Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has remastered the 1997 sci-fi drama Gattaca from the original 35mm camera negatives for release on 4k Blu-ray. The dystopian film, written and directed by Andrew Niccol on a $36M budget, only made a third of its money back at theaters. But this movie, exploring a futuristic world in which we are able to modify the genome of organisms, has a resonant quality over 20 years after its making.
The concept for Gattaca evolved from research in recombinant DNA, where a piece of DNA can be created using multiple sources. The discoveries would allow the perfection of humans (as well as other species) and the eventual shunning of natural or “god-made” species.
Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke), born without any genetic modifications (and therefore inferior in this futuristic setting), has dreams of going into space. But because of the predictions of his short lifespan based on his DNA, he seeks another way to reach his goals. Vincent finds the services of a sort of matchmaker for humans (a guy named “German” played by Tony Shalhoub) who carries with him selection of blood samples.
Vincent is matched with Jerome Eugene Morrow (Jude Law), a superior specimen and silver metal winning-swimmer who has been handicapped by an accident. Vincent realizes he can get to space by using Jerome’s DNA to enter the Gattaca astronaut program. As the film progresses, Vincent and Jerome become more and more desperate to cover their true identity.
A good portion of the movie explores the DNA we leave behind, mainly from hairs and skin of which we apparently shed about one million cells per day (although the trailer narrator exaggerates this number as 500 million per day). The film includes quite a few macro shots emphasizing this factoid, many of which were created on a set and made to look microscopic. There are lots of needles in this movie (the squeamish should beware) as identities can be determined through quick blood samples.
A back story often used in film revolves around brotherly competition. This is true of Gattaca. From the beginning of the movie the relationship between Vincent and his brother Anton (Loren Dean) is what determines Vincent’s future. In Gattaca, one brother is disadvantaged in terms of physical abilities, but he is driven by his own determination to beat his brother and more importantly to reach the stars.
A deeper plot may have been missed though. Upon rewatching Gattaca there is moment when Irene (Uma Thurman) takes Vincent (whow has transformed into Jerome) out to a piano concert. When picking him up she looks up and appears to see the real Jerome who is starring, wheelchair-confined, out of his apartment window. At that instant you get the feeling Irene may know something about Vincent and Jerome, but plays along with the deception while hiding a past history with Jerome. This may have added another complexity to the plot rather than just having Irene a new character in the story arc.
The cinematography by Slawomir Idziak (also known for Black Hawk Down) is really what gives this movie an evergreen quality. Set in dramatic lighting throughout the film, Idziak uses a lot of backlight to separate the subject from the backgrounds. There are panels and shapes of light everywhere in Gattaca, as is true with most sci-fi movies in the vein of classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner, that create layers of color in the frame all of which glow on the screen.
With HDR, the lighting is even more vibrant and luminous. Shots of the beautiful Uma Thurman are unforgettable, as are some of the sets which Director Andrew Niccol envisioned and planned so thoughtfully. There are a few shots in which the black levels seem a bit crunched, but for the part the contrast is good and detail in shadow areas more evident with HDR enabled.
As far as sharpness, Gattaca is super grainy in a good majority of the shots (noticable when pausing the movie), but the grain is at least consistent. In fact, the size of the granules in a way resemble 35mm film, the format on which Gattaca was shot using Arriflex and Moviecam cameras.
The grain does not deter, however, from the improved sharpness of the film that was digitally remastered in 4k from new scans of the original negatives. The restoration team at Sony has done a nice job with keeping Gattaca looking very consistent and did not overuse the powers of digital enhancements. What we love about this remaster is the way it still looks like a film seen in a theater.
The HEVC UHD video inclues the HDR10 spec BT.2020 10-bit color space averaging between 45Mbps and 55Mbps. Peaks during the review hit 92Mbps and lows about 32Mbps.
The soundtrack to Gattaca was remastered to support object-based Dolby Atmos audio that can place sound effects above and behind the viewer. One moment worth mentioning takes place in the work hall where all the astronauts are at their computer stations and the sounds of keyboard strokes fill the space around you. [Chap. 9/16 – 0:51:00]
You’ll also love the sound of the rockets taking off. One might imagine rocket launches having much more volume and mass (the way First Man envelopes you in audio), but in Gattaca the mix takes on an almost nostalgic characteristic for Vincent, representing everything he has been dreaming of his whole life.
Throughout most of Gattaca you’ll notice a spacious, almost empty effect of the Gattaca training facility, seemingly a cold and sterile environment. At times, Niccol seems to alter the audio depending on the camera view. For example, when Jerome and Irene are walking past a large concrete structure the audio reverb level is increased when the edit jumps to a wide shot as if hearing them from further away. [Chap. 9/16 – 0:48:40]
The scene on the freeway [Chap. 10/16 – 1:01:20] where Vincent is afraid to cross the traffic at night is another one of those audio moments as the sounds of futuristic cars (although with vintage-looking bodies) zoom by him and Irene. Niccol puts you in the position of Vincent (who can’t see because he tossed his contact lenses) where you hear audio moving from left to right speakers.
The music composition was created by Michael Nyman who scored the award-winning film The Piano several years before Gattaca. Nyman delivers a soundtrack that is both beautiful and haunting, with moments that seem very familiar from more mainstream feel good movies.
The audio track for Gattaca delivers Dolby TrueHD 7.1 at 48kHz streaming around 4.5Mbps, but depending on your system will choose the closet compatible format.
On the 4k Blu-ray there is only the original theatrical trailer (sniff sniff). However, there is bonus material on the Blu-ray and Digital Copy. One of the better extras discusses Niccol and his approach to filmmaking and careful attention to detail. You get the sense the production team for Gattaca were proud of the film they were making, which should (and already does) have long-lasting resonance.
What can be referred to as a “biopunk thriller,” the genre is typically represented by more action-based films such as Lucy and the Resident Evil franchise. But Gattaca is less action and more pyschological. It’s a sci-fi drama that is believable, so the movie is timeless in this respect. The new 4k remastering of the film impresses on a 4k TV, and even more so with HDR and surround sound. Packaged in a slick SteelBook with images of Vincent and Irene rendered in a duotone color palette, the 4k Blu-ray release of Gattaca is certainly a collectible item for fans of the film and this genre of filmmaking.
[Update: Gattaca will also released to a standard plastic shell 4k Blu-ray on June 15, 2021.]