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cast: Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, and Lara Robinson

director: Alex Proyas

117 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
E1 DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Ian Sales
Numbers rule our lives; we know this to be axiomatic. Not just the actuarial tables of insurance companies which dictate the premiums we must pay, but also numbers fundamental to our universe - the speed of light, Planck constant, gravitational constant, for example. In Alex Proyas' new film, Knowing, however, numbers play an entirely different role in our lives.

In 1959, a young girl at a high school began automatic writing, filling sheets of paper with strings of numbers. Those sheets were put into a time capsule. Cut to the present, and the time capsule is opened. The paper containing the numbers is given to the son of astrophysicist John Koestler (Nicolas Cage). Soon after, he realises that the numbers represent the dates and death tolls of major disasters since 1959. And yet there is no way the paper could have been added to the time capsule after it had been sealed 50 years ago. Even more worryingly, there are dates among the numbers in the near-future...

This leads directly to two of the film's best set-pieces, witnessed by Koestler during his efforts to determine the truth of the numbers. The first is a plane crash. The actual crash - done entirely in CGI - is impressive. Koestler staggering about the burning wreckage and trying to save people is less so. The second set-piece is a collision between two subway trains. Knowing, however, is not just a string of catastrophes leading to a global apocalypse, Proyas has chosen to wrap his story in pseudo-religio-scientific cloth. There are references to astrophysics - including a handy classroom scene in which Koestler gets his students to explain what the Sun is, how it works, and why it may prove dangerous, to members of the audience who have yet to cotton on to the plot. There are also references to Armageddon and the Book of Revelations, and there the 'Watchers', who appear to be safeguarding Koestler, or rather his young son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury).

While trying to learn how the 1959 schoolgirl came to write the prophetic numbers, Koestler tracks down her daughter Diana (Rose Byrne), who was a young daughter of her own, Abby (Lara Robinson). Although Diana initially rejects Koestler, she soon becomes party to his conviction that the end is nigh and that her mother's 50-year-old numbers hold the key.

It is Koestler's own expertise which leads to the discovery that the end of the world is nigh. He is an astrophysicist. The world will be destroyed by a massive solar flare - described as "100 microTesla" in intensity, a dosage it is possible to get from a hairdryer. Before that, the planet's surface grows increasingly hotter, civilisation begins to break down, burning animals run out of forest fires, and then there is a final wave of fire which travels around the Earth. It certainly looks impressive, but I wonder how plausible it is.

Knowing is not a film in which the end nearly comes - as was, say, Deep Impact. It really is the end of the world. Everyone dies. Well, nearly everyone. The Watchers prove to be aliens - very angelic-looking aliens, it must be said - and they take Caleb and Abby with them. Only the children have been 'chosen'. And they're left on a new world, rendering the entire film a shaggy god story.

Disaster movies stand or fall on the realism of the disasters they depict. They have to be visceral. It's all very well personalising the story, as so many directors insist they have done, by focusing on an everyman and his tribulations. If the apocalypse looks fake, it's all for naught. Knowing at least delivers in that department. It's just a shame the story leading up to the final event is so muddled.

The DVD also includes two featurettes, one on apocalypses in various religions, and another on the making of the film - which was actually shot entirely in Melbourne, Australia, even though it is set in Boston, Massachusetts.

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