**/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras B+
starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max Von Sydow
screenplay by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, based on the short story by Philip K. Dick
directed by Steven Spielberg
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Despite a remarkable first hour, Steven Spielberg's Minority Report washes out as an overlong retread of tired thriller/mystery elements capped by the director's trademark propensity for moralizing epilogues. It suffers from mainstream cinema's squeamishness in regards to true ambiguity of character and character motivation, and for all its claims to a faithful reproduction of Philip K. Dick's dark dystopian future, the picture is ultimately about Spielberg's itch for restoration of order rather than Dick's entropic dissolution of it. Distracting and unforgivable plot holes yaw beneath the narrative, making it clear that Minority Report is just another failed attempt by Spielberg to tell an adult tale. Here is an attractively packaged summer bonbon with an essentially hollow, nutritionally empty centre.
Circa 2054, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is chief of Washington, D.C.'s Precrime unit, a division of law enforcement that uses a trio of genetically enhanced oracles who send a highly-drilled strike force of storm troopers on missions to arrest the about-to-offend. (Called "precogs," they are suspended in a conductive nutrient bath in a tabernacle called "The Temple," dreaming murders yet to come.) The fumbling of the opportunity to address the ways in which religion might be reintroduced into the area of law enforcement (besides their home being called The Temple, a small-time hood later genuflects before one of the precogs) is the first of many opportunities for thoughtful sociological debate squandered in Minority Report. When Witwer (Colin Farrell), a dedicated federal oversight detective appointed by the Attorney General to investigate any flaws that might be in the Precrime system, muses that it was never the oracles with the power but the priests, Spielberg and Cruise reflexively (and disappointingly) take the anti-intellectual posture of mocking the profound. Max Von Sydow, playing an all-too-familiar fatherly authority figure, must be wondering how he got from the elitist heights of Bergman (whose Persona is referenced in a wonderful two-shot) to the populist depths of Spielberg.
The fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth amendment problems (hell, let's just say "Bill of Rights") with a system that advocates the arrest of innocent people is similarly glossed over with no explanation as to how such an "experiment" could have first found funding, then been run for over six years in the D.C. area without hue and cry. That Spielberg doesn't consider for a moment that he is taking the side of his own Amon Goeth is puzzling and disappointing. It's an oversight that speaks volumes of Minority Report's aim to again be little more than a platform upon which Cruise attempts to demonstrate at once his star power and his willingness to deform his matinee idol looks (first by losing his eyes, next by making his face appear flaccid--à la Vanilla Sky--with a super-Botox injection).
After a first act--with its future-noir look and an astonishingly heady (Hitchcockian?) eye/sight trope--promises the kind of undiluted cinematic product the finest visual storyteller of our generation hasn't really delivered since Jaws (1975), the picture becomes plot point for plot point Witness in the future, with the love story toned way down (the Peter Pan-like Spielberg is uncomfortable with non-mother figure women). Spielberg has made in essence an apologia for a fascist Nazi police state engaged in a noble if ultimately misguided experiment; it is troubling, to say the least, that the toll of six years of oppression on the populous is waved away by a gold-hued conclusion and a therapeutic quarantine.
Its failure can actually be analyzed with profit through the prism of the names given the trio of hairless precogs. Known as Arthur (Michael Dickman), Dashiell (Matthew Dickman), and Agatha (Samantha Morton), they are each named after mystery authors (Conan Doyle, Dashiell Hammett, and Agatha Christie, of course) with vastly differing styles. Minority Report fails to involve intellectually as with Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, fails to present a convincing fallen protagonist as with Hammett's Sam Spade, and, in its over-reliance on the dated sitting-room resolutions of Christie, isolates itself as populist and condescending. No fewer than three extended expository sequences demonstrate a general disdain for the intellect of the audience while exposing Spielberg again as an artist pathologically insecure in his ability to tell a story with his amazing gift for the powerhouse image alone.
Still, Minority Report is not without its pleasures: Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" plays slyly under scenes where John manipulates crime scene "photographs" for clues; references to Spielberg's new hero Kubrick (an admiration not reciprocated by Kubrick, no matter Spielberg's pre-A.I. claims to the contrary) are fitting and skilful (HAL's unblinking eye and A Clockwork Orange's eye assault); and there are numerous playful moments where Spielberg's puerile (should I say "childlike"?) sense of humour scores to varying degrees (cooperative "spyder" robots and an aptly named "sick-stick" stand out). Best of all are sequences in which the director's genius for visuals is married to Dick's gift for sociological satire: the commercial advertising of Dick's consumer wonderland is taken to a perversely invasive degree; a scene in a virtual reality boutique sees the sexually and career frustrated spending a few moments living different lives.
Yet it is important to note here Minority Report's elaborate, visually satisfying method of revealing the identities of its assailants and victims: Names are carved into polished wooden balls and sent on a Rube Goldberg gumball ride to wind up on stands labelled "victim" and "attacker"--the idea of urgency (the murders must, after all, be thwarted) undermined utterly by a visually nifty gewgaw. How much more effective would the whole process be if names were spoken over an intercom?
Where the film really falls apart, in other words, is in the mechanics and theory of its storytelling. In a film that is essentially about the process of storytelling, that failing is more mortal than perhaps in Spielberg's other post-Jaws films. I wanted more from the "metaphysical fabric" that is disturbed by manslaughter. Why are the dreams of the precogs cinematic and why can Agatha predict all things when precogs are supposedly only able to predict homicide? I wanted the film to defend how John's murder of a man he doesn't know could possibly be, as the film calls it, "premeditated," to mine the rich vein of the "minority report" idea, to explain why the psychic events are related in third-person God's eye and why the most wanted man in the city can first enter Precrime undetected, then find an unguarded "back door" to the most secretive and well-protected chamber in D.C.. According to the rules of the film, "The Gap" is more difficult to infiltrate than this high-profile, high-investment facility (forgetting for a moment that Tom Cruise might be the most visible fugitive since Harrison Ford went on the lam). Minority Report is full of provocation, no question. It just isn't particularly provocative.
Minority Report is also a movie without a point-of-view. Ceaselessly beautiful to behold, an endless visceral pleasure in passive spectatorship, it demands that we, like a demented man stoic in the midst of one of the picture's magnificent chase scenes, not participate in the events unfolding before them, lest the illusion reveal itself to be as hollow as the hologram projections of this predictably troubled policeman's predictably lost family. Spielberg explains the wrong things--he robs John of nuance when he shows all of John's character flaws as stemming from the loss of a young son, for instance, while helplessly overlooking the very things that could enhance character and deepen narrative.
Minority Report features a moment in a greenhouse (more Raymond Chandler than Hammett) where Precrime's mad geneticist progenitor Dr. Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) presents a sprung midway point that is quirky and ineffably menacing--it is one extreme of what the picture could have been, Minority Report's opening the other. Falling between existentially thorny and viscerally haunting, Minority Report is a passel of missed opportunities, clumsy narratives, and misspent potential, the latest Spielberg film to work best as an analogy for his middle-late career.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers It makes sense that one of the more future-conscious (or is that future-conscientious?) productions of the early-aughts would shoot all its B-roll in HD, enabling Laurent Bouzereau to produce a uniformly fresh/fresh-looking batch of retrospective featurettes in full 1080p to go with his 2002 supplements, which were evidently mastered with some permanence in 4:3 letterbox and standard-definition, as that's how they're preserved on this Paramount Blu-ray. The new stuff begins off-key with "Inside the World of Precrime" (10 mins.), a not-especially-clever in-faux-mercial that just goes on and on and on. Considerably less exasperating, if predictably shallow with Boozy at the helm, is "Philip K. Dick, Steven Spielberg and Minority Report" (14 mins.), in which the eponymous author's daughter Isa--who seems reluctant to speak ill of her batshit father, unlike Richard Yates's offspring on the Revolutionary Road disc--and biographer Gregg Rickman share first- and second-hand memories of Dick that dovetail with screenwriter Scott Frank's reflections on Minority Report as an adaptation (of Dick's same-named short story) and a film with goals of being The French Connection for the 21st century. As an aside, I really feel like holding a summit on Philip K. Dick without including Jonathan Lethem is akin to talking behind Lethem's back.
In "Minority Report: Future Realized" (6 mins.), science & technical advisor John Underkoffler demonstrates "g-speak," a rudimentary version of the "spatial operating environment" Tom Cruise uses to explore the Precrime database in the film. Self-fulfilling prophecy or ass-covering? You decide. "Minority Report: Props of the Future" (6 mins.) finds production designer Alex McDowell dusting off the late Jerry Moss's props from the picture, revealing in the process that Spielberg is a hoarder. McDowell says that Spielberg went against the advice of his oft-invoked Think Tank and insisted that Cruise wear gloves to "conduct" the aforementioned "spatial operating environment," because bare hands wouldn't be dynamic on screen. That's the sort of keen cinematic instinct that makes Spielberg's frequent lapses in taste all the more annoying.
"Highlights from Minority Report: From the Set" practically justifies the purchase price by itself, with fly-on-the-wall behind-the-scenes footage of "The Hoverpack Sequence" (6 mins.) and "The Car Factory" (6 mins.) offering a privileged glimpse of Spielberg's unerring eye and Mack Sennett-like directing style. ("Make eye contact!" he barks at Cruise--an action that looks awkward from a distance but exactly right on the video feed going to Spielberg's monitor.) I gained a new appreciation, too, for Cruise's athleticism. Man can that guy climb a fire escape! "Minority Report: Commercials of the Future" (4 mins.) gives props to the design firms that created the film's visionary product placements, while "Previz Sequences" unveils the animatics for the Hoverpack and Maglev Escape sequences. Rounding out the HiDef material: "Production Concepts" and "Storyboard Sequences" step-frame galleries; three trailers (in DD 5.1 as well); and something called "The Future According to Steven Spielberg" that I couldn't access, since it requires BonusView.
The SD extras basically consist of a feature-length doc (I timed it out at approximately 81 minutes) shattered into a million little pieces that could've been better consolidated so as to avoid talking about different aspects of the same thing separately, e.g. the Maglev Escape, deconstructed no fewer than three times in the unique contexts of vehicles, stunts, and special effects. In lieu of a discrete breakdown, the peaks: Spielberg admitting he'd be in favour of arrests on the basis of precognition were the system infallible; Kaminski referring to Samantha Morton as "kind of an angel"; Spielberg confessing he all but poached McDowell and his concepts for Mel Gibson's planned remake of Fahrenheit 451; Kaminski contradicting his collaborators' joy over the "spyder sequence"--a logistical nightmare from a cinematographic standpoint; and sound designer Gary Rydstrom divulging that the noise you're hearing from the Maglev actually came from his washing machine.
I should point out that all these bonus features are housed on a dedicated platter, giving the movie room to breathe on the format. (And how: Minority Report eats up a whopping 47 of the allotted 50 gigs.) Sourced, according to a cover blurb, from a "Spielberg-approved HD master," the film looks fucking gorgeous as rendered in 2.40:1, 1080p widescreen. I suspect the veil of grain and muted colours won't appeal to everyone, but beyond their aesthetic appropriateness, I believe they have a very practical application in roughing up the CGI, lending it a more seamless appearance than the plastic-fantastic imagery of the year's Oscar nominees for Best Visual Effects, The Two Towers, Spider-Man, and Attack of the Clones--each of which has proven much more vulnerable than Minority Report to the vagaries of HD. Too, Kaminski eschewed the then-faddish/now-standard digital intermediate in favour of a simple bleach bypass, and the film's organic, celluloid essence is palpable here. If you're a fan of Minority Report who already owns the DVD, it's worth the upgrade: Boasting exceptionally supple contrast and a phenomenal level of detail (that sometimes, admittedly, turns the precog scenes into a bit of a wet T-shirt contest), the image is comparatively three-dimensional. As for the audio, it's a Gary Rydstrom mix in 5.1 DTS-HD; whaddya need, a roadmap? The three-part set-piece ending with Anderton evading his pursuers in a car straight off the assembly line is pure ear porn, the rest no slouch. Originally published: April 19, 2010.
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