4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2009; PG-13 for disaster sequences, disturbing images and brief profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube
Best extra: A detailed conversation/commentary with Australian director Alex Proyas and an unnamed friend who asks the probing questions.
LIONSGATE CONTINUES its unsystematic release of catalog movies onto 4K Ultra HD. This month, it’s doomsday sci-fi thriller “Knowing” starring Nicolas Cage, filmed just before his career tumbled into the B-movie abyss.
When it premiered nearly a decade ago, it generated a number of divided reviews. The late Roger Ebert – one of my favorite critics – gave it four stars, a major thumbs-up. He compared it to sci-fi great “Dark City,” Ebert's top movie of 1998. They were both were directed by Alex Proyas.
On the flip side, Ty Burr of the Boston Globe says, "It starts out mildly ridiculous and ascends to the full-blown ludicrous."
For myself, I was eye-to-eye with Ebert for much of the action, while the ending waffles more to Burr's camp. A half-dozen writers worked on the script, so that may account for its uneven delivery.
Cage plays Prof. John Koestler, an astrophysicist at MIT, who's struggling with his wife's death and trying to raise his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). When a 50-year-old time capsule is unearthed at Caleb's school, each student receives a letter from 1959. Caleb’s is from Lucinda Embry and it’s filled with numbers – prophecy codes to dates of world disasters.
Koestler discovers the date and death toll for 9/11; then a 1985 earthquake in Mexico City; the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie; Hurricane Katrina, and more – all in perfect sequence.
He races off to stop three soon-to-be-disasters, while his colleague, cosmologist Phil Beckman (Ben Mendelsohn), warns him against the pseudo-science of numerology. “People see what they want to see in them,” he says.
During its theatrical run, “Knowing” made $183 million worldwide, against a $50 million budget, and finished No. 36 in the final box office tally. “Avatar” was the biggie that year earning more than $2 billion, with “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” landing second.
"Knowing" is still an enjoyable, thought-provoking night of escapism – especially on 4K.
Captured on a first generation Redcode 4K camera (2.39:1 aspect ratio) “Knowing” was mastered in 2K. Most likely, this was to handle the FX rendering on a three-minute single shot airliner crash sequence, which Koestler witnesses firsthand.
Lionsgate has done a fine job with the 4K upconversion, providing an uptick in clarity compared to the Blu-ray. It’s most visible on larger screens in facial detail and distant objects, including buildings and trees. The change is noticeable in a scene with Koestler and Lucinda’s daughter, Diana, played by Australian actress Rose Byrne. Seated along a riverfront, the camera captures tight and wide shots, while showing sharp, surrounding detail. Most of the movie was filmed in Melbourne, Australia, subbing for Boston.
The opening sequence set in 1959 was purposely desaturated. HDR black levels are much deeper (without crushing) and the highlights brighter delivering a more dramatic visual impression. Once the story skips to 2009, the color palette readjusts to normal levels, while the 4K blacks and highlights continue to shine.
4K Movie Trailer
The 4K includes Dolby Atmos for a more fully enveloping soundtrack from top to bottom and front to back. Effects are good, especially during the air crash and the solar flare attack on planet Earth. Marco Beltrami’s score hits all the right emotional and dramatic notes.
The 4K ports all of the original extras, including the history of the Apocalypse with interviews from scholars. “We are living in an age which is particularly obsessed with the end of the world,” says Prof. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at Cal. State Northridge. “From nuclear annihilation and global warming, that the idea that the seas are going to rise, the climate is going to change. These are anxiety-provoking scenarios.” Additional featurettes include behind-scene footage, and cast and crew interviews.
Proyas also provides context into his fascination with science, faith and the big question: The meaning of the universe.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer