Knowing (Blu-ray) (2009)

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Released 28-Jul-2009

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Audio Commentary-by director Alex Proyas in conversation with Mark Rance
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-'Knowing' All: The Making of a Futuristic Thriller
Featurette-Visions of the Apocalypse
Trailer-for the film Push
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 121:24
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Alex Proyas
Studio
Distributor
Icon Entertainment Starring Nicolas Cage
Chandler Canterbury
Rose Byrne
D.G. Maloney
Lara Robinson
Nadia Townsend
Alan Hopgood
Case Alpha-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Marco Beltrami


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

   Knowing is a film that has polarised critical opinion amongst both movie critics and movie fans on message board sites like IMDb. I have been surprised by the lack of middle-of-the-road reviews on this film, either the film has been thought of as great or very good (e.g. Roger Ebert's review, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton on their At the Movies show) or outright bad due to its plot being absurd or difficult to understand. It is my aim in this review to provide some information behind the scientific and biblical/apocalyptic premise to the film, to clarify what the screenwriters of the film were attempting to do in the script.

    There are plenty of plot spoilers that follow. (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Firstly, Knowing is an attempt to synthesise scientific consensus on the forces of nature with biblical prophecy. The most important scene in the film is the one were John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) presents the deterministic vs randomness argument of the universe to his physics class. Critics have interpreted this scene to mean that Koestler's character begins the film by believing in the randomness of things and events, and ends it by firmly believing the opposite, that events are pre-determined. Even director Alex Proyas points this out in his commentary. I would add that I believe the scriptwriters have taken a current day paradox in physics (i.e. the theories of Einstein's general relativity in the cosmological realms is measurable and deterministic whereas the theories of quantum physics is immeasurable and random at the microscopic or sub-atomic realm of the physical world) and have tried to synthesise it with a cosmological event in an apocalyptic sense, you can imagine some of the allegorical end-time visions of the Bible could look like the scenes at the end of the film. On the blackboard, in the MIT lecture scene mentioned above, is a clever hint to the general plot of the film. James Maxwell's 19th century breakthrough theories on electromagnetism are written out in such a way as to subtly predict that an electromagnetic wave of radiation from the sun could not be contained in the Earth's magnetic poles (i.e. Maxwell was able to provide equations for the properties of electric fields. This was after Michael Faraday first proposed that an electrical charge causes a magnetic field, the two forces are related), the initial solar flares leading up to this event would interrupt wave signals on the Earth, hence the reason for the disasters that lead up to the final all-consuming coronal mass ejection from the Sun.

    In Knowing therefore, the end scene where John Koestler discusses prophecy with his father (who is a retired minister) is also pivotal to the plot of the film because it makes Koestler's character look like a modern day version of Ezekiel who is referred to in the movie earlier. The drawing from Ezekiel chapter one that is found in Lucinda's trailer home is a plot device to explain the four strangers in the film, just like there are four angels in that drawing who move in concurrent vehicle, so there are four angels who bring the two children to safety in a similar vehicle. There has been much comment on these strangers as being aliens, they are not, these angels are in the film as a result of the screenwriters attempt to make Koestler a modern day biblical prophet who attempts to warn others of a cataclysmic event.

    The world been destroyed by fire is a reference to God's judgment as mentioned in 2 Peter 3, i.e. that the world will be cleansed by fire. The children hearing whispers from the strangers is an allusion to the whispers that the prophet Samuel heard in the Old Testament. In the Bible there is a lot of significance attached to the meaning of the names of the main characters, similarly the characters names in this film give a clue to their role in the film. For example, Lucinda means 'illuminating', John means 'messenger of God', Diana means 'divine', Caleb means 'whole-hearted' (i.e Caleb was one of only two people who whole-heartedly followed God into the promised land, the others all perished along the way) and Abby means 'father in exaltation'. So, ultimately Knowing is an attempt to provide a scientific presentation to a biblical apocalyptic event. Whether you agree with the premise behind the film or not, this is what the screenwriters were attempting to do throughout the film. So criticism of the film that states that the end was disappointing but the first two acts of the film were interesting, is an admission of misunderstanding. The script of the film does not try to blind-side the audience, the hints are there from the beginning. For this reason the plot device of the number codes is given from the very first scene of the film, the disasters ultimately point to the final disaster.

    The two children running to the tree in the final scene is an allusion to the 'tree of life' (just mentioning the term tree of life makes me eager in anticipation for Terrence Malick's film of the same name, due for release in 2010, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn - but I am digressing from the main point here!) and the renewal of the world.

    There has been criticism levelled at director Alex Proyas' choice of film scripts in his career and the fact that he has been steadily disappointing since his breakthrough film, The Crow. Such criticism does not take into account the way the movie industry works. Actors and directors tend to take on films that fit within a specific role or genre. For Proyas, his critical success with The Crow and Dark City has meant that he has been given science-fiction films to work with, just as Michael Bay does action films. People who work across genres tend to be highly successful, independent and distinguished, such as Martin Scorsese (compare The Age of Innocence to The Departed for example) or Stanley Kubrick (compare 2001, Dr Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange) Actors who cross genres are similarly just as rare, for example Brad Pitt or Sean Penn. Actors like Marlon Brando and Daniel Day-Lewis excelled in varying roles, but they did not work as consistently as other actors. Richard Kelly, who directed the 2001 cult favourite, Donnie Darko, was initially tied to this project due to the science fiction element of that film, but due to his desire to remain independent of been typecast, he has only directed one mainstream feature in the eight years since Donnie Darko.

    In summary, Knowing is a film that combines action, science fiction, drama and apocalyptic thriller. If you were to judge the film based on just one of those genres, it comes up short. Knowing needs to be judged on its own merits.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Knowing was shot digitally using the Red One Digital 4K Camera. The transfer results on Blu-ray are stunning. More information on the process of shooting the film with this camera can be found here.

    The aspect ratio of Knowing is 2:40:1. The film is naturally 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions.

    The film is sharp, there is no grain or low level noise in the transfer.

    Colour is vivid and bright. The range in contrast could have been more if the video transfer wasn't compressed to 21 gb on the disc for region B consumers. Region A consumers in the United States get a 30 gb transfer.

    There are no MPEG artefacts whatsoever

    Subtitles are presented in different colours based on the dialogue of different characters. I found this approach novel and was not as distracting as I thought it would be.

    I didn't detect a layer change as I believe the main presentation has been transferred to the first layer of the blu-ray disc for Region B consumers.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD tracks contain a lot of fidelity and range from subtle, whispering sounds to deep bass resonating from the subwoofer during the disaster scenes.

    There are three audio tracks for the film. The first is a DTS-HD Master 5.1 Audio track encoded at 1953 kbps. There is a slightly softer or quieter Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track encoded at 1434 kbps. The final track is the director's commentary track which is Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded at 192 kbps. The Region A release of Knowing contains a DTS-HD MA track encoded at 3793 kbps. Even though the Region All release of the film for Australian consumers contains soundtracks with lower audio bitrates than the US counterpart, the soundtrack is still impressive.

    Dialogue is clear and concise and audio is synchronised.

    The music score by Marco Beltrami contains terrific range as mentioned previously. The majority of the film contains suspense or thriller themes, but the soundtrack does elevate for disaster scenes and pivotal drama scenes, such as at the end of the film. Beethoven's 7th Symphony Major, 2nd Movement - Allegretto in A Minor is used wonderfully at the beginning and end of the film. The use of this theme bookends and ties up the theme of the film in an aural sense.

    Surround channel usage is well defined when the strangers are whispering, or for nature effects (wind, storms and rain) and during disaster scenes. The plane crash at the end of the first act of the film resonated through my system comparably in the same way that it did in the air crash sequence in the film, Fight Club.

    The Subwoofer is used to great effect to emphasise the deep bass sounds of Beltrami's soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Audio Commentary with director Alex Proyas

This commentary begins by alluding to the conversation style that directors Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese employ for Powell's films The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Black Narcissus. Proyas doesn't specifically mention which one of these two films he alludes to, he only mentions this fact because the commentary is a 2-hour long conversation with DVD producer Mark Rance, with Rance providing questions about the film and Proyas answering them. I found that Proyas meanders and deliberately does not directly answer questions that Rance proposes, and this can come across as evasive and frustrating for viewers. Proyas does mention classic 1950s science fiction as a genre and the apocalyptic fears of the nuclear cold war from the 1960s onwards. He also mentions how close he was to canning the single-shot plane crash scene and the fact that Knowing was his first film to be shot digitally using the Red One Camera. I would have appreciated more technical information on this process and more information on the biblical and scientific allusions to the script. At least Proyas is forthright in his plot direction for the end of the film. A happier ending was unrealistic for him.

Featurette-Behind The Scenes - 'Knowing' All: The Making of a Futuristic Thriller (12:35)

This is a standard 'electronic press-kit' feature that looks at the making of the film briefly with emphasis on the plane crash sequence. Casting and the relationship between science and faith is also discussed by the interviewees.

Featurette - Visions of the Apocalypse (17:15)

This extra looks at the history of apocalyptic stories among different cultures throughout the history of civilisation and the science behind the film.

Trailer

This is a short trailer for the film Push.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Knowing was released in Region A in the United States on the 7th of July, 2009. It contains the exact same extras as the Region All release for Australian consumers, released on the 29th of July. However, The Region A release has a higher video and audio bitrate than the Region All release. The video transfer is 30 gb for the Region A US release in comparison to the 21gb video transfer for the Australian Region All release. The Region A audio transfer has a DTS-HD MA track encoded at 3793 kbps whereas the DTS-HD MA soundtrack on the Region All Australian release is encode at 1934 kbps. (This may have been done to include the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack also)

    Knowing will be released in region B in the United Kingdom on the 3rd of August, 2009. I presume that this release will be identical to the Australian release.

Summary

    This review of Knowing has attempted to provide the scientific and biblical premise behind the film to make it more comprehensible to our readers. Whether you appreciate these dichotomous viewpoints and the attempt by the screenwriters of the film to synthesise the two or not, Knowing should not be simply classified and compared to a specific genre because it is more than that.

    Personally, I enjoyed the film and viewed it four times for the purposes of this review, but I must admit that I am a huge fan of Alex Proyas' work in The Crow and Dark City and that has to be taken into account in my appreciation of the film (Although Knowing is not in the same class as The Crow or Dark City).

    Ultimately, the unique background of Knowing will no doubt polarise audiences who view it for the first time, and I have no doubt that that was the intention of Alex Proyas and screenwriters Ryne Douglas Pearson, Stuart Hazeldine, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Monday, August 03, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 019), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Polarities - Bran (my bio, or something very like it) REPLY POSTED
Balanced Review. - Anonymous
English Subtitles for the Audio Commentary? - Ralph Brockmann REPLY POSTED
Music - Tom (read my bio)