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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Gattaca (Superbit) (1997)

"Ten fingers, ten toes. That's all that used to matter."
- Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: December 24, 2001

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law
Other Stars: Gore Vidal, Alan Arkin, Blair Underwood, Loren Dean
Director: Andrew Niccol

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief, violent images, language and some sexuality
Run Time: 01h:46m:20s
Release Date: December 11, 2001
UPC: 043396079632
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+A-A D-

DVD Review

Gattaca is the high-tech space facility where Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) works—as the film opens, he is about to embark on an important exploration mission. But Vincent's very presence in the program is a fraud, engineered by furtive fakery in a world where scientific analysis of inherited characteristics determines one's fate and fortune at birth. Vincent's genetic profile has been borrowed from one Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), courtesy of a DNA broker (Tony Shalhoub) who introduces the "de-gene-erate" but ambitious Vincent to the crippled but rhibonucleically attractive Jerome. When the mission director at Gattaca is murdered, an investigation is undertaken, and Vincent is in danger of being found out. The situation threatens his dreams, his livelihood, and his romantic relationship with his co-worker, Irene Cassini (Uma Thurman).

Writer/director Andrew Niccol's dystopic vision is compelling—Vincent lives in a civilization that has accepted science and forsaken its humanity. Prejudice is ingrained and institutionalized, and the "faith birth" (without the assistance of eugenic filtering and selection) that gave rise to Vincent's undesirable profile is seen as an unfortunate tragedy. His actual abilities are ignored, simply because his presumed potential makes him fit only to clean toilets in the eyes of the powers that be. Niccol's concept is frightening and wholly believable in this day of rapid DNA discovery and documentation—the day when parents can select the sex of a child may not be far off, and the potential for further refinement and abuse of such technology seems very real indeed.

The film's production design, accordingly, maintains a familiar look—the story is not set in any specific year, but it's clearly a future world not too different from our own. Automobiles and business suits feature neo-fifties styling, offices have evolved from cubicles into wall-free integrated workstations, and living spaces tend to be clean, curvy and mercilessly functional. No effort is made to overwhelm the audience with special effects or other Blade Runner-esque paraphernalia. The movie's spartan look echoes the coldness of the culture it portrays, while visual metaphors of glass and water help to illustrate the invisible walls Vincent is railing against. It's a carefully assembled collection of imagery (with the exception of one scene in which a crew member's hand can be seen holding Vincent's dresser door open!)

The intentional sterility of Gattaca's visuals bleeds into the story to an unfortunate degree. In a world where the sameness of engineered virtue has replaced the diversity of reproductive chaos, it's hard to find a sympathetic human being. Even Vincent, the protagonist, is a bit of a cipher—we feel sorry about his lot in life, but it's a reflex ("better him than me," one catches oneself thinking) rather than a genuine response. The most credible relationship is the one between Vincent and the real Jerome, a vicarious-living arrangement that creates genuine joys and difficult issues for both men; Vincent's relationship with Irene isn't developed much, beyond the fact that she has a genetic imperfection of which she has always been ashamed. There are also some nice scenes between Vincent and the company geneticist (Blair Underwood), a warm human being who recognizes and regrets the evils perpetrated by his line of work. But these human moments are rarer than one might like—the characters are constrained by Niccol's ideas, and the movie becomes a bit of a sociological thesis as a result. It's the story of one imperfect man with a dream, but the scope of its concern is larger than the script can encompass—we long for a catharsis, a sign that Vincent's effort might somehow push the pendulum back in the other direction, but it never comes.

Still, Gattaca is a film of ideas, which is a rare enough thing these days, and the issues it raises are thought-provoking and scary without being exploitative. It's an intelligent work of speculative fiction, deserving of notice. Just don't expect a sweeping, exhilarating popcorn movie—the pleasures of Gattaca are dry and subtle.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Columbia's "Superbit" edition of Gattaca again presents the film in its original 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a dual-layer anamorphic transfer downconverted from a high-definition master. The source print exhibits some dust flecks, a few dark blue sky scenes are grainy, and there's slightly more edge enhancement on display than one would expect from a premium release. But detail is otherwise clean and crisp, with naturalistic colors and accurate representation of the film's subtly futuristic production design. It's not perfect, but it is a quality transfer deserving of the "Superbit" moniker.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: As with the other "Superbits" titles, Columbia provides Gattaca with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks. Both 5.1 tracks are clean, well-rendered presentations, with subtle surround imaging, expansive frequency range and well-balanced mixing; the film was not theatrically released in DTS, but the DTS presentation here captures a few subtleties missed by the Dolby Digital track. The film's sound engineering favors the center speaker for dialogue, with music and ambient effects filling the rest of the soundstage gently but fully. Not what most people would consider "demo material," but a very satisfactory audio experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Columbia continues a "Superbits" tradition by eliminating all extra features—Gattaca is supported only by 28 picture-menu chapter stops and subtitles in seven languages. The original release of Gattaca included some trailers, deleted scenes and a featurette, sacrificed this time around for the sake of audio/video quality. As with other Columbia "Superbits" discs, the layer change here is nearly impossible to locate, as it has been well disguised using careful placement and seamless branching.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Gattaca poses some fascinating questions about genetic profiling and institutionalized discrimination, though its portrayal of a cold, sterile future distances the audience to some degree. Columbia's "Superbit" re-release features solid audio and video, and is definitely an improvement over the earlier disc, though extras are non-existent. Worthwhile science fiction.


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