johnlink ranks GATTACA (1997)

We moved within town this week, and that led to my longest movie layoff of the year. Fortunately, my RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK review was posted over at, so I at least kept myself engaged in some movie conversations. Anyway, we got the TV, Blu Ray, and surround sound set up. I wanted to test it out with a movie which I knew looked and sounded good.


I watched GATTACA (1997) on 11.29.12. It was my second viewing of the film, and first in seven or eight years.

In the not-too-distant future, children are genetically engineered to be as perfect a child as their parents can make. Anyone who is born otherwise, ‘out of love’, is doomed to a life of sub-mediocrity. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is one such unfortunate soul. He dreams of going to space, but is assumed to be no match for the perfect design babies. In a quest to prove he can do it, he begins using the blood and urine of the crippled Jerome (Jude Law) to pass the screening tests built to make sure only ‘perfect’ people are hired. Through grit and determination, Vincent is out to prove he can be as good.

Of course, things don’t go quite to plan, and there are bumps in the road. Every day is another day when his true identity might be discovered. Vincent has a heart condition which means he may not have long to live, so he will do anything to make sure his upcoming mission to a moon of Saturn is not stalled out.

A murder happens, and he becomes a suspect. This movie is not about the murder, it is instead about the definitions of perfect, human, and fate. However, at its core this movie features a murder mystery. The problem is, no one seems to really care about the murder, and the quest to find the killer feels like it meanders. A major twist in the film has to do with identity, and the fact that the lead detective on a case is so casual about the entire ordeal becomes the movie’s major weakness.

But GATTACA still holds up, despite this weakness, because it is so well grounded in the character-building of its two major characters. Both Vincent and Jerome are good people with major flaws. Vincent’s are more physical, Jerome’s more mental. Also introduced is a love interest, Irene (Uma Thurman). Her character is less dynamic, but still an asset. The rest of the cast is nicely assembled with character actors like Gore Vidal, Elias Koteas, Xander Berkeley, Ernest Borgnine, and Alan Arkin. But these actors don’t get all that much to do, other than be who they are. It’s a nicely acted film, but not a superbly acted one.

This film deals with murder, stolen identity, and deception. It does not, thankfully, fall into the traps of trying to become an action film. Instead, it stays grounded in what it does best: heady sci-fi. And as a heady sci-fi film, it has great appeal. The questions of what makes a person perfect are many, and they often go unanswered. The film looks beautiful as well. Director Andrew Niccol (who would later make IN TIME,  a similar movie made more as an action film), does a really awesome job of world building. This is a movie which looks realistic and which feels realistic. Being made in 1997, it relies more heavy on practical sets rather than a purely CGI landscape. As a result, this is not one of those movies which feels like the characters are not in the same space as the rest of the mise-en-scene. GATTACA creates a wonderful reality, and it is one of its strongest assets.

This is just good, solid science fiction. While, for me, it is not a classic of the genre, it’s not very from being so. In a world where too little good sci-fi exists, this is one to seek out if you haven’t already visited.





~ by johnlink00 on November 30, 2012.

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