Release Date(s)1997 (March 23, 2021)
Studio(s)Jersey Films/Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is an ambitious young man who’s long dreamed of spaceflight. Unfortunately, that path is not open to him, for he lives in a future where one’s destiny is pre-selected by their parents. Only the genetically pure are allowed to rise to the highest levels of society, and Vincent was a disfavored “natural” birth, so he’s stuck working as a janitor at the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation. For the perfectly-engineered Jerome (Jude Law), a former Olympic athlete, achievement came too easy and now an accident has left him wheelchair bound. So Vincent pays Jerome to help him switch their identities, carefully stockpiling samples of Jerome’s blood, urine, skin, and hair in order to fool Gattaca’s screening systems and thus allow Vincent to enter the space program. But it turns out that having perfect DNA isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. One of Vincent’s new coworkers (Irene, played by Uma Thurman) becomes envious of his genetic profile. And when a murder occurs at Gattaca on the eve of Vincent’s mission to Titan, the subsequent police investigation may bring all of his dreams crashing back down to Earth.
GATTACA is a nearly-perfect science fiction film. It marries a simple yet high-concept idea with relatable human emotions. It also borrows a page from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, with Art Deco production design that looks to the past to inform the future. Director Andrew Niccol focuses on his characters first—in fact, there are hardly any visual effects in the entire film. Yet there’s no doubt whatsoever that we’re in a kind of timeless future, thanks to Slawomir Idziak’s lavish cinematography (he’s best known for his work on Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Blue and Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down). Again like Blade Runner, this is a future noir, a point emphasized by the colorful light-and-shadow visuals, the costuming, even the detective and romantic subplots. All three of this film’s young leads are terrific and the supporting cast features brilliant work by Ernest Borgnine, Alan Arkin, Gore Vidal, Loren Dean, and Xander Berkeley, along with smaller appearances by Blair Underwood, Elias Koteas, Jayne Brook, and—blink and you’ll miss them—Maya Rudolph (of SNL fame) and Dean Norris (Breaking Bad).
GATTACA was shot on 35 mm photochemical film in Super 35 format using ARRIFLEX and Moviecam cameras with spherical lenses. It was finished on film at a theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. For its Ultra HD release, the original camera negative has been scanned in 4K to create a new Digital Intermediate, complete with color grading for high dynamic range (HDR10 is available). Detail is crisp and refined, save for the odd shot that’s optically soft as photographed as well as a few optically-printed titles and transitions. Film grain is light to more moderate, as you’d expect from Super 35, but it’s always natural and organic. Given the nature of the cinematography here, it’s the HDR that really stands out, with inky blacks, luminous highlights, and a vibrant color palette that’s more exquisitely nuanced than ever before. This image is gorgeous and right on the verge of reference quality.
Sound-wise, the 4K disc includes a new English Dolby Atmos mix that complements the visuals nicely. It isn’t going to give your surround system a workout, but the soundfield is smooth, medium-wide, and highly atmospheric, with the height channels lending to a truly hemispheric sound environment. They also add a nice bit of lift to the mix occasionally during rocket launches and the opening credits (with its snowfall of human genetic material). Dialogue is clean and full sounding, with pleasing low end. Michael Nyman’s restrained orchestral score is presented in fine fidelity, managing to be both melancholic and hopeful at once as it recalls the string adagios of Schubert. Additional sound options include the previous English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, along with 5.1 Dolby Digital in French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
The 4K disc itself includes only one special feature:
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:26)
But the package also includes the previous Blu-ray release, which offers the film in 1080p HD (not remastered from the new scan) and adds the following:
- Substance Test Outtake (SD – :36)
- Original Featurette (SD – 6:52)
- Welcome to GATTACA (HD – 22:00)
- Do Not Alter? (SD – 14:52)
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 6 scenes – 10:43 in all)
Most of these extras are carried over from the film’s original DVD release. Welcome to GATTACA is good look behind-the-scenes but is far too brief. The deleted scenes and outtake are interesting, though they feature very low—almost VHS level—image quality. While they’re best left on the cutting room floor, there are a few nice moments with Borgnine in particular. Do Not Alter? is a mini-documentary on the science behind the film, featuring voiceover narration by Gore Vidal. And that’s it. A new audio commentary with the cast and filmmakers would have been appreciated, but such is not to be. You do at least get a Movies Anywhere Digital copy code on a paper insert. And the all of this comes in elegant blue-orange Steelbook packaging.
GATTACA deserves a place high on any serious list of the best science fiction films of all time. It’s thoughtful, compelling, gorgeous to look at, and—perhaps most importantly—it delivers a hopeful and ever more resonant message about the power of humanity to break free of dystopia. Despite the lack of new extras, Sony’s long-awaited 4K Ultra HD remaster is every bit as good as one could hope. Both the film and this disc are highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt