Knowing
R1 - America - Summit Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (11th August 2009).
The Film

A good movie will often leave the viewer with unanswered questions. As it so happens, one of the most satisfying parts of the filmmaking process is to, occasionally, let the audience interpret a picture for themselves. Frankly, I appreciate films that are a little open-ended; I don’t need everything to be spelled out to enjoy it myself, and I find it fun, interesting… fulfilling to “figure it out” on my own. One of the best experiences I’ve had at the movies was the abrupt appearance of the end titles in "No Country for Old Men" (2008).

I certainly had questions as the credits rolled on "Knowing". Does that mean that it was a “good movie?” No, not really. It just means I was a little confused. Some of my questions: well, how about, why does Nicholas Cage continue to get leading roles? This answer is easy: inexplicably, he is a box-office draw: this is true even with "Knowing". Some of its $175 million gross is undoubtedly because of nothing else other than his name appearing in the credits. Another question: why, honestly, did Roger Ebert, a critic that I greatly admire and, by-and-large, agree with on most things, calls this "One of the best sci-fi films" that he’s ever seen and give it four stars (out of four)? Harder to answer, but not impossible: he obviously found something likable or interesting that I did not. Or maybe he’s just gone bonkers. My most troubling question, however, is also the most difficult question to answer: what, exactly, did I just watch?

I mean, don’t misunderstand me, I can explain the plot plainly enough: After finding a page full of numbers, decoding their message and realizing that said numerals predict every major disaster in the past 50 years, John Koestler (Nicholas Cage) tries to save humanity before the world ends. Simple enough, and, perhaps in its simplistic form, the film doesn’t sound half bad. At no time did I not grasp the film; even the deep philosophical questions and the numerous referential (both in the biblical and scientific senses) scenes were easy enough to digest and analyze.

To be frank, "Knowing" is a bad movie: I’m just not entirely sure why it’s a bad movie. Or, I’m not sure how it ended up being a bad movie. The film’s a bit of a conundrum to me honestly. On one level "Knowing" probably could have worked, with a different actor in the lead role: Cage is undoubtedly my least favorite aspect of the film, and a slight reworking of the script could have helped matters too. But, even with the talented Alex Proyas in the director’s chair, "Knowing" fails. It fails because someone who can’t act plays our hero: or, more correctly, someone who could act once-upon-a-time but has lost the ability to do so, plays our hero – a hero who I honestly, at no point in the movie, care if he lives or dies.

As a science fiction film it doesn’t really work (aside from – spoiler – having aliens show up in the final act); as a thriller it isn’t particularly compelling; it has too few action scenes to be an out and out actioner. It succeeds on basically one level: as a disaster movie. You know, a genre comprised of the kind of end-of-the-world films that are directed by Roland Emmerich; in that regard this is "Citizen Kane" (1941). Compared to the crap that Emmerich has been putting out lately, "Knowing" is a godsend: if for no other reason than it actually asks questions and is not just an excuse for CG destruction. I give the film its due for actually going through with “it.” Spoiler alert – having the balls to kill the two main characters is a breath of fresh air: instead of copping out like some films – ahem, "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004) – "Knowing" ends with a real game changer.

There is some debate as to the films ending. Are we talking about pre-determinism or not? Is it pro-creationist or is it pro-science? The answer, I think, is that it’s both. But that question, that element of the script, is not in itself a reason to call this a good movie. Yes, the film asks questions. But that just means it’s a better movie than most in a genre filled with (as of late) terribleness.

"Knowing" is partly competent, true, mostly in its visuals. There is a scene in the movie that I find particularly brilliant: as a plane falls out of the sky and crashes on the side of the highway (a shot now infamous because of its over-use in all the promotional trailers and TV spots for the film), the camera, in one take, pans with the wreckage back to Cage and continues handheld with him into the carnage. Explosions abound. It is chaos. There is no cutting: this is one continuous shot lasting over two minutes. A logistical nightmare I am sure, it’s like the opening of "Lost" (2004-Present), only more gruesome and a little grander in scale. There are moments of likeability such as this in the film scattered throughout but on the whole, impressive visuals can’t distract from the other issues occurring alongside them.

There are times when "Knowing" just logically doesn’t compute – I’d go into detail but the less spoilers, the better (this is my second time I’ve completely rewritten this review: take one was basically a continuous, gigantic spoiler and it didn’t work at all. Take two still has too many spoilers but it’s just too hard to talk about this film without them).

Video

Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, "Knowing" makes headlines with the fact that it is one of the first films shot entirely with The Red One camera. Other films that have used the 4K Digital RAW machine include Steven Soderbergh, with his epic "Che" (2008), "District 9" (2009) and a slew of films either in production or soon to see a home video release. The results of this miraculous, nearly-as-good-as-celluloid device are excellent with a clean, sharp and consistent image – one that looks just like any new-to-video film should. No matter that Summit Entertainment is a somewhat small company: they can play with the big boys, a proven fact given the A/V qualities of this DVD.

Colors, although increasingly turning towards sepia as this film progresses, are nice. Contrast too is excellent. Blacks are deep and consistent. And even though this is a DVD, detail is actually pretty decent (meaning, of course, the Blu-ray version is beyond phenomenal). I do find some issues with the overall look of the film – not related to the DVD at all, just faults I find in the cinematography. Digital video (as apposed to film: 35mm or otherwise) has a lifelessness about it. And, it seems, all too often directors and cinematographers don’t really know what to do with the medium. Most try and mimic 35mm, adding artificial grain and using adapted film-lenses to give 35-like depth-of-field; yes, there are others who embrace digital for what it is and exploit the formats peculiar nature – look at Michael Mann’s "Miami Vice" (2006) and "Public Enemies" (2009) for examples. But then there are filmmakers, like Alex Proyas and his DP Simon Duggan, who mix a bit of both – "Knowing" is a film that desperately wants to look like a product of 35mm and does so fairly well, except for the grain free image and occasional soft-yet-sharp quality that accompanies a lot of Digitally shot products, but it is unmistakably video-based photography (a look I am not overly fond of).

Of course, as good as the DVD is, the available Blu-ray, with 6 times greater resolution remains the preferred way to view the film. If you’re HD-equipped skip right over this standard def disc and go for the full 1080p experience.

Audio

Summit offers English and Spanish language tracks. Both are encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1; English, being the film's original language, is the default. The surround mixes are outstanding. "Knowing" has moments of pure demo material including some explosive bass during two or three scenes that might just have your walls shaking. Surprisingly good fidelity too – and dynamics, for a DVD, are excellent with even the faintest whisper fully realized. A 360-degree sound field is also almost always present with rears offering a ton of ambience and discrete effects. Front channels are nicely separated, dialog is clear and precise; as you would expect this is new-from-the-studio clarity at its finest. Holding this one back is the fact that, really, even the best DVD-quality audio track cannot compete with what is the new reference in home theater: lossless sound. The Blu-ray contains a DTS-HD Master Audio track and that is a sure-fire winner. The DVD is still exceptional; but, I cannot stress this enough – DVD is no longer the reference point.
Subtitles are offered in both English and Spanish.

Extras

Extras include an audio commentary, two featurettes and bonus trailers. Unfortunately, the featurettes are just EPK fluff, considerably diminishing their value. On the plus side, Summit has decided to present all video based material (including the trailers) in 16x9-enhanced widescreen.

First up is an audio commentary with director Alex Proyas (and an un-named moderator, feeding questions) as he discusses "Knowing", his reasons behind making the film and what it all means. It's interesting enough to be sure.... and probably worth a listen for fans of the film or director.

"Knowing All: The Making of a Futuristic Thriller", a featurette running 12 minutes 35 seconds, is EPK fodder: it focuses entirely on the film itself: everyone fawns over Proyas and Cage; there is also some discussion of the CG and locations.

A second featurette (culled from the same Electronic Press Kit as the first piece) comes in the form of "Visions of the Apocalypse", clocking in at 17 minutes 14 seconds. It discusses ancient civilizations and their thoughts on the coming end – interesting, perhaps, everything didn't seem so forced.

Pre-menu bonus trailers (do not appear in the extras menu) for:

- "Push" runs 2 minutes 33 seconds.
- "Astro Boy" runs runs 53 seconds.
- "The Brother Bloom" 2 minutes 25 seconds.

If I’m completely honest, I got more (entertainment, enjoyment, knowledge; whatever) out of the two and a half minute trailer for "The Brothers Bloom" than anything else on the entire disc.

Packaging

Packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: D+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: D Overall: C-

 


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