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Sony’s 4K upgrade of the futuristic thriller “Gattaca” is picture-perfect

Updated: Jun 24, 2022


(1&2) Ethan Hawke as Vincent Freeman an “In-Valid” who has a heart condition. But, hes taken the identity of Jerome Morrow, a perfect genetic specimen. He and Irene played by Uma Thurman, are employed by Gattaca Corporation, a space exploration company, that launches more than dozen space missions per day.

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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1997; PG-13 for brief violent images, language and some sexuality; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: “Welcome to Gattaca” featurette


Not often does a studio release a movie on 4K Ultra HD when it didn’t even make a profit during its theatrical run. But that’s the case with the highly praised sci-fi thriller “Gattaca.” Over the last two decades, it’s developed a cult following, and when Sony requested 4K fans to pick their favorites from Columbia and TriStar – for possible release on the ultimate home video format – “Gattaca” kept popping up.

When it arrived at the multiplex in October of 1997, critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times and the weekly TV show “At the Movies” was one of its biggest fans. He considered it, “the smartest and most provocative of science fiction films, a thriller with ideas.” His TV co-host Gene Siskel also gave it a Thumbs Up! “It will deliver genuine tension and a compelling drama about ultimately personal freedom … `and designer babies.”

New Zealand first-time director Andrew Niccol (“The Truman Show”) received a modest production budget of $36 million from Jersey Films and Sony Pictures, but its worldwide gross didn’t even top $13 million. “Gattaca” joins other box-office flops that became classics and now released on 4K: “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “Blade Runner” (1982) and, scheduled for a 4K release later this year, “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) and “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” (1971).

(1) The Gattaca space navigators give blood samples as they enter the headquarters, to ensure their genetic identification. (2) Navigator 1st Class Jerome Morrow is about to embark on a one-year manned mission to Titan, the 14th moon of Saturn.

Niccol spent weeks searching for the coolest architecture on the West Coast to create his futurist world. The exterior of the Marin County Civic Center in Northern California, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last creations, is showcased throughout the production.

But Niccol’s desire for excellence didn’t stop there. “He was driving me crazy,” recalls Ethan Hawke during the making-of documentary. Niccol sometimes spent hours framing one shot. “I wasn’t used to that,” says Hawke, who plays Vincent, a young man conceived out of love — a “Godchild.” “But we knew it was going to be something special.”

Genetic engineering rules in the world of the not-too-distant future of Gattaca. A concert pianist was created with 12 fingers because it made it possible to play a certain piece of music.

On the other hand, Vincent, an “In-Valid,” is bound to live as a second-class laborer, but he never accepts his fate. Dreaming of flying in the Gattaca program to Saturn’s biggest moon Titan, he uses illegal blood and urine samples – from former world-class swimmer Jerome (Jude Law), now disabled after an auto accident – to be accepted among the physically elite.

Will Vincent be detected?

Did he kill the flight director, which threatens his upcoming mission? Detective Hugo (Alan Arkin) and Detective Anton (Loren Dean) search the Gattaca personnel for DNA clues, as the owner of an eyelash may lead them to the killer.

Will Vincent find true love with Irene (Uma Thurman, who became Hawke’s wife after the production), who works at Gattaca center? She’s been passed over because of a slight heart condition, missing out on the dozen or so daily space shots.

(1) The birth of Vincent, conceived out of love — a “Godchild.” (2) Vincent’s younger brother Anton, born two years later from genetic engineering is already taller. (3&4) Since their childhood, Vincent and Anton have played chicken swimming in the ocean. The one who turns back first is the loser. (5) Legendary actor Ernest Borgnine plays Caesar, the head custodian at the Gattaca headquarters. He gives Vincent his first cleaning orders, “Don’t clean the glass too might get ideas.” (6) Vincent is out of breath with his bad heart condition.

“The ideas are very relevant right now… as our uniqueness is what makes us special.” - Ethan Hawke, actor


Three featurettes are included on the enclosed Blu-ray and within the digital versions. An original featurette sets up the story and characters, while “Do Not Alter?” highlights the bioethics of genetic engineering. It includes interviews with members of the academic community, where many have made “Gattaca” required viewing for the class.

In the 20-minute-plus “Welcome to Gattaca,” taped in 2008, you’ll discover that producer Danny DeVito was the real champion in getting the film made. “I fell in love with it from the very beginning,” he said. Minimal special effects were created, as Niccol pulled images from magazines and newspapers to give a blueprint of his vision to Polish cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (“Black Hawk Down,” Three Colors: Blue”) and Dutch production design Jan Roelfs, who received an Oscar nomination for “Gattaca.”

A number of unique retro cars are used throughout the film, including a 1971 Buick Riviera, 1965 Citroën DS 19 Cabriolet, 1968 Citroën DS 21, 1971 Citroën Station Wagon, 1956 Continental Mark II, 1960 Jaguar MK II and 1972 Jensen Interceptor MKIII.

The writer/director had two weeks of rehearsals with his leading actors Hawke, Thurman and, at the time British unknown Jude Law. It was his first American film. The casting director stumbled upon Law during a trip to New York, in the Broadway play of “Indiscretions,” in which he co-starred with Kathleen Turner. “Our scenes were special. I knew we were discovering new talent with Jude,” says Hawke.

(1&2) Vincent decides to contact an underground entrepreneur named German (Tony Shalhoub), who matches him up with Jerome Morrow played by Jude Law. (3&4) The switch from Vincent to Jerome included a new haircut, dental work, colored contact lens, and surgically adding two more inches to his height. (5) Vincent also wears a fingerprint pad with Jeromes blood.


For this special 4K remastering presentation, Sony went to the original Super 35 camera negative and scanned each frame in 4K (2.39:1 aspect ratio). The resolution jump from the old Blu-ray is night and day. Natural film grain dances across the screen, as it should, with the more organic Super 35 format. Distant wide shots are super sharp and textured without any signs of edge enhancement or digital noise reduction that plagued the Blu-ray. The only time the image is slightly soft is during the opening title sequence, which is a byproduct of optical printing of two film sources.

The standard HDR10 toning was applied to the physical disc, while the 4K digital also gets the more advanced Dolby Vision. The peak highlights are super bright and controlled and the mid-tones and shadows are rich with inky blacks. The expansive color palette is gorgeous and bathed in warm tones, with special shades of greens and blues for mood and drama.


A new eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack (disc & digital) was created, which pushes a number of atmospheric effects and music cues from composer Michael Nyman to your height speakers. During the title sequence, the subwoofer gets a good workout, as Vincent’s fingernails hit the table, and during the numerous rocket launches. Overall the soundtrack is nicely balanced between the dialogue, effects, and Nyman’s strings-heavy score, the piano solo “Impromptu for 12 Fingers,” and the moody dinner sequence with jazz great Stan Getz’s rendition of “First Song (For Ruth).”

“Gattaca” has been on my home theater playlist since the late '90s and this 4K upgrade is picture-perfect.

— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

(1) The murder scene of the Gattaca flight director. (2) Leading the investigation Detective Anton (Loren Dean) and Detective Hugo (Alan Arkin). (3&4) After attending the concert of the 12 fingered pianist, a roadblock concerns Vincent and Irene. (5) All “In-Valid’s” are rounded up to find the DNA of the eyelash left at the scene. (6) Vincent and Irene finish their overnight date watching the Gattaca solar panels adjust to the suns movement. (7&8) The dragnet gets closer and closer toward Vincent.



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