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Knowing (2009)

Summit Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/7/2009

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/6/2009

Unlike many other critics, I try not to be a "hater". (Note that I said that I try, I don't also succeed.) As much as possible, I try to give credit where credit is due. For some reason, critics (and often audiences) tend to savage Nicolas Cage and pan all of his movies. But, I've never understood why. Yes, he needlessly overacts in all of his films, but so does Jack Nicholson and everyone seems to love him. I've always thought that Cage did a great job when he was called upon to play the reluctant hero. Similarly, Director Alex Proyas received praise for his feature debut The Crow, but following that, he seemed to fall off the radar. (Despite the fact that Roger Ebert loved Dark City.) Now the two have teamed up for the sci-fi thriller Knowing.

Cage stars in Knowing as John Koestler, an MIT professor who lives with his young son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). Since the death of his wife in a hotel fire, John has become more isolative, overprotective of Caleb, and often drinks himself to sleep. A 50-year old time capsule is unearthed at Caleb's school and each child is given an envelope from it. Caleb's contains a sheet of paper which is covered on both sides with what appears to be random numbers. John begins to study the numbers and a group of digits stand out to him -- 91101. He examines the sheet in detail and realizes that the numbers correspond to disastrous events from the past and the number of victims is listed as well. John shows it to his colleague, Phil (Ben Mendelsohn), who is skeptical. That is, until one of the events lines up with the numbers on the sheet -- an event which John witnesses. In the meantime, strange men have been appearing to Caleb and he hears mysterious whispering. In order to get to the bottom of this, John begins to research the young girl who made the list in the first place. He needs to know this, as the list appears to be unfinished.

When Knowing was released earlier this year, it had a nice box-office run, but wasn't greeted very warmly by critics. While I often recoil at the movies which make money these days and often question the taste of the American movie-going public, I must side with them in this case, as Knowing is a well-made sci-fi thriller.

While some of the credit has to go to the fact that Alex Proyas has done a great job in structuring the film, it's the story in Knowing which makes it work. It's rare to find a movie with a unique premise these days, but the notion that a child's scribblings from 50 years ago can act as if it were something written by Nostradamus is intriguing indeed. (Also, the main threat at the end was something pretty unique as well.) The movie could have easily rested on that notion alone, and the character who found the numbers could have been a blank everyman. The fact that John has a past riddled with scientific and spiritual questions, combined with his current drinking problem help to add another level to the story. Is he right? Is the paper able to predict disasters? Or is this all just the fits of a man who is wallowing in despair and alcohol? The movie takes these ideas and slowly builds the story and the tension. Then, the idea of the strange men who are watching Caleb is introduced, giving the film even more heft. Instead of presenting us with mere fluff, Knowing isnít afraid to layer the story and ask some tough questions.

The movie also makes an interesting decision by making John a part of the disasters. Iím not giving too much away here by saying that the script could have taken the easy route and simply had John hear about the disasters through the media. Instead, he just happens to be present at one and then actively pursues a second. This adds two things to the film. First, it puts John in harms way, something which I didnít expect. Two, it gives the film an opportunity to show off some stunning (and disturbing) set-pieces in which transportation tragedies occur. Both are very well-done and neither is afraid to hide the carnage which ensues.

Unless youíre simply totally confused by the whole thing, I think that most audiences will enjoy at least 2/3 of Knowing. Itís the ending which will most likely divide audiences, for two reasons. First of all, the finale goes from being science-based to science-fiction pretty quickly and those who arenít prepared for this twist, or donít particularly like this kind of movie may be turned off. Secondly, the ending doesnít pull any punches, making it only second to The Mist in the category of recent Hollywood movies with down endings. However, if you have an open mind of would like to get an idea what a Michael Bay movie would look like if there were any intelligence behind it, then Knowing is worth checking out.

Knowing scratches the door on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Summit Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only very mild grain at times and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is impressive, as is the depth, especially in landscape shots. Overall, the image has a nice crispness. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mpbs. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I hate to get too simplistic, but this track rocks. Simply go to the first disaster and you will experience a wondrous world of stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects which will remind you not only why you love lossless sound, but why you bought a surround system in the first place. (Meanwhile, my cats hated it.) The effects are this impressive throughout and the finale will (literally) blow you away.

The Knowing Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Alex Proyas. This is an odd commentary, as Proyas essentially chats with another man during the film. They talk about the movie, but the comments are rarely scene-specific. It would seem that Proyas is tired of doing commentaries. "Knowing All: The Making of a Futuristic Thriller" (13 minutes) is a nice concise featurette which contains comments from the cast and filmmakers and some on-set footage. There is a discussion of how the project came together and the cast. We also get a look at one of the key scenes. (Cage is conspicously absent from the interviews here.) "Visions of the Apocalypse" (17 minutes) takes a serious look at end of the world predictions and has comments from experts in the field.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long