Thursday, 20 November 2008

Minority Report

Lowdown: Spielberg takes on Dick.
A lot has been said on these pages about the virtues of the films made so far out of Phillip K Dick’s books and stories. The concept started well with two astonishingly good films, Blade Runner and Total Recall. Lately, though, it has flat lined with a multitude of weird productions. In between the two we’ve had Minority Report.
Released in 2002, Minority Report is a film I will remember mostly for the time in which I’ve seen it: Having recently migrated to Australia, employed by the worst employer ever, and working in Sydney while trying to settle down in Melbourne. Minority Report was a bright light in a very cold winter (especially as I was coming directly from Israeli spring). I liked it; it offered intense action scenes and some futuristic visions. However, now that I watch it again in my quest to review the DTS soundtracks of my collection, I found myself looking at it in a completely different light. And no, it’s not because I have since read Dick’s original story (I have to say I was rather disappointed by the story, as per my general experience with Dick’s writing).
Set some fifty years into our future in Washington DC, Minority Report follows Tom Cruise, a policeman in the pre-crime department. What’s pre-crime? Well, during the next decades we are going to find people with psychic powers within our midst and use them to foresee crimes before they actually take place. These psychos give a few hours’ warning to Cruise, who then needs to rush and assemble clues from their visions in order to stop the crimes before they take place. To do that, Cruise uses some nifty iPod Touch like big screens in what will surely seem to future crowds as pathetic as the original Star Trek production values seem to us now.
Lightning strikes when one day, out of the blue yet curiously timed with a departmental inspection by Colin Farrell and an impending census on expanding pre-crime to the nation wide level (without finding more psychos to cope with the extra load, by the way; lucky us they don’t have a union to represent them), Cruise is advised about the first pre-meditated murder in a good few years. Thing is, that next murder will be committed by one Tom Cruise. Already battered by the loss of a child and the following breakup of his previously perfect life/marriage, Cruise goes on the run to prove that the future is not set and that there’s no fate but the one we make for ourselves.
In typical Spielberg fashion, all hell lets loose. And it’s pretty cool: you get to see visions of futuristic traffic and a glimpse of society where privacy is a thing of the past and everyone knows everything there is to know about you a mile away by scanning your retina. And there’s action to boot, and it’s all very nice, entertaining, and potentially thought provoking.
The problem is that lingering feeling of going over the top. Spielberg doesn’t miss on drawing any possible card to drive things into the extreme while his hero, Cruise, is busy exploring that ground to death Spielberg theme of a child left to his own. It’s in the cinematography, it’s in the settings, and it’s in the pseudo-science/spiritual (i.e., bullshit) dialog going on between the characters, especially the leading ones. As with the recent choice of getting Cate Blanchett to play so minor a role in Indy 4 that your average Ms Bimbo could have managed just the same if not better, Spielberg sticks with an ever intense Tom Cruise for the lead. You watch Minority Report and you can tell Cruise is a real life psycho.
The question then becomes why, why does Spielberg feel the need to go that far with the extreme plot, extreme special effects, extreme everything? What is he trying to prove and to whom is he trying to prove it?
Typical scene: Cruise, on the run from police, ends up in a very hi-tech robot only operated car manufacturing plant, sprinkled with evidence that the cars are being made out of recycled materials. Punches fly high as Cruise fights it out with the not even remotely as skilled in the art of fighting police, and at the end of it all he cruises away in a just in time manufactured Lexus. Nothing's better than that good aftertaste of product placement (someone had to pay for all the special effects!).
Picture quality: Hard to judge, as Spielberg really goes to extremes here with the lighting and a high contrast look that borders black & white. My question is, why does he need to go that far? It all feels as though Spielberg has this complex to outdo everything for the sake of it.
Sound quality: Gary Rydstrom was the sound designer for Minority Report, which says it all. Even if by Rydstrom standards this is not the peak of his achievements.
Overall: Minority Report demonstrates how much of a cynic I have become. An action film I would have once rated at 4 stars cannot receive more than 3.5 out of 5 stars due to Spielberg’s immaturity.

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