Portrayed as another disaster / end of the world type film through the TV trailers, Knowing was panned by critics as being too heavy-handed with its themes and the culprit of some hammy acting on Cage’s part, but for as much criticism as the film received, the box office numbers didn’t reflect anything too bad—with a production budget of around $50 million, the film made back three times that with worldwide receipts take into account. Not bad for a film that was largely ignored when it debuted, despite some high-profile critics praising it amidst the torrent of disgust (Roger Ebert was one such critic, who’s four star review adorns the front cover of the home video release).
Nicolas Cage (National Treasure) stars in this edge of your seat sci-fi thriller as John Koestler, a professor who deciphers a coded message with terrifyingly accurate predictions about every major world disasters. Looking to protect his family and prevent future calamities, he enlists the reluctant help of Diana Wayland (Rose Byrne), daughter of the now-deceased author of the prophecies. His quest to understand the messages and his own family’s involvement in them becomes a heart-pounding race against time as he faces the ultimate disaster.
I expected nothing but pure, unadulterated crap to come out of this film. I’ve gotten so used to Nicolas Cage’s films sucking completely, what with Bangkok Dangerous and Next being submitted to my pupils within the last year or two. It seems any film he’s made with long hair has been nothing short of complete disappointment and what I expected from this film was nothing more than a modern day Deep Impact of sorts. Needless to say by the time the 50’s flashback that introduced the film ended, I was in a completely different mindset. Then when the credits noted that this was an Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) production and scored by Marco Beltrami? Well…hell, I just about jumped on board for this one. Still completely hesitant, knowing that it could full well turn into a pile of horse crap at any minute…but I remained hopeful.
And I have to say…this is really one of the single most surprising films I’ve seen in years. The film certainly takes itself a little too seriously at times, but it’s required when we’re dealing with the material that this film presents. It’s almost something I could liken to The Number 23–a suspension of disbelief is required to really enjoy this film…and considering critics slammed both films almost mercilessly, it’s even easier to draw the similarities. But let me first quell those screaming in fear from this film now that the Jim Carrey film was dropped—they’re in no way similar, it’s just that their situations could be construed as parallels to one another. At least for me, considering I’ll have reviewed both by the time I finish writing this.
Really, Knowing isn’t mind blowing or terribly original as it borrows from a whole slew of other sci-fi films of old and new, but I honestly felt that this was a truly fresh and riveting film from start to finish. We’re immediately given a genuinely creepy and eerie young girl who hears the whispers of…well, I don’t really know what they are, alien/angels of some sort and begins to write the numbers down and carve them into doors with her bloody fingernails and this just sets the whole tone for the film. It’s a very unsettling and creepy undercurrent that fuels the entire film, with violent images seen by the son of Cage’s character…images that, needless to say, made for a difficult time falling asleep after watching this film.
For a PG-13 film I was genuinely surprised by how much they crammed into this film. Not only was it the disturbing imagery, but also the sheer violence of it; the shots of individuals on fire from a plane crash and a POV shot of a derailed train knocking people down left and right…it was just a very unsettling film at times. I also have to hand it to the special effects team on this film, as with a $50 million dollar budget they managed to produce some genuinely jaw-dropping special effects; that long pan shot of the airplane crash and Cage walking through the debris was absolutely breathtaking to see. Yeah, some of the SF/X were a bit on the wonky side (a few of the derailed train shots were a bit flakey looking, but still about ninety times better looking than Wolverine, which had triple the budget), but overall this film was just as visually stimulating as Proyas’s Dark City.
The film also managed to eerily reflect modern events; the first disaster in the film was a plane crash and the second was a derailed train crash into another. Reminiscent of headlines within just the past month, although that obviously wasn’t the case when this film was originally released in March; it’s really a shame this film was released with such little fanare in March as well, because it really and truly deserved better marketing and promotion. Proyas may not be a big name in films aside from those who are fans of his older 90’s works, but the way this film was marketed just made it look like another disaster film grounded in reality…when in actuality this film is so loaded with science fiction elements and religious undertones that it’s so much more than a simple summer blockbuster.
Still, the film did make a fair bit in theaters, no doubt due to Cage’s involvement as the man still has some pull to get people into seats. Sadly he was actually the weakest link of the film, as some of his acting was really just truly off at times. Strange to say, but it really was a bit awkward to watch at times and that was almost entirely due to Cage; the rest of the actors, the kids included, just did a fantastic job throughout. This isn’t to say that Cage’s acting during the entire film was bad, mind you, but it certainly was the only elements of it that stuck out to me as a bit less than stellar.
The trailers made for this film do a very poor job of representing the true work behind it and while others may find the religious elements a bit heavy handed (I didn’t even really pick up on them to be honest; a man questions his faith in it, sure, but the ending is so bleak that it almost doesn’t matter), I didn’t really have any qualms with the story at all. It’s a depressing, no doubt, but that’s another thing that I loved about it—it wasn’t predictable. It wasn’t cookie cutter. It was genuinely original in that it didn’t bait the audience into believing that everything would “be all right” in the end…and while the film may pull some cheap tricks with easy scares and simple chills caused by the carvings etched into the underside of a bed frame, it’s all just melded together extremely well and to the point that even as I type this, I remember small elements of the film that came into play later on that I never even picked up on at first.
And…really, it seems as if I could go on about this film for a ton more paragraphs, simply because of how much it surprised me and how much I want to drill it into whoever is reading this to actually see the film as I genuinely feel it is one of the better pieces of science fiction to come out of movie theaters in years. I haven’t been so entertained, disturbed, and entertained by a film like this in…well, a long time. Perhaps Sunshine is the newest example I can pull, although that film was a bit dry at times as well…but, honestly, if you enjoy Proyas’s other films or just enjoy science fiction films in general, do yourself a favor and check Knowing out. Highly Recommended.
Summit has released this in a single disc, Elite Blu-ray case with a reflective foil slipcover that…well, I’ll be honest. It’s pretty stupid. The earth itself is cut embossed, but so is the top and side of Cage’s head, for some reason. It really would’ve looked better if they just embossed round him…but, whatever. Minor qualms, as you can just chuck this cardboard o-ring away with ease (although the rear of it does sport a blown up image of the rear cover, without any of the synopsis and images from the film). Disc art is an incredibly dull purple mess with the films logo printed up top.
Video arrives in the form of an AVC encoded 1080p effort, which looks remarkable for the most part. Some of the close up shots are rather soft in appearance, almost devoid of detail…but it’s only on some shots, as not all of it is affected by the same softness throughout. The CGI looks brilliant and the final sequences especially astound with the visuals and…really, it’s a modern production and it looks like it. The audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that isn’t too aggressive in the surrounds, but what it lacks in those it makes up for with subwoofer output…those finale minutes of the film really shake the house quite a bit. Not to mention the airplane and subway train sequences….they’re all quality sequences to demo the power of your subwoofer, but they aren’t too exciting in terms of surround work, sadly. Also included is a Spanish DD5.1 track as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
Extras are minimal but include a Audio Commentary with Director Alex Proyas which is incredibly informative and entertaining; he’s just enthusiastic about the whole thing and presents a ton of interesting information like the budget challenges, the fun of working where he lives and all of that good stuff. A short making of arrives in the form of Knowing All: The Making of a Futuristic Thriller (12:36, 1080i) which focuses mostly on the airplane sequence more than anything, although the major actors are all interviewed briefly as well. Finally Visions of the Apocalypse (17:15, 1080i) wraps up the extras with a look into the story itself.
Overall a solid release for a film that didn’t exactly wow critics and quite frankly enough for the film for what it is. I hope its audience expands as time goes on as it really is a very interesting and exciting film to watch; a little bit more special effectors glamour than Proyas’s other films, but nonetheless an engaging, creepy, and fun time to be had. Recommended.
Knowing arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on July 7th.