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Region 4 DVD Reviews: Two great SF DVDs from Andrew Niccol

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, Aug/Sept 2001, v.32#4

Gattaca cover Gattaca
Director: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Loren Dean
The Truman Show cover The Truman Show
Director: Peter Weir
Starring: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Ed Harris
Movie: A+, Picture: A, Sound: A-, Extras: B+ Movie: A+, Picture: A+, Sound: A, Extras: D
One omission of which movie reviewers are routinely guilty is repeated each issue on this page. Notice the line above. Mentions the director and several of the actors, but how about the guy that had the idea in the first place? As it happens, that guy is Andrew Niccol, who is also the director of Gattaca. And Niccol was responsible for the screenplays of both Gattaca and The Truman Show.

Gattaca is science fiction, the hardest of hard-core science fiction. That it has no special effects to speak of, no rocket ships aside from distant flares disappearing into the sky, no explosions, and no gadgets beyond some nifty DNA analysers and a beaut flash incinerator, does not detract at all from its science fiction status. The reason it is hard-core science fiction -- unlike Star Wars, which is an adventure story, or Alien, which is a horror story -- is that it the whole story is concerned with what impact some bit of technology will have on humanity. And, because it is a story rather than an essay, how an individual might deal with that impact.

The technology is the topical one of genetic analysis and selection. The individual is a person condemned to denial of his space-faring dream because of a genetically-based health problem.

Niccol is a superb story teller, and an excellent director. It is worth buying this DVD just to watch the background scene during the opening credits. The disc is single layer, dual sided, with the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (nominally, it's actually 2.40:1) on one side and a pan and scan version on the other. The sound is excellent and the picture very good, although a little grainy on the pan and scan side. Look at the deleted scenes to see what film looks like before full processing.

Some people may dispute that The Truman Show is science fiction. As it happened, the late Robert Heinlein preferred the term 'speculative fiction'. He deserves a mention because the premise of the movie -- a man who's entire world is fake, unbenownst to him -- bears remarkable parallels Heinlein's 1941 short story They. As in They, Truman Burbank starts to understand the truth when the props fail.

Since The Truman Show is also the name of the 24/7/52/30 TV show of which Jim Carrey is the unwitting star, the movie opens with a bite from the show's director Christoff (Ed Harris) and the show's credits. This merging of reality and fantasy lasts most of the movie, and if you let yourself go, you will simultaneously enjoy powerfully stirring sentimentality, cynical appreciation and (if you haven't previously seen the movie) shock as Truman's best and oldest friend declares, using spontaneously scripted lines, 'And the last thing that I would ever do is lie to you.'

The Australian version of this movie loses the animated menu that the US version enjoys, but kills the foreign one for picture quality. The US version is merely NTSC and with it's slightly squarer aspect ratio of 1.64:1, sans anamorphic encoding, delivers a mere 390 lines, or only 68% of the resolution of the PAL disc. The Australian copy's 1.78:1 aspect ratio means a slight cropping of the top and bottom of each frame for an overall loss of eight per cent of the picture, but the artificial clarity of the filming, which adds so much to the feeling of unreality, is faithfully preserved.

These two movies will have to keep me going a little while longer, until S1m0ne arrives later this year, directed and, most importantly, written by Andrew Niccol.

Running time: 102 minutes
Aspect: 2.35:1 anamorphic (4:3 pan and scan on flip side)
Sound track: English, Dolby Digital 2.0 (Dolby Pro Logic), 192kb/s; English, Dolby Digital 5.1, 384kb/s; French, Dolby Digital 5.1, 384kb/s
Subtitles: English, French, Dutch, Arabic
Features: Documentary (~6:50), Seven deleted scenes, Poster gallery, Photo gallery, Filmographies, Trailers
Running time: 99 minutes
Aspect: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Sound track: English, Dolby Digital 5.1, 448kb/s
Subtitles: English
Features: Trailers

© 2001-2005, Stephen Dawson