by Ken B.
So the setup to Gattaca is that sometime in the “not too distant future” (next Sunday A.D., I assume), medical science and technology have evolved to such a point where many parents choose to put together a designer baby – no diseases, perfect vision, athleticism, intelligence, whatever. Children formed through the natural biological process, undisturbed by computers, are seen as inferior, and are proven as highly susceptible to congenital errors. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) developed normally in his mother (Jayne Brook), and from the moment he is born we know everything: His lifespan will be very short, he’ll likely have a heart condition, he’ll have ADD, and likely have some kind of mental disorder. How do we know? A nurse simply takes a small drop of his blood, places it in a machine, and great rolls of paper with the results come spilling out instantly.
But as Vincent enters adulthood, he has high aspirations. Despite being extremely nearsighted and physically unimpressive (especially obvious in contrast with his brother Anton (Loren Dean)), he wants to go into space, but no one will let him on a mission with his physicality. The solution is to assume a new identity. An underground business sets him up with Jerome (Jude Law), a former professional swimmer who was crippled in an accident. He isolates and stores away bits of his DNA (blood, urine, hair, etc.) and Vincent is allowed to assume both Jerome’s identity and his physical data (at least in the eyes of computers). The goal is that the space organization, with whom he has a desk job, will choose him as part of a team for a one year space mission.
Writer/director Andrew Niccol has made one of the rarest things – a major sci-fi movie with a good intelligence, an intriguing concept carried deliberately, and room for viewers to think for themselves. The screenplay divides its assets well through the 106 minute runtime; Niccol recognizes that people won’t want too much of the romantic subplot between Vincent and Irene (Uma Thurman), but doesn’t undersell its existence or eventual factor in the story. The performances are alright, but not outstanding – Hawke, in the lead, is good for the most part, but a scene towards the end where he lashes out at his brother left me in a state of confused quasi-amusement. Law is the standout of the main cast, to be sure. Thurman is never given a lot of range. Gore Vidal and Ernest Borgnine have small roles in the movie, and it is always nice to see them. It was surprising to see Vidal’s name in the main credits, as the famous writer never did do a lot of acting (the iMDB says he’s only acted in 12 roles)
On the technical spectrum, besides the plot, the most interesting part of Gattaca is the visual style, which uses a lot of sleek architecture as the buildings of the future, as well as plenty of color filters that properly convey the uneasy and odd world the film is set in. However, the score by Michael Nyman is a bit monotonous and boring – there’s no variety or memorability to the compositions.
It’s always worth wondering where the line is for genetic modification. Certianly the technology can be put to brilliant use, removing illnesses and prenatal conditions, but is there an ethical limit when it comes to picking the color of your child’s eyes for no real reason? Gattaca may seem like some to be a fantasy story gone wrong, but maybe Niccol was writing out of fear. The proper knowledge is imminent, and the results, when misapplied, could be disastrous. Our differences and talents as they form are part of what makes human development feasible. With predetermined lives, what’s left?
As you can see, Meryl Streep’s character likes to eat things that aren’t there. This, I imagine, is what supermodels have done for decades.
by Ken B.
If this makes sense, it’s worth noting that Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is almost cheerfully gloomy, in the kind of worlds that Roald Dahl would create or a film by Tim Burton. I have not read any of the books of which this film is based on, which apparently are written under the name Lemony Snicket, but I can deduce that this is a good adaptation, as a stranger such as myself had no trouble deciphering anything.
This is the story of the Baudelaire children, Violet (EMILY BROWNING, who, writing this in 2013, I must say bears a startling resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence here), 14, a resourceful inventor-type, Klaus (LIAM AIKEN), a bookish type a couple of years younger, and Sunny (KARA and SHELBY HOFFMAN) a toddler whose main purpose is to provide subtitled babbling wisecracks and to bite things. Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire are presumed dead after a massive fire destroys their house, and following which they are sent to live with eccentric relatives they were previously unfamiliar with, all interspersed with the appearance of a Count Olaf (JIM CARREY). What do I mean? The childrens’ meeting of the reptile loving Uncle Monty (BILLY CONNOLLY) and the hard-to-explain Aunt Josephine (MERYL STREEP) are all interrupted by Count Olaf.
I mean, sure, when you look over the names of the adults, it would appear that this would be compensation for adults attending this film with their children. (Close to the end, there’s a brief appearance from Dustin Hoffman, too). And the next conclusion would be that the actors know that, and perhaps refrain from giving it 100%. No. I am happy to report that the acting is great, all down the board, including the kids (well, I mean the performances of the ones that were old enough to have speaking lines. The baby in this movie didn’t have an awful lot to do). But on the other side of things, I’ve never really been much of a Jim Carrey fan, so it took me a while to become accepting of his naturally over-the-top performance of a character clearly written that away.
The visual style is attractive. Filmed in darker colors with an intentionally ludicrous set design, it’s strangely entrancing at times. Director Brad Siberling uses the talent of the art and visual effects teams to put together a truly amazing looking movie.
But there is not all good here. When this movie is getting started, it begins to over-saturate itself with so much material you feel the thing starting to implode – joke here, visual quirk there, special effect there… really, that kind of oppression never really leaves, it just becomes less noticeable.
However, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is an unquestionably entertaining movie, working with all the staples of an adaptation and also working for those completely unfamiliar with its source material.