Moviedrome Redux: ‘Gattaca’ (1997)

❉ A box office debacle back in ’97, Gattaca can now be seen as very much ahead of its time.

Gattaca is one of my favourite genre-benders, a unique effort that combines film noir and believable science fiction in a tight and sleek package that greatly benefits from writer/director Andrew Niccol’s supreme sense of style and his usual brand of topical, thought provoking storytelling. Niccol, who also wrote The Truman Show for Peter Weir and wrote/directed Lord of War, Simone, In Time, and the underappreciated Good Kill, is a big ideas guy, prone to heady narratives with juicy hooks, and with Gattaca, he crafted a film that can now be seen as very much ahead of its time.

This is still the BEST newspaper advertisement for a movie that I’ve ever seen.

Released to great critical acclaim but a box office debacle back in 1997, and featuring one of the coolest print ad campaigns of all time, the film foreshadowed the genetic testing onslaught of the 2000’s, with a story that involves a future society that’s become all but determined by work done in labs. Embryos are genetically engineered with imperfections all but eradicated, while the antiseptic environment stresses environmental reconstruction and stunning advances made in the field of science.

The story pivots on a man who is born genetic flaws, and who can’t progress as far as he wants in society, so he tricks the system, in order to achieve his goals. The trio of Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman all did stellar work, the cinematography by ace shooter Sławomir Idziak (Black Hawk Down) is extraordinary, and Michael Nyman’s elegant and mournful score set an appropriately chilly and evocative tone, suggesting loss with a smidgen of a hope.

Gattaca is also a production designer’s dream come true, with each location and set perfectly chosen and art directed to the max, but never in a flashy or gaudy manner; Jan Roelfs deserved an Oscar nomination for his mesmerizing work. Niccol also smartly populated the cast with a bevy of excellent character actors, including Loren Dean, Elias Koteas, Xander Berkeley, Tony Shaloub, Blair Underwood, Dean Norris, Alan Arkin, Gore Vidal(!), and Ernest Borgnine(!) This is a film that gets stronger and stronger with each viewing, and I love how it can be seen as a detective story with sci-fi elements, or a science-fiction love story set against the backdrop of a mystery.

❉ ‘Gattaca’ (1997) was released on Dual Format (DVD/Blu-ray) by Sony DADC UK Limited as part of the Premium Collection, 8 May 2017, containing a Region Free Blu-Ray, Standard Region 2 DVD, 4 Art Cards and Digital Download. A Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray release has been rumoured for 2021.

 Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.

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