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Predestination Blu-ray Review

Predestination (2015) movie poster Predestination

US Theatrical Release: January 9, 2015 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: R

Directors: Peter Spierig, Michael Spierig / Writers: Robert A. Heinlein (short story "All You Zombies"); Peter Spierig, Michael Spierig (screenplay)

Cast: Ethan Hawke (The Barkeep), Sarah Snook (The Unmarried Mother), Noah Taylor (Mr. Robertson), Kuni Kashimoto (Dr. Fujimoto), Olivia Sprague (Jane, 5 years old), Monique Heath (Jane, 10 years old), Tyler Coppin (Dr. Heinlein)

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Perhaps no other modern actor has transitioned between independent films and mainstream ones as deftly and frequently as Ethan Hawke. Hawke made his film debut thirty years ago in 1985's Explorers and remained in the mainstream for some time in movies like Dead Poets Society, White Fang, and Alive. The 1995 release of Before Sunrise marked the beginning of collaboration with director Richard Linklater,
a partnership that has cemented Hawke's status as an indie icon while also giving his credibility on the other side of the camera. Hawke's contributions to the scripts for Before's two sequels earned him a pair of Adapted Screenplay Oscar nominations. He's also an integral part of Boyhood, Linklater's twelve-year coming-of-age project destined for Oscar glory later this month, which gave Hawke his second Oscar nomination in the Supporting Actor category.

While Hawke's other filmmaking endeavors (Chelsea Walls, The Hottest Scene) has been similarly produced outside of the big studios and with muted commercial prospects, he has retained star power on the opposite side of the camera with performances in big wide release films, from Training Day to Daybreakers to The Purge. Predestination, Hawke's latest film as actor, looks like another mainstream undertaking with its genre leanings and an ad campaign reminiscent of Looper, a time travel thriller it evokes in some other ways.

Those looks are deceiving, though, because Predestination is a relatively small deal commercially. An Australian production convincingly passing itself off as American sci-fi, the film did a little business in its native country and neighbor New Zealand last September. It moved to Russia in December and then in early January, it opened in South Korea, China, and the United States. Don't feel bad for failing to notice the film: it opened in a mere 20 North American theaters. A week later, that number dropped to seven theaters, from which it averaged only $500 in grosses. Its tracking halted after three weeks at $68,732, Predestination stands to be discovered in this week's Blu-ray and DVD release from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

In "Predestination", Ethan Hawke plays a time-traveling agent for the Temporal Bureau.

Designed to disarm and keep you guessing, the film eventually settles on a setting of a New York City bar in the 1970s. There, the bartender (Hawke) bets an unopened bottle of booze to a patron (Sarah Snook) who promises his story is the most incredible one the barkeep has ever heard. This man recalls growing up a girl, having been dropped off at Cleveland orphanage as a baby. Named Jane, the foundling grows up intelligent and able to defend herself in a fistfight. She is recruited by SpaceCorp along with other ladies as a potential companion to a male astronaut. After a fight, she is expelled, though a supervisor (Noah Taylor) promises to try to get her back into the program.

Instead, Jane works her way through life, eventually meeting a mysterious man and having his daughter, only to have it stolen from her. Jane's sex change occurs following her Caesarian childbirth when she is discovered to have two full sets of sexual organs. A hysterectomy is performed and then a reconstruction to turn Jane into John. S/he finds work writing a "Confessions of an Unmarried Mother" column for a magazine.

After awarding her the bottle, the bartender reveals his other line of work: as one of eleven time-traveling agents for the Temporal Bureau, a law enforcement organization designed to prevent crime before it takes place. John is given an opportunity to prevent the kidnapping that derailed his life, a path that may be linked to that of The "Fizzle" Bomber, a terrorist who plans to level ten Manhattan blocks and kill 11,000 people in 1975.

Much of "Predestination" involves this man (John) telling his story to this barkeep (Ethan Hawke).

Predestination is the third feature film written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig. The twin Australian brothers made their American debut five years ago on Daybreakers, a futuristic vampire thriller fairly well-received by critics and moviegoers which starred Hawke and Willem Dafoe. Though no smash hit, it earned its $20 million budget back domestically,
never a given for a January horror opening. This follow-up seems far less likely to turn a profit anytime soon, which speaks to the Spierigs being more concerned with art than commerce. At the same time, there is generally a correlation between artistry and commercial success, with the five domestically highest-grossing films of 2014 all drawing reviews ranging from above-average to overwhelmingly favorable.

In this film's case, though, it is not the quality of the production but the nature of the storytelling that may prove challenging to audiences. Adapting "All You Zombies", a 1959 short story by the late Robert A. Heinlein, the Spierigs do inject some creativity into time travel fiction. Even simply in visualizing the jumps through time (which are limited to within 50 years of time travel's 1981 invention), Predestination differs from the concept's treatment in iconic fare from Back to the Future to 12 Monkeys. Paradoxes, always present in the genre to some degree, pervade this story, resulting in a narrative that doesn't make the most sense. Even an attentive viewer with great comprehension skills will struggle to see the pieces presented fit together as intended. While scarcely invited, a little critical thinking is always welcome in film. Unfortunately, the task as required here provides modest fulfillment.

Predestination is strange, but less trippy than you may fear, given its minimalist theatrical engagement. The gender-bending angle is evident from the get-go, as no amount of make-up and voice modulation can lead us to mistake Ms. Snook for a man (at best, she looks like a lady who kind of resembles the actor Dane DeHaan). Hawke assumes something of a supporting role, the listener to the storyteller, for much of the runtime, as the genre quandaries are delayed and we speculate on just how deceptively marketed this film has been. Eventually, we do get a film closer to Looper, but one not as exciting or as stimulating.

Predestination Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: February 10, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $30.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Predestination looks as great on Blu-ray as a Sony-produced film would. The 2.40:1 transfer showcases great detail, with the element remaining clear and well-defined throughout. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is also commendable. It features some potent gunfire effects, but retains clarity and impact through subtler moments of score and atmosphere.

Jumping through time gives a violin case-clutching Ethan Hawke the giggles in the bloopers reel. Make-up transforms Sarah Snook into a man in "A Journey Through Time."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's bonus features begin with "Bloopers" (1:37), an unlikely but apt inclusion which finds the actors hamming it up for the camera and having fun in the middle of serious sci-fi stuff.

"Predestination: A Journey Through Time" (4:33) is a superficial EPK-type making-of featurette
which shares some comments from cast and crew as well as behind-the-scenes footage.

If you really like the movie, though, you'll want to watch "Bringing Predestination to Life" (1:16:30), a feature-length making-of documentary that takes us through production week by week. It covers all the bases you expect it to, from production design to gender-bending make-up effects. This exhaustive piece can also kindly be viewed as eleven shorts.

Finally, "Previews" repeats the same trailers with which the disc opens, promoting Home Sweet Hell (red band), Third Person, The Intruders, The Remaining, No Good Deed, and Fury. Predestination's own trailer is sadly not included here, but you can find it on a number of recent Sony discs.

The scored static menu adapts the rear cover art. The side-snapped keepcase is unaccompanied by inserts (no Digital HD UltraViolet included here) or a slipcover. The BD supports bookmarking and resumes playback.

The time-traveling barkeep's watch tells him the day, the month, and year, things that otherwise might not be clear to us.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Predestination provides some creative ideas, whether from author Robert A. Heinlein or writers-directors-producers The Spierig Brothers. It also has moments of potency. Still, this isn't a movie you come away from feeling fully satisfied by either its storytelling or your comprehension of it.

Sony's Blu-ray offers great picture and sound, plus a solid collection of bonus features. It's worth a rental, especially if you were intrigued by Daybreakers.

Buy Predestination from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Ethan Hawke: Boyhood • Brooklyn's Finest • Getaway • Before Midnight • Dead Poets Society
Noah Taylor: Edge of Tomorrow • Submarine • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou • Lawless
Science Fiction: Looper • In Time • Time Bandits • La Jetée • eXistenz • Déjà Vu • Transcendence
New: The Remaining • Rudderless • Horns

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Reviewed February 9, 2015.



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