Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Knowing

Lowdown: An MIT professor learns the future holds a series of escalating global scale calamities.
Review:
Aussie director Alex Proyas has a credible science fiction record behind his name. First there was the Gothic superhero story of The Crow, then the wise but too self conscious Dark City, followed by the overly commercialized I, Robot (commercialized, but still good - and being Asimov based does go a long way). And now that we have Knowing, yet another science fiction effort, the question on my mind is this: How can a director that did so well in the past come up with a film as devastatingly bad as Knowing?
Knowing stars Nicholas Cage in the role the tormented intellectual, similar to what he did in Next (yet another "quality" science fiction production), the role I am so tired of seeing him in. He's an MIT professor who recently lost his wife and has his partially deaf son to take care of and to draw comfort from. Cage is obsessed with the question of whether we and the whole of life is but a pre-written coincidence or whether there is a purpose to it all (neglecting to consider there may be other options), but being that he's a scientist and all he's inclined towards the hard evidence side of things.
Things, however, change when he receives a message from fifty years ago, saved in a 1950's time capsule and retrieved from his son's school. The message, written by someone who was a little girl at the time, is a list of numbers that fills up a page; by coincidence, Cage stumbles upon patterns in the series of numbers, and realizes that the numbers are actually the dates of cataclysmic events - say, 11 September 2001 - and the number of people killed in those events. The trick is, the list doesn't stop at 2001; it goes into Cage's future, and it has some grim things to say about the world's immediate future.
The way I had just described it, Knowing sounds like a promising film. It could have been developed into a film warning us of what we're doing to this world of ours. The problem is that Knowing's premises are very ridiculously established indeed; the problem is it makes claims that are so absurd the film was more an insult to my intelligence than the entertainment piece it should have been.
Overall, the film is a statement that says there is more to this world than what we can see and measure; there is more to life than what science is telling us, at least if we follow Cage's journey from a hard core scientist and into a person who sees miracles happening right before him (e.g., being able to foresee the future and taking part in supernatural events). But is that the case? Can such arguments that there is more to this world than science would have us believe be made on the basis of an entirely fictional event (the acquisition of a list that foresees future events, written by a little girl who heard things)? After all, there are absolutely no credible accounts of such events throughout our history, so why should we take this film's word for it? And if there were - I can certainly hear people saying "how do you account for the bible stories" - then please go ahead and produce me the person who can foresee tomorrow's lottery numbers. These people do not exist and proof for "supernatural" events do not exist; had they existed, they wouldn't have been supernatural and science would have embraced them.
So much for the film's message. Now for the film's shaky premises, and there's no better point to start with than this list of historical and future cataclysmic events. Oddly enough for a global list, the list is very American oriented (at least judging by the future events that seem to all happen on Cage's doorstep). Not only that, the list tells you the number of people killed; yet how, exactly, is that number calculated? At what time do you need to be dead in order to count as a casualty? I'm raising the question because in the film, Cage compares the numbers in the list with news clips, yet casualty numbers tend to fluctuate over time (for example, it took authorities a while until the number of September 11's casualties was conclusively, more or less, determined). And how do you count someone that died a year later after suffering injuries? Or better yet: why doesn't the list include the millions that die of hunger in Africa or the millions dying of AIDS?
Then there are simple statements Knowing makes rather nonchalantly yet they're grossly incorrect. At one point, for example, Cage claims that a massive solar flare can instantly end all life on earth by destroying the ozone layer. Is that so? Sure, destroying the ozone layer would make life extremely hard and would cause a cataclysm through the destruction of microorganisms at the bottom of the food chain, but death would be far from instantaneous. Don't ask me why Knowing needs to make these false statements, but the result is obvious: ignorant viewers could easily end up taking Knowing's word for it, which is a big shame.
Between Cage's tormented performance, the stupid message and the even stupider premises, and the film borrowing a lot from the horror genre (there are many "make you jump" cheap trick moments), Knowing is a disaster of a film - in all respects.
Best scene: While pretending to take place in Boston, Knowing was actually shot in Melbourne. My pick for the best scene is a scene shot at the Melbourne Museum, simply because I like that museum quite a lot. The fact I choose my favorite scene based on its location alone says something about the film. It also explains why David and Margaret gave Knowing a lot of praise: they fall for everything Australian.
Technical assessment: The picture on this Blu-ray is excellent, often disclosing the digital effects for what they are (although to be honest, by digital effects' standards, Knowing's are quite good). The sound is not as good, coming to life only on key events. Interestingly enough, this Blu-ray offers both a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and a DTS HD Master Audio soundrack; on paper, they should both offer the same quality. We went with the DTS option.
Overall: I recommend not knowing Knowing. 1 out of 5 stars.

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