Tuesday, March 17, 2009


What is it with Nicholas Cage and really, really weird movies? Snake Eyes, 8MM, The Wicker Man, The Weather Man and now, director Alex Proyas’ Knowing. A solid premise, in the film a time capsule buried in the ground for 50 years accurately predicts every major disaster in that time and even a few that haven’t happened yet. Naturally, the kid who gets this particular snippet out of all the pretty pictures the 9 years olds in 1959 drew is the son of a brilliant MIT astrophysics professor, one John Koestler, played by Nicholas Cage. Chaos, bedlam and the pretty, pretty special effects of far too much CGI ensue. Of course, good premises do not a movie make.

Knowing takes its sweat time setting up the story. In fact, it takes far too much time setting up the story. And then it sets up the story some more. Then a few seconds of dazzling special effects followed by yet more middling story telling that manages neither to get out of its own way nor satisfy the need to actually understand what in the name of Nick Cage’s hairline is going on.

The film is a lot like a football game where the two teams fight for every inch of Astroturf, with no air game and a handful of accidental first downs. And when they finally mange to get the ball in the end zone, the referees call a time out to ascertain the legality of the play and spend 30 minutes deliberating.

A critic’s nightmare, the incredibly strange plot almost single-handedly ruins the film. And what do people hate more than almost anything in bad film reviews? When the critics spoils the plot. Suffice it to say Knowing is like no other disaster flick or precognitive mystery. Proyas spends precious minutes explaining the science of the sun without any interpersonal extrapolation of the stars up above. Science on top of science dazzles and amazes at the wonderful mathematical world we live in and then Proyas starts throwing curve balls, or more accurately, lobbying the ball blind and allowing a plot that could be a heart pounding mystery to instead become something straight out of a sci-fi nut’s bible. I wish I could explain more but unfortunately, to do so would make worse an already terrible story line.

In a phone conference, Proyas described the film as not a true disaster flick but instead as a “spiritual quest,” he said, a generational story focusing on the father-son bond. To fulfill that quest, the film is chalked full of supposedly tender moments and numerous references to biblical myth, prophecy and a good deal of questions of free will. In theory such musing is all well and good but in practice, the film is simply too long. Scenes that should be half as long if they weren’t cut out entirely drag on forever, often ruining what shock and awe or universality the film’s sparse good moments manage to achieve.

Whereas other films tend to glamorize disaster, Proyas said his aim was to make the film’s disasters “as visceral and as real and as unsettling as possible.” Proyas was aiming to capture some of the stunning power of the opening beach sequence of Saving Private Ryan. He failed. The disasters of the film are few and far between and last for a matter of seconds. As visually appealing as the CG flames are, they are clearly computer generated and thus instantly disconnect audiences from the quest they’re supposedly on.

Proyas describes the film as a “suspense thriller. And suspense, you know, drives the movie forward,” he said. Unfortunately for Proyas, very little of the film manages to achieve actual suspense while the bulk manages only to be strange, drawn out and confusing.

Proyas hopes audiences will realize Knowing “was about the cycle of life,” he said, what is passed down to each new generation. The film itself has little chance of surviving that transition. The few plot elements that should have been made the focal point for the movie were instead brushed aside for lots of frightened glances and nonsense.

Knowing is a reminder that the best of trailers can hide the worst of movies. While I've never put much stock in Nicholas Cage I do enjoy some of his movies. This is not one of them and in fact goes to show that it's a bad idea to put faith in Hollywood because even the best of ideas can go horribly wrong when you decide to have a left field deuce ex machina drive the endgame.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I actually thought this was a pretty good film to be honest. It certainly raised some interesting issues and thoughts as to what could happen to us if we continue the way we are.

I'd certainly agree also that it was unsettling. As mentioned above it made me stop and think. What could we do to protect ourselves from such a disaster? Nothing. Are we worth the help of a more advanced race? No.

Although I do agree it took a while to setup the story I didn't at any point find myself confused as to what the story was or who the characters were. Unlike some films where one character will mention anothers name and I find myself thinking "Well who's that then?".

The film also makes you realise just how fragile life really is and how little there is to protect us. While it might not of been the most entertaining of films it was certainly one that made me stop and think when we got back in the car after seeing it. Coming out and seeing the real world for everything it is was almost a relief. Then i realised just how many huge mistakes we've made - polluting cars, chemicals, nuclear accidents etc. China putting poisons in milk, chocolate and other goods being sent around the world etc. It all raises one rather big worrying question which everyone would prefer to avoid: How long can we continue like this?

I urge anyone reading this to have a think about that and if you can't or won't answer it then you're brushing it under the carpet like the rest of the world and contributing to the problem further.