Oh, Alex Proyas, what has become of you?
After blazing on the scene with the stylish (if empty) excess of 'The Crow', director Proyas stood on the verge of establishing himself as a new cinematic visionary with his near-masterpiece 'Dark City'. Artistically, 'I, Robot' may have been a step back, but Proyas managed to keep the Will Smith vehicle slick and entertaining despite its dopey screenplay. If not his best work, the film gave the director some box office clout, and proved him a master of the big sci-fi blockbuster. So where does a talented filmmaker go from there? Apparently, the next step is to churn out a ridiculous piece of B-movie claptrap starring Nicolas Cage.
Let's be blunt here. 'Knowing' is an awful movie. But you probably already guessed that as soon as I mentioned Nicolas Cage's name. The actor has an almost preternatural talent for latching onto the worst scripts in Hollywood. Here he's dragged another good director down with him. Again.
The studio pitch meeting for 'Knowing' must have been a doozy. The film is an awkward mix of the worst parts of 'The Day After Tomorrow' (as if there were any good parts!), mashed together with some of that "Bible Code" nonsense that was all the rage a few years ago, sprinkled with bits and pieces of a dozen other movies that you've seen before and didn't like all that much the first time around. The story starts in 1959, as we meet a crazy little girl who can't stop obsessively writing a series of numbers onto a piece of paper. That page winds up in a time capsule that her elementary school buries for five decades. Cut to 2009. (Hey, that's this year!) The school digs up the capsule and hands its contents out to the latest class. The page with numbers winds up in the hands of a precocious boy whose father (Cage) is an astrophysics professor at M.I.T. Yes, let those words sink in a minute: Nicolas Cage… astrophysicist… M.I.T. professor. If the movie hasn't already lost you with that, just wait until it gets going.
Naturally, the seemingly-random string of numbers isn't so random after all, as Dad the Brilliant Science Guy soon discovers. Hidden in the pattern are the dates and casualty statistics of every major disaster of the last fifty years. John (that's Cage) starts to piece this puzzle together after Googling "9 11 01." Because, apparently, those numbers didn't stand out or mean anything to him otherwise. Naturally, this triggers an instant psychotic obsession. But there are still a bunch of other digits that he can't figure out until he happens to look at the GPS in his Ford truck (lots of blatant product placement in this movie) as a fakey CGI airplane crashes right in front of him and explodes in a fakey CGI fireball. They're geographic coordinates! It's all coming together now. Wait, there are a couple dates that haven't happened yet. Oh no! The last one, of course, is a little vague with the "where" and "how many" info, but it's coming up soon. And hey, isn't it a bit unseasonably warm in Boston this year? (No, not actually.) What will John do? Can knowing the future help him save the world?
From there, the movie spirals into pure idiocy as Proyas and the screenwriters throw in every sci-fi cliché they can think of and a lot of just plain silly foolishness in the hope that something sticks. There are heavy-handed portents, faceless strangers that can telepathically communicate with John's son, a woman (Rose Byrne) and her daughter who are connected by fate and destiny to John's family, CG woodland creatures bursting into flames, natural disasters, magic stones, and loads of Biblical symbolism all brewed together in a big stew of meaningless gibberish. To truly describe how dumb the movie is, I'd have to spoil some significant plot developments. Trust me, its uncomfortable mélange of religion, philosophy, dubious pseudoscience, and apocalyptic mythology gets really goofy. This is all punctuated by some astoundingly cartoony visual effects, banal dialogue written by people with no fundamental understanding of human behavior, and lots of banging and clanging.
The long and short of it is that 'Knowing' is terrible. It's not even fun-terrible. It's Roland Emmerich-terrible. This is a disaster movie in every sense of that phrase.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Knowing' arrives on Blu-ray from Summit Entertainment. The disc is packaged in a standard keepcase with a slipcover. The studio has programmed three annoying trailers before the main menu, and has disabled the Top Menu command, which forces you to skip them individually every time you load the disc.
On a technical level, the Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is just about faultless. The movie was shot on digital video using the RED ONE camera. The 2.35:1 imagery is, at times, incredibly detailed. The picture is also totally devoid of grain or noise. Contrast levels are solid. Shadow detail is exemplary, and the image has a terrific sense of depth. The only digital imperfection I spotted was a tiny amount of color banding in one or two spots, but hardly enough to complain about.
Aesthetically, I'll be honest, I didn't really care for the picture. The movie has a rather bland visual style, which may be an artistic decision, but didn't do much for me. Colors are a little subdued. More disturbingly, the digital photography has a strange attribute of being both soft and sharp at the same time. Although fine object detail in the background of shots is often remarkably clear, facial features in the foreground have a smooth, soft glow to them. It doesn't look like a focus issue, or like a Digital Noise Reduction artifact. It seems to just be the way the photography looks.
The movie seems to be trying to emulate a film-like appearance. And yet, it doesn't look anything like film, really. I found it bothersome. This may come down to personal preference.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is pure demo material. I am not a person often impressed by bombast. I find most big budget action movies to be needlessly loud and often lacking fidelity in favor of smash bam boom. The 'Knowing' soundtrack really has the best of both worlds.
The mix is, yes, quite loud. It has huge dynamic range with deep, rumbly, thunderous bass. And plenty of it. The surround channels are put to hyperactive use. Whispering voices bounce around the soundstage. Directional effects routinely wrap around the listening position, and seem to come from everywhere all at once.
At the same time, fidelity is terrific. Marco Beltrami's score is warm and resonant. Sound effects are so sharp they could slice your skin. As much as the movie's visual effects let it down, the three-dimensional envelopment and immersiveness of the soundtrack picks up the slack. This is the best-sounding disc I've listened to in ages.
The disc's meager portion of bonus features are perfunctory at best.
A wise man once said that, "Knowing is half the battle." In this case, spare yourself the fight. This 'Knowing' is not worth knowing. As a Boston resident, about the only fun I had with the film was laughing at its geographical inaccuracies (the picture was actually shot in Australia and looks nothing like Boston), and then watching a CGI recreation of my office building getting blown up. That was pretty much it.
Excellent video and reference quality audio can only do so much to distract from the movie's awfulness. If you're still not convinced, do yourself a favor and stick to renting first before buying. You'll thank me later.