What to eat while watching: Gumdrops.
I am delighted to report to you all, friends, and especially to Helen, who requested I do so, on the film Gattaca. The scenario I imagine is that Helen is waiting to rent this until I get back to her with my (evidently esteemed, yet humble) opinion. I have taken from the shelf at Reel video the holographic video box featuring Ethan Hawke's strong jaw line and Uma Thurman's sensual lips. I have plunged into the unlikely future of Gattaca so that Helen, and all of you, dear readers, may have more information before taking the plunge (or not) yourselves.
I should mention that I don't usually work on requests. Most readers seem to think I want advice on what to watch. No, no, no. My to-be-seen list is long enough in spite of most movies in existence falling into the "no thank you" category. I'm more likely to accept requests to pre-screen videos for you, but (apologies to the reader who requested Teaching Miss Tingle), I only pre-screen movies I myself am at least half-way intrigued by. In an effort to be honest with you all, I'm announcing that I do, indeed, take requests: I take them with a grain of salt.
So you might want to check other writers and opinion sources about the movies you are interested in, should you find me unavailable. Not caring too much what most other critics think, I can only recommend two with certainty. The Filthy Critic is sharp as a knife and completely correct and lucid 99% of the time. Mrs. Filthy's reviews are stylistically brilliant--and totally wasted each week on The Real World.
While I'm on it, I can tell you to disregard everything you read from the well-meant masses of customer feedback at Amazon.com. Would-be reviewers there have given the 11-star movie, Shower the lowest rating, and have raved about the corn-fest/yawn-fest called Finian's Rainbow. You gotta give people credit for trying, though.
Are people born to love bad movies? Is it in their genes?
This clumsy transition leads me to the film of the week. Gattaca is set in the "Not-to-distant future" (a cliché directly quoted from the movie) where scientists have not only decoded the human genome, but have developed the technology to engineer it. In this future, children are conceived with the help of genetic engineers who create the best possible fetuses from the parents' genetic material. These babies are no longer prone to mortality, deformity or disease, but grow from the strongest, brightest, and most beautiful genes their folks have to offer.
An ideal world? Though this is by no means cyberpunk, Gattaca is based more on the sociological ramifications of this technology than the tech itself. With many children born to DNA greatness and many others conceived in the good ol' fashioned way, an entire industry of discrimination has evolved that keeps some people rich and beautiful and others poor and ugly.
The discrimination of Gattaca's world almost identically parallels our contemporary discrimination between have's and have-not's. Ostracism and the struggle between classes are ancient, and this film's writers refresh them for the future. I'm not sure I'm entirely behind the effort.
Now that the plot has required us to stretch our imaginations around this futureworld, we are asked to stretch a little further: to accept the premise that the handsomest man in the film, Hawke, is a natural-born, while all his companions are "valid", i.e. genetically engineered for perfection. Hawke's defect is a weak heart, but his determination to succeed knows no bounds; and so in spite of his brother's valid birth, his parents' unconscious discrimination, and all of society's design to keep him down, Hawke manages to enter the space program. It's all he wants in life: to travel in a rocket to space. But this privilege is reserved for the genetically top-notch (and the ultra-determined).
The story hatches a black-market for genetically superior material. For reasons not fully fleshed out, some gene-royalty find cause to farm out their blood, skin cells, urine, etc. for use by unscrupulous natural-borns, aided by profit-mad dealers. Why? How? Details, details: the point is Hawke gets in with a genetic gem of a man who was injured while scoring a gold medal at something or other. They form a relationship that turns into friendship.
The road is tough indeed for Hawke who must scrub his own bodily matter from his body diligently and leave bits of his buddy's offal hither and yon so that the DNA-gestapo does not catch on to the fact that he's really only a so-so collection of human cells.
Add to this rigor a brutal murder within the space program. (The answer to "Whodunnit" is such a terrible stretch of the imagination that it is heavily downplayed so that the viewer doesn't think too much about just how unlikely it is.) With cops, including the likable Alan Arkin swarming the joint, Hawke's identity is precarious. And then he starts falling in love with Uma Thurman, whose natural sultriness, I felt, was hampered by the business-formal dress code of this flick.
Special effects fans, you aren't in for much thrill. Mystery fans, neither are you. The sci-fi aficionados I've known are typically attentive to detail and like well-developed and supported projections of the future. For them, Gattaca would be like eating just the nougat out of a 3 Musketeers Bar compared to main courses like Blade Runner, Brazil, or 2010.
That leaves a few elements to really get into, if you're into them. 1) The sibling rivalry between Hawke and his "perfect" brother, 2) The lukewarm, but good-looking, romance between Hawke and Thurman, 3) Alan Arkin, and 4) the cameo by writer Gore Vidal. Oh, and it comes in a shiny box. And finally, the well-crafted look of this film and its ability to create some suspense around its characters is certainly good enough for an evening's light entertainment.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.