Professional Review by Michael LoManaco, 07/07/09; Region 1 (U.S.) Release Tested
WARNING: Varying degrees of plot spoilers below.
Studio Name: Summit Entertainment/Escape Artists
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Disc/Transfer Information: 2.39:1
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: Alex Proyas
Starring Cast: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury
LoMANACO'S PLOT ANALYSIS:
With the exception of some jag-off in an "At the Movies" section of another forum that began a thread with the title of "I'm Scared!" (not even spelled correctly or with proper upper/lowercasing) with regard to the 2012 film that's supposed to come out soon, the subject of this "end of the world" scenario taking place in that year has been taken seriously by most people since the rumors began. Yet, under it all, I think it's going to turn out to be the same kind of "millennium" bull**** this ridiculous country scared themselves into when all technology was supposed to break down and cause havoc in the streets -- remember that? Remember how the media scared the simple idiots of this planet into actually believing we would need extra water and supplies because of this -- and human beings actually went out and bought this ****? Ahhh. The human race. I am ashamed to say I am a member of it; but this subject of 2012 being the last year this planet shall see any life is indeed frightening -- if there's any truth to it. As I said, I think it's a bunch of government-controlled barn-stankin' bull****. The subject isn't a new one -- remember Armageddon or Deep Impact? How about more modern-day takes on completely empty city streets because something has wiped out mankind, such as I Am Legend? Alex Proyas' Knowing takes this theme and drags it right to the edge -- but you'd never know this was actually a film about alien involvement in the issue until the last half hour or so.
Indeed, I can recall seeing trailers for Knowing and being very intrigued -- and while I can say the same thing for my initial impressions of the other Summit thriller to be released on home video today, Push, I'm not sure that's going to be more than a Jumper-type spinoff -- yet I missed the theatrical launch of the film. I'm not quite sure I saw Nic Cage in the role of an MIT professor struggling with "signs" of devastations that take place around him, but that's not really the crux of what needs to be discussed here. Initially, Knowing had great potential, right up until it gets just way too science fiction-ish by introducing an alien element; in fact, I was calling this one of the best science fiction films -- true science fiction films -- to come out in a long time as I got through the beginning parts. But the way the narrative turns towards the end just bugged me. I'll get to that.
Knowing opens with a sequence depicting a Massachusetts elementary school and a girl in one of the classes who furiously scribbles lines of numbers as if possessed after her teacher tells the class they need to draw something for a "time capsule" they want to bury in front of the school to be opened 50 or so years from that time. While all the students draw pictures, the girl writes out these numerical codes; when the capsule is buried in the ground, the girl disappears. In modern-day Massachusetts, Nic Cage is John Koestler, a professor of what appears to be astrophysics at MIT, and whose son is now going to the school where the capsule was buried. When the ceremony comes to unearth the capsule, Cage's kid is given the envelope in which the numerical message was put in by the girl decades ago. Soon, strange dark figures begin appearing outside Cage's forest-encroached New England home...figures that bring with them a whispering presence.
Unbelievably -- well, perhaps that's not so accurate because his character is, after all, an MIT professor -- Cage's Koestler character figures out that the numerical code on his son's "gift" from the capsule dig actually corresponds to dates in history in which horrible disasters have taken place, even September 11. He attempts to convince a co-worker of his, but he just thinks he's nuts. In the largest action setpiece of the film, Cage is on his way to pick his son up from school when he's caught in a thunderstorm on a New England highway. As he unlocks yet another numerical code from the page -- this one being coordinates for a location along with the current date -- he watches in absolute horror as a passenger jet flies overhead and crashes into a fireball yards from the highway. It seems one of the numerical codes indicated something would happen on that date -- in that spot.
Traumatized by the plane crash in which he watched people burn alive, Cage's character begins delving into the history of the elementary school, and traces the class project back to the teacher of the girl, who is now an old lady. Apparently, the little girl grew up to kill herself by overdosing -- but she had a daughter along the way, and Cage seeks her out to try and figure out what's going on. He locates the girl's daughter (played by the deliciously sexy Rose Byrne) and tracks her and her daughter down to a museum, where he confronts her with stories of her mother's ability to see these events take place. Byrne, of course, acts as if Cage is crazy, and zooms off. Eventually, Byrne lets Cage into her life enough to tell him stories of her mother and the things she would predict -- she even leads him to the now-abandoned house she and her father were living in, deep in the woods. Inside, a room is littered with newspaper clippings about all the disasters she was able to predict. Byrne then reveals to Cage that her mother used to speak of the day Byrne was supposed to be killed.
There's a lot more in the middle here, but to boil it down, Cage is able to decipher a final message in the numerical coding regarding what appears to be the final day of Earth -- he confirms this by gathering information at the MIT observatory, where it's concluded that some kind of solar energy attack will destroy the planet with radiation. In a last-ditch effort to find an alternative to this ghastly news, Cage's character furiously scribbles on an old door from the elementary school, where another code left by Byrne's mother (the little girl from the beginning of the film) reveals itself. But Byrne has run off with her daughter and Cage's son, desperate to head to caves to survive the coming solar Armageddon. Much of the end of Knowing seems borrowed from Cloverfield or the remake of War of the Worlds, what with emergency broadcasters telling people to get into underground bunkers, and mobs of panicking people looting stores and trying to escape.
I had a feeling that the dark figures seen throughout the film that "whisper" to Cage's son and Byrne's daughter had something to do with aliens since their bodies seemed so elongated and their eyes seemed too black -- and, alas, Proyas introduces the extraterrestrial factor. This is where I thought things got a bit too Abyss or possibly Happening-like for me; apparently, these figures were actually ghost-like alien beings who arrived on Earth to pick some "chosen" Earthlings of sorts before the planet was destroyed -- Byrne's mother was seemingly one of the first to "get the signs" and the whispering messages by the aliens, and now it has been passed down to Cage's son and Byrne's daughter. How this all comes together and connects to earlier moments in the film is very hokey, and the Abyss-like special effects of the milky, whispery aliens going up into their "ship" didn't help, either. To make matters worse, the film starts and goes for awhile with a refreshing science fiction bounce to its step, but ultimately gets depressing and downright sad (a la the end of Deep Impact) as the aliens communicate through Cage's son that although Earth will be destroyed by this solar flaring, his son and Byrne's daughter will be two of the chosen Earthlings that will re-populate the human species on another world. But Cage can't come with them. It's a sad moment when Cage realizes he will be left behind to die, while he must say goodbye to his son while he and the girl go up on the alien spacecraft to repopulate this "new world." Pouring salt on the wound is the prophecy Byrne's mother predicted about Byrne's own death -- and how it's vividly realized moments before the alien encounter.
I understand the message behind Knowing and I see what Proyas was getting at -- but the shift in narrative and emotion toward the end of the film was a bit saddening, and the wispy special effects of the aliens, their ship and then the new world the kids have been dropped on just didn't seem to fit all the stuff that came before it. It's difficult to describe; it would have been better if the film simply continued going in the direction it was headed from the beginning, such as a mystery/sci fi yarn about predictions and disasters -- like perhaps an updated version of Millennium or a non-teenage-oriented take on Final Destination.