If the pandemic has done anything, it has cut a brutal swath through movies that people are willing to venture out to theaters and pay for on those they aren’t. You have successes like FF9, Black Widow, and Jungle Cruise. Heck, as I write this, Free Guy, which has been exclusively in theaters less than 10 days, has already brought in over $110 million. Then you have movies that have just tanked, like Reminiscence. Released on Friday simultaneously theatrically and on HBO Max, the film has eked out a measly $5 million worldwide in its opening weekend. Of course, whether a film is good or not isn’t judged
solely by its box office, but combined with a Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score of just 37%, it isn’t one that has people rushing out to the cineplex.
Reminiscence is the perfect example of how theatrical and streaming can’t coexist and remain financially viable for studios, but in a much shortened window compared to before times. This was a movie that looked interesting to me, featured a strong cast and a cool premise, with trailers full of interesting visuals, but even so, it wasn’t strong enough to pull me into a theater. Had this movie gotten rave reviews, it might have changed my mind. But even with the lackluster reviews, I would have likely paid a premium PVOD rental to see it early in my home, or just waited for it to hit a digital/disc release.
But since it was offered day & date on HBO Max at no additional charge, there’s no way I would have ponied up to buy a ticket for it. The upside for HBO is, the day & date experiment with all Warner Brothers titles this year was
REMINISCENCE AT A GLANCE
This box-office dud shows up day & date on HBO Max trying to be Blade Runner, Inception, L.A. Confidential, and a lot of other movies, but comes up short.
Shot in 6K, you’d expect this movie to bristle with detail but it’s a bit soft, especially when there’s CGI involved.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack mostly keeps itself spread wide across the front channels, but has some surprisingly strong deep bass for a streamed title.
definitely enough to cause me to happily add the streaming service to my list of monthly charges, so I’m sure they have signed—and retained—a fair number of subscribers. Heck, for barely more than the price of a single ticket, I can get HBO Max for an entire month! (What happens with these subs next year when they stop feeding WB day & date titles remains to be seen.)
But enough of that, let’s talk about Reminiscence . . .
This is the feature-film directorial debut of Lisa Joy, who also wrote and produced the film. She is best known for her work (co-creator, writer, producer, director) on HBO’s original series Westworld, and there are sci-fi elements and vibes here that are definitely, umm, reminiscent of that show’s style. Hugh Jackman is the headliner, and he is re-united with his Greatest Showman cast mate Rebecca Ferguson, who is actually given the chance to sing, unlike having her big vocal moment dubbed in Showman. Joy also brought in two of her Westworld cast members in the form of Thandiwe Newton and Angela Sarafyan.
Reminiscence takes place in a near future where global warming has caused massive flooding around the world, specifically in Miami where most of the film takes place. Due to rising heat, people spend daylight hours indoors sleeping, and most people are nocturnal. Life in the present pretty much sucks unless you’re super wealthy, so people turn to the past, paying to relive moments and memories of better times.
Nick Bannister (Jackman) and his partner Watts (Newton) used to be in the military together, but now run a facility helping people recall better times. His elaborate rig creates fully 3D holographic experiences that feel as real as being there. But business is slow, so they also take on side jobs helping the police by interrogating the memories of criminals, which are admissible in court.
One evening before closing, a beautiful woman, Mae (Ferguson) walks in to Nick’s office, saying she needs help remembering where she left her keys. Bannister is instantly smitten with Mae, and while looking through her memories, he sees she sings at a club. He goes there the next night and she happens to be singing one of his favorite songs. They start a relationship, but after Mae suddenly disappears, Bannister starts searching for her and learns there is far more to her than he thought.
You can’t fault Reminiscence for lacking ambition—it’s just that it feels like other movies that are just better than it is. Parts of the future reminded me of Blade Runner, but it just wasn’t as cool and developed, and the opening pass through flooded Miami showed its CGI elements. Other bits felt a lot like Inception with the playing of memories, but it lacked that film’s imagination, storytelling, and wow factor. It had a crime-detective noir-ish feel, but it wasn’t nearly as engaging as Usual Suspects or L.A. Confidential. Ultimately it is a really a love story that just doesn’t feel really loving. The film also tries so hard to be complex that it ends up being a bit confusing, requiring quite of bit of expositional voiceover from Bannister to try and bring us up to speed on what is happening.
Shot at a resolution of 6K and taken from a 4K digital intermediate, you’d expect this movie to bristle with detail but I found it a bit soft, specifically in long shots, perhaps due to all of the CGI in many of the exterior scenes. (Maybe “soft” is the wrong word, but just more film-like and less sharp than we’ve come to expect.) Even during some flyovers of the flooded buildings, there was some line twitter you wouldn’t normally see.
Images are certainly clean and clear throughout, and closeups have tons of detail, showing actors’ faces in sharp, tight focus with every pore and line visible, but it never had that razor sharpness and micro detail of many modern digital transfers. For example, one scene in a library where you might expect all of the books to have clearly defined edges just looked soft and undefined. Most of the film looked like I was watching a good Blu-ray transfer, but this could be a limitation of streaming or my Apple 4K TV and not indicative of what the film could truly look like.
There are many dark and night scenes, and these images are definitely enhanced with HDR. Whether it is sunlight streaming through windows into dark rooms, Miami streets lit at night with neon lights, or the golden hues thrown off from lamp light, we get lots of nice shadow detail, colors, and clean blacks. I did notice a couple of instances where bright outdoor shots exhibited a bit of digital noise, perhaps from being blown out just a bit too much.
The film does feature a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but it mostly keeps itself spread wide across the front channels. The sound expands into the room a bit when people are reliving memories, with outdoor moments opening up with the sounds of birds, wind rustling leaves, etc. There is also a nice effect where remembered voices are echoed into the ceiling speakers, giving a nice disorienting audio effect that matches what is happening on screen. The audio track also expands during action scenes, with glass shattering, furniture breaking, or gunfire erupting around the room.
Usually, low-frequency effects are a bit lackluster during streamed titles, but I found that Reminiscence had some pretty deep bass when called for, such as the very opening as we’re “flying” over Miami, the deep thrum of a train engine, a large sign falling and crashing, or fight impacts.
Reminiscence isn’t a bad movie—it’s just not a good one. For me, it was one of those films that was interesting enough to keep my attention for its near two-hour runtime, with some cool visuals and compelling actors that kept me curious enough to see how it all played out that I was willing to hang in to the (predictable) end. But ultimately, it’s pretty forgettable and not a title I see myself returning to in the future. For HBO Max customers looking for something new to watch, it’s certainly worth giving a look while it’s free for the next 30 days. After that, you pays your money and you takes your chance . . .
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.