and bright, black levels deep and solid, and edge enhancement, digital artifacting, and bleeding are absolutely non-present. Columbia has done an excellent job on this transfer and should be commended.
Audio on this Superbit disc is presented in DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, each featured in only English. Both of these tracks sound rich and full, though Gattaca is not by nature an effects-heavy film. Michael Nyman's lush music score is pumped through all of the speakers, and when it's needed the surround feature is engaged to impressive effect. All aspects of the dialogue, effects and music are free of any distortion or imperfection. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
The Superbit editions include nary a single extra feature. Gattaca: Superbit is no exception.
Gattaca is an enjoyable sci-fi thriller, but don't expect it to movie with the velocity of something like Aliens or Independence Day. Once again, I found this Superbit title to look great with hardly any problems in the video and audio departments.
Both Columbia and Gattaca are found not guilty. Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2002 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13