March 11, 2011

Movies Revisited: Gattaca (1997)

Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman in "Gattaca."
Courtesy: Columbia Pictures.
With a Cinemax subscription, there is On Demand programming. The featured movies are usually recent, uninteresting fare. But occasionally, one or two obscure movies from way back will pop up for your viewing pleasure. This month, we have Gattaca (MRQE Metric: 74), the sci-fi noir thriller from 1997, written and directed by Andrew Niccol.

The setting is a "not so distant future," a society where selective genetics at birth allow for perfected human engineering. And only the best specimens are considered for the elite space program. Ethan Hawke plays Vincent, a young man genetically flawed from birth, who dreams of space travel, but does not have the ideal genome for recruitment. In order to fulfill his star-gazing ambitions, he switches identities with Jerome (Jude Law, in an early film role, a great, "cheeky Brit" performance), a genetic superior left crippled after a car accident. The swap is almost as easy as it sounds. However, when a mysterious murder occurs only days before his departure (I believe the destination is the 12th moon of Saturn. Obviously!), Vincent becomes a prime suspect. He must elude police capture and keep his false identity intact if his dreams of venturing to the stars are to become a reality.

This film is awesome. It's fun, sleek and fascinating in detail--everything from false fingerprints to dead skin cells play a part in Vincent's scheme. And Niccol achieves a similar feat with his directorial style. Gattaca gracefully toes the line between genres, tackling fantastic story elements against a stylized crime noir backdrop. It's a sci-fi film shot in the eerie back alleys and tunnels of tomorrow, yet paying homage to the detective films from yesteryear. The result is a perfected design for this near future.

It's interesting to watch the film today. Gattaca didn't attract mass audiences upon its release; it had very little success at the box office. I think the premise was ahead of its time. The controversial topic of genetic engineering is more relevant--and arguably more believable--today than it was in 1997. Plus, I absolutely think that the film would be marketed with far greater success to today's audience. Especially with a badass poster like this:

"There is no gene for the human spirit." Awesome tag line!
An excellent supporting cast including Alan Arkin, Gore Vidal and Uma Thurman, make up for the occasionally stiff dialogue. And the underlying tale of dueling brothers, Vincent and Anton, adds an interesting twist to an otherwise straightforward suspense. But, the most appealing aspect of the film is the subject: Vincent and his aspirations for space travel.

With the recent news that NASA is selling off space shuttles to the highest bidder (including the famed Discovery), I can't help but think that the great, inspiring space flights of years past--that may have inspired Niccol--are now the stuff of history books. Not that long ago, space travel seemed like a mission towards endless possibilities. The "not so distant future" depicted in Gattaca could be now, already fourteen years since the film's release!

But, perhaps science fiction isn't the best measuring stick for our aeronautical progress. After all, according to Back to the Future Part II, we should be on hover boards by now.

I enjoy Gattaca for its aspirations. Just as Ethan Hawke looks up to spaceships blasting off into the sky, I too can only wonder what sort of future is in store. And there-in lies the appeal of the sci-fi genre.

Buy Gattaca on Amazon.
Download Gattaca on iTunes.


  1. With over 40 years of watching movies, I've observed that there are so few really good science fiction films produced that when a "Gattica" comes along you'd think there would be dancing in the streets. I agree that this sleek film with the intellectual chill at its center makes for a great movie. It remains one of my all time favorites in sci-fi precisely because of its prescience.

  2. Each time I see sciencie news in the TV I feel Gattaca was completly right

  3. what a great movie, not many people know it but it is great


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