Knowing (UK - BD)
Chris takes a look at the Blu-ray release of the recent Nicolas Cage sci-fi feature
In the year 1958, as part of the dedication ceremony for a new elementary school, a group of students is asked to draw pictures of their visions of the future to be stored in a time capsule. While most of the children draw rocket ships and the like, one young girl, Lucinda, fills her sheet of paper with row upon row of seemingly random numbers before running away. She is eventually found hiding in a cupboard, upon which she begs for the ‘voices’ to stop as her horrified teacher notices her bloody fingers and yet more numbers scratched into the door.
Fifty years later a new generation of students unearth the capsule and the girl’s cryptic writings find their way into the hands of Caleb Koestler, son of astrophysicist John Koestler (Nicolas Cage). After examining the numbers, John discovers a hidden code that predicts with chilling accuracy the dates, death tolls and coordinates of every major disaster over the past fifty years. As John further unravels the document’s mysteries he realises that it predicts three more events, the last of which hints at destruction on a global scale.
When John’s attempts to alert the authorities fail, he takes it upon himself to try and prevent more destruction with the aid of Diana (Rose Byrne) and Abby Weyland, the daughter and granddaughter of the now-deceased Lucinda. John’s desperate efforts to avert the catastrophe find him in a race against time to discover the true meaning of the prophesied apocalypse, while Caleb and Abby are plagued by visions of mysterious strangers and begin hearing the same voices as Lucinda.
Oh Nicolas Cage, where did it all go wrong? How can the man who starred in Leaving Las Vegas turn in such a wooden and uncharismatic performance? Knowing sees him experience the entire spectrum of human emotions with the same unchanging expression on his face, almost as if he’s channelling a deceased Keanu Reeves. As tough as it is to accept him as an M.I.T. astrophysics professor, his ‘acting’ in the closing scenes of the movie is so bad that it pretty much torpedoes what should be a highly emotional moment. I remember reading some time ago that Cage planned to retire from acting. I can only suggest that he does so before he utterly destroys any goodwill that the audience has left towards him (and if I had his wife I'd certainly want to spend more time at home).
As for the rest of the film, well it starts out with an interesting premise, but cliché after cliché prevent it from distinguishing itself from countless other films and it all becomes rather messy. It has all of the sci-fi stereotypes: faceless, spooky strangers that communicate telepathically (but only with the children), disturbing prophetic dreams, pseudoscience, tenuous links between characters, natural disasters, and plenty of overt religious symbolism. I really wanted to like Knowing, but it just didn’t work for me. I found it slow and ponderous, with an ending that is more ‘WTF’ than ‘WOW’. It’s not a terrible film, just an incredibly pedestrian one. Plus, you know, Radio 1's James King called it 'awesome', so it can’t be any good, right?
E1 Entertainment treat us to a rather impressive 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) transfer that ranks as one of the best presentations I’ve seen so far this year. Knowing was apparently shot on high definition cameras, which has created a very clean, grain-free image that could very easily be used as demo material. The film's warm colour palette is accurately reproduced, with the brightly lit exterior shots looking especially wonderful. The darker scenes are also well catered for, with solid blacks and a fair amount of detail in the shadows. Talking of detail, the transfer has it in spades, in everything from facial close-ups and fabric, to sprawling cities and alien worlds (oops, spoiler). I've been spoiled by the image quality of some of the Blu-rays I've recently reviewed, but Knowing is right up there with them in the quality stakes.
Knowing has a robust DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that pulls you into the action right from the opening moments. Surround utilisation is extremely effective, with the opening scenes placing mysterious, whispering voices all around the soundstage. The atmospherics remain strong throughout, with plenty of ambient effects such as rainfall, crickets chirping in the darkness, and creepy noises. There aren't that many 'action' scenes as such, but some of the set-pieces provide a good workout with smooth panning between channels, excellent use of discrete effects, and ferocious bass. The plane crash sequence is a simply brilliant example of this, with every element combining to produce a genuinely chilling event. Thankfully dialogue remains intelligible no matter how wild things get, and the dark, foreboding soundtrack offers a solid aural foundation. I think it’s definitely fair to say that Knowing's Master Audio soundtrack is an incredibly strong accompaniment to the outstanding visuals.
Director’s Commentary: Alex Proyas and an unidentified co-commentator discuss the film in this informative and interesting track. Proyas tells us what he hoped to accomplish when making the film, touching on the thematic elements, the filming process, and more. It's interesting to note that he consciously tried to move away from the sci-fi films where mankind is saved at the eleventh hour, pointing out that this rather optimistic scenario is somewhat out of whack with today's modern views. Given my opinion of the film, I enjoyed this track a lot more than I thought I would.
Knowing All: The Making of a Futuristic Thriller (12:36 HD): This is your run-of-the-mill EPK bumph about the film’s origins, the creation of the CGI plane crash, and substituting Australia for the United States (specifically Boston), complete with the usual sycophantic praise for star Nicolas Cage. With the exception of Cage, the entire principal cast is interviewed, along with director Alex Proyas, the producer, and some of the effects wizards.
Visions of the Apocalypse (17:07 HD): This is a short featurette that examines the apocalypse as viewed by different cultures and religions, but mostly it concentrates on the death of the Sun. Apparently we only have about a billion years left before things start to get uncomfortable, so we'd better start building that intergalactic cruiser with the argon-crystal laser now. Admittedly our solar annihilation is (hopefully) some way off, but I can't help but get a little spooked by talk of the end of days—stupid survival instinct.
Theatrical Trailer (HD): The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in high definition with accompanying audio.
TV Spots (HD): A number of TV spots are included, also in high definition.
It’s also worth mentioning that E1 has included three trailers before the disc’s main menu. Unfortunately they’ve also chosen to disable the ‘top menu’ command, forcing you to use the chapter skip button. I absolutely loathe forced trailers, especially on retails discs. I’ve paid my money for your product; I do not expect to have to sit through advertising before I can get to the film itself. If you want to add trailers, make them accessible from the extras menu.
I wish I had ‘known’ how average Knowing was before I went into the cinema back in March. I had hoped that this second viewing would prove more entertaining, but unfortunately it only served to reinforce my opinion. Knowing isn’t a awful film, but I just cannot fathom the reason for the overwhelmingly positive reviews on other websites. Perhaps they are more forgiving of the clichés and Nicolas Cage’s penchant for delivering lines of perceived importance slightly louder than the rest of his dialogue.
Okay, so I’m not exactly in love with Knowing, but if you actually enjoyed the film this Blu-ray is a bit of a treat, especially in the audio-visual department. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it is up there with the best discs of the year in this respect. The extras aren’t quite as convincing, but at least the commentary track is half decent. I can’t really bring myself to recommend the disc as anything other than a rental on account of the film itself, but fans should be extremely pleased with what’s on offer
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 3rd August 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Featurettes, Trailer, TV Spots
Easter Egg: No
Director: Alex Proyas
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne
Length: 121 minutes
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