Knowing Blu-ray Review
Oh God, here we go. There are bound to be people who disagree with this, but Knowing has one of the best transfers that I have seen on BD. Period. I really doubt that you could find a technical fault with its presentation on disc. Everything is crystal clear, vivid and achingly sharp. The colour scheme enjoys a full palette that is natural, warm and engrossing. Depth and detail are both simply phenomenal.
But, this is unlike most other highly regarded 1080p transfers that have come along, simply because of the way in which it was digitally filmed.
Now, obviously, you will either like this un-film-like appearance, or you won't - and I know a couple of people who just can't take to it at all. Shot with Red One digital cameras, there is an undeniably clean and processed look about the 2.35:1 MPEG-4 encoded image, the sort of thing that will confuse many viewers who will mistake the lack of grain, the healthy sheen of the faces and the unbelievably smooth gloss of the picture for extensive DNR having been applied. But this is most definitely not the case. What you see is exactly what Proyas intends you to see. And it looks absolutely sublime and captivating. The autumnal vogue of the film is simply ravishing to behold. The level of depth is, I have to say, unparalleled. There are so many scenes that positively invite you to reach out and touch them, such is the amazing sense of hyper-real composition.
Detail on little things, like the numbers written on Lucinda's page, writing on white-boards, blackboards, GPS systems, or the packaging of items on the shelves of the gas station or the leaves on the ground, are superlative. Fantastic aerial views of the Earth - its continents, clouds, cities and neon lights - also amaze with their total clarity and depth, almost compelling you to hold the image for lengthy perusal. When John pauses to pick up his son's discarded shoe from his bedroom doorway, just pause for a moment to study the wood-grain on the door and the floorboards. I know that this may sound ridiculously anal, but you could almost believe that you could reach out and run your fingernail along it. Some shots are simply jaw-droppingly vivid and beautiful to look at. How about John making that warning phone-call to his father? Cage is magnificently framed within an image that is awash with lush autumnal colour, vast swathes of detail and tremendous depth. Almost any shot of the Koestler house, nestling on the edge of that fairytale forest, looks incredible - but, for my money, the hypnotic spread of branches, sky and the carpeting of leaves on the ground steal the glory from the shadows and mist of the eerie night-time scenes.
Depth and three-dimensionality are at a level that is paramount. The film, as a story, might not be the most visually aggressive thing that you will have seen, away from the disasters that is, but the level of background clarity, frame immersion and sheer compositional splendour is quite staggering. You only have to look at shots of Miss Taylor teaching her pupils at the very start to see people coming through doors way back in the distance through the window in her classroom door, with crystal-clear definition, to understand that this is no normal image. Again, check out John as he delivers a lecture to his own class in the present day to see people through windows in the building opposite to get the same deeply dimensional effect. And then there is that tremendous opener in which we see Miss Taylor standing upon the steps of the school that simply widens the eyes and introduces you to the visual marvels that will follow.
As far as new films are concerned, this is what Blu-ray is all about. Pin-sharp clarity, ultra-smooth and clean appearance, utterly natural colours and the most retina-entrancing depth this side of full-on, real 3D.
Edge enhancement, banding, artefacts and noise do not intrude upon the image. Contrast remains spot-on and shadow delineation is absolutely fine. Blacks are solid and extremely strong throughout. So, here you have an excellent image transfer that will still have some people complaining. But I don't see how I can award this anything less than top marks. This looks better than the picture I saw at the flicks, by far - and, as usual, I was watching the film with a view to reporting on its eventual hi-def presentation. Pure, unadulterated reference material, folks. Savour it.
Excellent news here, too, folks - the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track on Knowing is a pure scorcher!
There are numerous stand-out moments when the full set-up is beautifully embraced by Proyas' gut-punching sound design, but the two most obvious would have to be the plane crash and the train disaster. In a word - wow! Ordinarily, I would spend a paragraph (or two!) celebrating the individual components that make these episodes such awesome aural delights, but, for once, I'm just going to say that they are simply breathtaking. If detail, depth and devastating sub-action float your boat, then you're going to love this. Make no mistake, this track will give your system an incredibly vigorous workout, even if the rest of the movie, save for these two sequences, was entirely silent.
Dialogue, other than Cage's typically slow, subdued drawl is natural and spatially presented. Subtlety and nuance are not overlooked with a track that runs the full range of more ambient sounds, from wind through the trees to the scratching of a pen on paper or in wood. Car doors have that solid, almost cosy clunk when they are shut. The menacing whispers of the Strangers also filters around the speakers with presence and detail. Marco Beltrami's score is, thankfully, given the correct impetus, vitality and instrumental warmth. Those two action cues I mentioned in the film review come across brilliantly. On CD, the anxious strings can be heard with alarmingly crisp clarity, and in lossless DTS the effect is almost as good. Of course, the film's audio track has many other elements vying for your attention as well.
Knowing features some of the best bass reproduction that I've heard on disc - not just loud and aggressive bombast, but an incredibly forceful, floor-rumbling, window-rattling and directional display of sound that is deeply reverberating. Yet none of this sounds fake, over-embellished or as if it was particularly designed just to blow you away. It all sounds true to the image on-screen and the prevailing atmosphere and mood of the film. When stuff crashes, the weight of the impact is genuinely crushing, and this adds immeasurably to the experience of watching the movie.
High-ends glisten, the mid-range is warm and sweeping, the bass shakes the foundations. Nice. Added to plentiful rear-support and seamless panning right around the set-up and you've got a track that is an explosive celebration of sound engineering.
Yes, I know that I sound a bit like Roger Ebert in my praise for Proyas' Blu-ray, but this AV presentation is just wonderful.
Without it putting a sonic foot wrong, how can I not award this demo-quality audio track top marks?
Well, this is a very disappointing show from Summit. Other than the ponderous commentary from Alex Proyas, there is nothing of much worth on this disc. A couple of pathetic, clip-heavy featurettes, and that's your lot.
But let's have a look at what these threadbare extras reveal, anyway.
The commentary track from Proyas is intended to come across as a conversation, along the lines of Scorsese and Powell ruminating together, as the director states, and, to this end, he is joined by an unnamed accomplice who, at least, isn't his massive fan, film critic Roger Ebert. Now, I know that I've probably heard chat tracks that are equally as character-based but, right now, I simply cannot recall one. Proyas wanted somebody to prompt him here as he thought that a solo track would just be himself talking laboriously into the void - well, what we end up with here is, sadly, two people talking laboriously into the void. The other person has a very different take on the film and the journey that John Koestler undergoes than Proyas, and this could have made for an interesting debate on the whole belief system uprooted by the movie's theme - science versus religion, prophecy versus knowledge - but the discussion becomes so bogged-down, tedious and meandering that I very swiftly lost a lot of enthusiasm for the track. Now, I, too, am a big fan of Alex Proyas' movies, but even though he has a terrific visual sense and offers up some profound stories, the man just seems too damn tired and lethargic to connect with in this commentary. He talks a lot about how the original “objectivity” of the plot's big moments was jettisoned in favour of “subjectivity”, but most of the chat revolves around deep dissections of Cage's character. However, on the plus side, we do hear how those dates on the scrap of paper all associate to real disasters and their death tolls.
I did stick with this track, folks, but I found it ultimately quite frustrating.
Yet, the commentary is certainly the best thing that is on offer with this poor selection. Next up is Knowing All: The Making Of A Futuristic Thriller. Brief and utterly redundant in terms of informing us about the proper making of the film, this is pure EPK drivel that simply isn't worth your time or effort. Most of its scant running time is spent showing us spoiler-heavy clips from the movie. Incredibly lame.
Much better value is the 17-minute mini-doc Visions Of The Apocalypse that ropes in a few academics to discuss the various prophecies and beliefs that have prevailed around the world in various cultures surrounding the impending end of days. There is some striking stuff brought up here, and we get to see some paintings and illustrations as well as clips from the movie. Set beneath Beltrami's score and culminating in some far-fetched notions of how we, as a planet and as a species, could escape the threat of black holes, supernovas and solar flares, this would have been a great companion-piece to a properly comprehensive making-of.
Knowing is a great film, despite what some people have said. It asks some fascinating questions and is unafraid to confront the emotional depths of such revelations. Powerful scenes of mass destruction give way to a hopelessly vast concept that is distilled down to the most simple, and fundamental things that govern us - love and faith. I wasn't at all sure about the movie when I first saw it and, like many others, just thought that the ending was a complete cop-out. But, gradually, the film has grown on me to a point where I am as equally moved as I am mesmerised by it. A fantastic vein of pure Twilight Zone mystique runs through it, allowing many more moods and ambiances to permeate the whole, apocalyptic notion. Nicolas Cage provides a very fine performance as far as I am concerned, and his journey is one that gets more rewarding with each viewing. The visuals are impressive, and the film does a good job of combining the global with the intimate.
And the disc is a pure winner in terms of AV quality. Like Proyas' own I, Robot (for Fox's BD) this, quite simply, is reference material that grabs tight hold of the senses and seduces them for two hours.
The film isn't for everyone, and the lack of interesting extras trip up this release, but Knowing still comes highly recommended for those who enjoy suspenseful thrillers with a science-fiction twist.
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