Monday, 24 August 2009

Science Fiction Done Well

If you ask someone what they remember about 1997 they’ll say Titanic if they’re honest. If they want to go against type they’ll say Boogie Nights, and if they’re a ''serious'' film enthusiast they’ll say L.A. Confidential. All of these films are great but one film I wish would get some remembrance for being wonderful in 1997 was Gattaca, one of my favourite science fiction films.

Gattaca is thoroughly science fiction film, there is not other genre it could be placed in. It takes place somewhere in what may or may not be the near future. The world has become so technologically adept that parents are able to choose what type of children they want so that their offsprings are as perfect as possible. In this perfect world, of course these perfect specimens are the ones who get the superior jobs and they’re the ones who are respected in society. Enter Vincent, played by a brilliant Ethan Hawke. Vincent is an imperfect with a weak heart. According to science he should be dead by now. All his life he has lived as a degenerate with no respect from the world. Ignored by his parents in place of younger, perfect brother he has lived life in the shadows. But like the typical dreamer he has big aspirations; his are of becoming an astronaut. With his imperfect background these hopes are essentially unattainable. With the help of some underground personnel [Tony Shaloub in a deliciously cameo] he meets Jerome a miserable perfect who has experienced a crippling accident. With Jerome’s genes makes attempts to win the respect of this perfect world and a perfect woman played by Uma Thurman.

I don’t know what it is about this film that makes me love it so much…but I can guess. First there’s Ethan Hawke. He is one of the most underrated actors in the industry right now being recently notoriously snubbed for one of the best male performances this century in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Vincent is not a showy character, so I can understand why recognition is not wrought for his performance in the film. But the beauty of the film rests on his shoulders. His Vincent is an everyman character. We root for him. He’s not annoyingly good, he’s not exceptionally good looking, but he’s relatable. We want Vincent to win, and seeing that most of the suspense in the film comes from whether or not Vincent will succeed Hawke does a good job.

With Ethan Hawke as the lead, the producers needed to cast an actor who would be the epitome of perfection…and they couldn’t have done worse than Jude Law. This is the first Jude Law film that I remember seeing and I was very impressed with his performance. I guess some would want to say that he was showboating, and maybe he was. But the performance demanded it. Jude’s tortured character is an important part of the film and his rapport with Ethan Hawke is impressive. There is a finale scene where the crippled Jerome drags himself up some stairs and the acting on Jude’s part is truly heart wrenching.

Where the film is not as strong for me though is with Uma Thurman’s role. Uma does a good job of playing Irene, a perfect woman whom Vincent falls in love with. The character seemed a bit undeveloped and it didn’t allow Uma to do as much as she could have. As is typical with so many science fiction films the women are little less than ornamental figures. Uma, as she usually does, makes her character [the only notable female] as strong as she can, but the film is not particularly working in her favour. Still, it doesn’t spoil the entire success of the narrative.

Gattaca is a superbly directed film. With the tight shots and the quick editing the pacing is wonderfully. It’s enjoyable and yet it’s not a vacuous experience. It’s a sci-fi flick, but it’s not some action ridded drivel lacking in plot. Despite being a big fan of a certain guy called Oscar, I have realised by now that goodness is not synonymous with Oscar, but this film deserved recognition from any awards ceremony.

Jude and Ethan really gave great performances and the in the face of the weak male performances that year it’s unfortunate that they didn’t gain any buzz. Of course, this was the 90s when science fiction had no correlation with awards worthy. But even better than the acting, the technical aspects of Gattaca are its strong points. From the bleak and almost repressive set design and costumes, the cinematography and editing, the sound and most important the haunting score. It’s regrettable that only the Art Direction received any Academy Award nominations. But no matter, this is still a great film…a great film that unfortunately has become forgotten. If you haven’t seen it, do so, something will impress you?

Have you seen Gattaca? What did you think? Or what science fiction films do you like?


Alex in Movieland said...

I remember being quite fascinated by it when I was much younger and it was on HBO all the time. It was especially Jude that got my attention. Years later however I found it to be less fascinating. And it's a bit difficult for me to consider it Science Fiction. :) this is too much of a wide category. what does this have in common with Aliens? :D

Tommy Salami said...

This one is truly an under-appreciated gem; I was late to the party myself. It's a prime example of a smart science fiction film that doesn't have to have the explosions and the pew-pew of ray guns to be gripping.