There are great sci-fi films like Avatar and District 9, which go on to earn the accolades of Oscar voters and audiences around the globe. And then there are brilliant movies like Primer or Dark City, which are all but forgotten in the multiplex, reduced to cult hit status on video and DVD, leaving fans wondering where things went wrong.
We’ve surveyed a great many of these underrated sci-fi movie masterpieces. And now we’re talking to some of the filmmakers behind these unsung gems. A couple weeks ago we interviewed Alex Proyas, the mastermind behind Dark City (and the director of the forthcoming Dracula: Year Zero). Joining Dark City on our list was 1997’s Gattaca, the sci-fi thriller about a world of genetic purity, and the struggles of one naturally-born human (Ethan Hawke) in pursuing his dreams amid a repressive, stratified society. See our full review here.
We spoke to Ethan Hawke about what it was like to star in an underrated masterpiece:
What is it about Gattaca that has allowed the film to endure?
Gattaca is among the best first films in the history of cinema. I firmly believe this. Andrew Niccol is so smart; this movie announced the arrival of a really, really original mind.
Why do you think it passed through theaters without greater fanfare?
I know for a fact that the head of studio releasing at the time just didn’t think it was that good. He didn’t want to invest a lot money in it, and so it was kind of dumped into theaters without much promotion.
I know that Andrew worked really hard with whatever little campaign he had. But at the end of the day, you need exposure to educate viewers as to what the movie’s about.
What was it about the project that jumped out at you, that made you want to get involved?
All you had to do was read the script. It was one of the best screenplays of that year, or any year. You sat down to read it, and it was all there – the smart ideas, the smart way of telling the story. Even the musical score to that movie, I think it’s one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard.
You mention the screenplay – is there any scene that jumps out at you, that’s stayed with you through the years?
Oh yeah, I think it’s one of my all-time favorite lines, when I say ‘I never saved anything for the swim back.’ I love that. And when I was doing the film, I really felt very strongly that this is a film that will last. Ultimately, I think it was a really high-budget art film. More and more, there’s no place for that, and it’s a travesty. I feel like we’ve lost room in the movie theater for a whole genre of pictures. They can’t make it anymore.
You just starred in the vampire thriller Daybreakers (Read the full Daybreakers interview). Would you do another film like that – step into another genre perhaps?
I would love to do another. I’m as big a fan of Lord of the Rings as anybody – I like good writing and when you read something like Andrew Niccol’s script for Gattaca, it felt like reading a Beckett play for the first time. It felt awesome – like this is what they mean when they talk about art. When you find that kind of writing, that’s where actors are supposed to go, and if you have to go do Planet of the Apes to find that sort of story, then you do it.
So maybe some Lord of the Rings swinging of the swords in your future?
Would you work with the Spierig brothers again? They’re doing Captain Blood next, I believe..
Regardless of how well Daybreakers does, these guys made this movie that proves to the world they can make one hell of an entertaining movie. And I think they’re setting Captain Blood in outer space, right? I think that’s what I heard. I hope they say, ‘Let’s cast Ethan,’ I would love to work with those guys again.