Genetic research has become commonplace over the last decade. In the last four hours alone, news has surfaced online about the possible elimination of epilepsy, the discovery of a family of liver cancer genes, and a major business deal that will accelerate the production of anti-aging procedures. As we stand on the precipice of a genomics industry boom, the reality of genetic alteration becoming the new plastic surgery suddenly makes 1997's future dystopian film 'Gattaca' seem all too relevant.
In the near future, genetic engineering has divided humanity into two classes -- the "invalids," cursed with flaws in their DNA, and "valids," healthy, intelligent individuals who are genetically predisposed to a long, productive life. In this chilling world, a young man named Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) is told that he will never achieve his dream of becoming an astronaut because he was born with a congenital heart condition. Going underground and assuming the genetic identity of a crippled valid named Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), Freeman is accepted into the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation and is soon chosen for a mission to one of Saturn's moons. He even pursues a romantic relationship with one of his co-workers, an attractive valid named Irene (Uma Thurman). But when the mission director is mysteriously murdered, Freeman must evade a determined pair of detectives (Alan Arkin and Loren Dean), a perceptive doctor (Xander Berkeley), and the firm's internal security.
'Gattaca' works for two specific reasons -- its script is rife with believable characters, and its cast delivers a series of vulnerable performances. I've never been a huge fan of Hawke's work, but his timid demeanor and anxious stares work brilliantly in his portrayal of Freeman. He imbues the character with an abundance of humanity, so much so that he comes to represent anyone who's ever had an unreachable dream. Law is excellent as well, but he exists in stark contrast to Freeman's character. His performance as Jerome is heart wrenching and realistic, bringing authenticity to his character's depressive personality. He serves as both a counter-weight and a force of demoralization -- I would even say he's the only character in the film who actually undergoes legitimate change.
'Gattaca' has gained a significant fanbase over the years, continuing to strike future dystopian gold -- it weaves a pertinent, thought provoking cautionary tale and presents it as a tense, entertaining thriller. The intensity of Freeman's struggle is a bit contrived at times, but director Andrew Niccol ('Simone,' 'Lord of War') keeps the character's plight grim and littered with sacrifice. An excruciating pair of leg implants (to match Jerome's height) are just the beginning of the physical and psychological tortures Freeman subjects himself to in order to achieve his dream. Despite his eager attempts to deceive everyone he meets, Freeman's pain and perseverance make him worthy of our admiration.
The slight downside is that our admiration undermines the potential of such a challenging story, making Freeman a compelling character, but creating a one sided sermon about genetic research. Niccol clearly assumes that such scientific advancements would be abused without any checks and balances. As a result, the story never creates an engaging debate, but is simply satisfied with presenting a convincing argument. Consider the number of people who discover Freeman's true identity and choose to look the other way -- if so many people are willing to overlook his crimes, wouldn't their entire society be embroiled in a fierce debate? Would everything be so cut and dry? Don't get me wrong, the director's focus certainly doesn't lessen the film's impact, but it does limit the scope of the message.
Either way you look at it, 'Gattaca' is a powerful piece of dystopian sci-fi. It offers a trio of complex performances, a relevant plotline, and a tense game of genetic cat and mouse. The movie asks plenty of intriguing questions and presents a persuasive argument that greed and envy will always prevail as a corrosive, societal cancer.
'Gattaca' features a remarkably sharp 1080/AVC transfer that helps solidify Sony's reputation in regards to releasing catalog titles in high definition with significant visual improvements. Compared to the 1998 regular edition and the 2001 Superbit DVD releases, the Blu-ray edition of 'Gattaca' is cleaner, more stable, and more three dimensional than it's ever been before.
Niccol's clinical colors has been perfectly preserved, relying on a steely sheen of unwavering silvers and blues to complement the film's tone. Primaries have a particular pop, piercing the bland palette with harsh reds that bleed off the screen. Contrast is spot on, shadow detail is gorgeous, and the picture isn't hindered by black crush -- objects fade into the darkness, rather than being consumed by it. Detail also receives a welcome upgrade from the standard DVDs with a noticeable boost in fine object clarity and texture stability. Niccol's dystopian society relies on trace DNA evidence and, as such, the encode renders hair, particles, and dust with care.
Ultimately, the transfer comes close to perfection, but falls short on a few, small counts. I noted a handful of shots that looked softer than the rest of the film, spikes in grain and noise during three dark scenes, and an infrequent flicker of light edge enhancement. Even so, these negligible hiccups are hardly a distraction and fail to prevent 'Gattaca' from being one of the finest catalog transfers I've seen this year.
'Gattaca' gets the full high-def treatment with the inclusion of a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track (48 kHz/ 16-Bit). The film's meager soundscape makes the lossless track feel a bit like overkill, but it does a thorough job with what little it's been given. Quiet and contemplative, Niccol's dystopian future is a hushed world of paranoia and intrigue. Dynamics are decent, but LFE support is hesitant and infrequently used to its full potential. Abundant conversations pull the weight of the soundfield forward, leaving very little to fill the rear channels. Unfortunately, it makes audible immersion a chore since the majority of the soundscape is squashed into the front speakers. There are some nice ambient effects sprinkled throughout the film, but I doubt anyone will use this one as an audio demo.
Thankfully, dialogue is crisp and effortlessly prioritized in the mix -- I didn't struggle to decipher any line, as even the quietest whispers were crystal clear. Pans are transparent, accuracy is dead on, and soundscape fidelity is particularly precise. A quick comparison to the Superbit DVD reveals subtle upgrades that make this version the one to beat. In the end, 'Gattaca' fans should be pleased with the results.
The Blu-ray edition of 'Gattaca' includes all of the special features that appear on the new, day-and-date Special Edition DVD. The supplemental package has certainly received a content boost over previous releases of the film, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.
'Gattaca' is an exceedingly relevant cautionary tale about the pursuit of perfection and the dangers of genetic elitism. A talented cast and a tight script keep the story pulsing along, delving deeper and deeper into director Andrew Niccol's bizarre dystopian future. This new Blu-ray edition makes the previous DVD releases obsolete -- it features a stunning video transfer, a decent TrueHD track, and a collection of supplements, new and old. While this release lacks the insight and input of the film's director, it should excite fans and serve as a high quality introduction for newcomers.