Like PLANET OF THE APES, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and soon STAR WARS PART 2, MINORITY REPORT is a sci-fi picture that will mainly be discussed in context with the politics of the time. (the time being now. because it came out today.)
Again like the Yoda picture, it has been in the planning stages long enough that director Steven Spielberg (JAWS) and co-writer Scott Frank (I only remember him because he did OUT OF SIGHT. who knows who the other writer is) couldn’t have known how timely it would turn out to be. The movie takes place in Washington DC, 2056, where Tom Cruise is an agent in the flagship “Pre-Crime Deparment” – cops who use three water-submerged psychic “precogs” to track crimes of passion that haven’t even happened yet.
So the most timely question the picture asks is – can you really bust somebody for something they haven’t even done yet? Is it okay to lock somebody up forever, with no trial, because you think they were GOING to do something? I mean, what if you’re wrong? And one thing I liked about the picture is that it doesn’t stack the deck. Of course you get an ominous feeling about the very idea of “Pre-Crime”, but you can see why the people go along with the system. As you see little Mr. Cruise at a day on the job, controlling windows of digitized precognitions like an orchestra conductor, you understand why he enjoys and believes in his job, even before you find out his backstory. And since the system has brought the murder rate down to zero without anyone knowing about any mistakes, it’s not an easy black or white question. So it’s a fair analogy to our current “lock people up if John Ashcroft says he has secret evidence about them” methods of “terrorism” “prevention”, or even the rising controversy about our country’s love of a good execution despite case after case after case after case after case of executed and almost executed individuals proven to be innocent.
These issues are so embedded into the premise that you almost wish they were explored more. But it’s more of a straight ahead suspense thriller that touches on these issues than it is an actual political treatise. My guess is that while MINORITY REPORT is getting all the political discussion right off the bat, STAR WARS will be more interesting down the road when we find that the Bush regime has slowly dismantled our system and become the Empire piece by piece, in such a way that at least the Jar Jars of the world didn’t see it coming. But we’ll see.
The real moral dilemma in MINORITY REPORT (which doesn’t apply as much to our times) is if you stopped them from committing a crime of passion, do they really need to be locked up? Now that they’ve passed that angry hey joe moment, maybe everything is cool now. You gave them a second chance, right? Nope, they just lock ’em up. In a matrix style coma chamber, not a prison. Which, I mean who knows how that’s gonna affect the culture at large, when you take away the subculture that creates many of the trends, such as wearing your pants hanging low, or saying that you made somebody your bitch.
Well the high concept type premise here is that the precogs have a vision of Tom killing somebody he never even heard of before. Does this prove the system is flawed? Is he being setup, and why? Or is this really his destiny, and he doesn’t know it? If he didn’t know about this vision and try to find out about it, would it still have happened? Or if he wasn’t going to find out about the vision, like if he was an ice cream man instead of a Pre-Crime investigator, would they have never had the vision in the first place? Well shit we could ask questions like this all day, and all we’d have is a live action version of Waking Life. What Tom does is run like hell and hope he can figure out which questions to ask and how to answer them before his buddies catch up with him and lock him up. Also he will have to have his eyeballs removed because everywhere you go these days your eyes get scanned to ID you.
The world of MINORITY REPORT is very detailed and clever, kind of like the underrated A.I. – THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL. All the technology, from the computer screens to the transportation is very believably designed. The best touch is personalized holographic advertisements that talk to you as you walk by them: “John Atherton – couldn’t you use a Guinness?” You think pop-up windows are annoying? When you drive down the freeway you fly through a 3-D hologram of Aquafina, and when you walk into The Gap a virtual saleswoman remembers your last purchase. It’s all so horrible and obviously inevitable that it makes me glad I won’t be around in 2056.
But is this movie a criticism of current commercialism based on its logical extension? Or will the advertisers get the idea from this movie and do it, even though they never woulda thought of it on their own? What if you went back in time and your mom got a crush on you, and you had to go back to the future? It’s enough to blow your fuckin mind, man.
Anyway it’s a very believable idea and it works for the mystery-suspense storyline because a fugitive especially doesn’t want to hear his name repeated from every direction everywhere he goes. Most of the movie is smartly thought out and designed. The cops have very interesting vehicles and equipment such as a “sick stick” stun gun/billy club which causes its victim to vomit. The Writers have figured out exactly how this Pre–Crime system would work and what would be needed to enforce it.
The movie has a great look to it, too, always overcast and a bit bleached out. But not over-the-top gothic gloomy like BLADE RUNNER and never wacky and CAPTAIN EOish like that middle section of AI. Some of the shots of the city and traffic look pretty much how life would look in this world. I especially like the shots of the hovering snail-shell shaped police cars. They even have real, non computer generated type cars with great futuristic designs, driving around on normal streets like they did in Truffaut’s FARENHEIT 451.
Isn’t that cool how I just drop Truffaut in there. Also did you notice how I used the word “flagship” at the beginning. That was awesome.
Some of the supporting characters are a little less realistic, sometimes resorting to lame comedy cliches like the sleazy virtual reality parlor manager who worries that the precogs can sense thoughts he had about his cousin, or the underground nurse who doesn’t wash her hands after going to the bathroom. (Yeah, but does she have a baboon as an assistant and perform surgery with a rusty can and a toilet plunger, like Dr. Benway in Naked Lunch?) And of course there is a BLADE RUNNER style eccentric creator to all this, an old lady who lives in a greenhouse of deadly genetically modified plants. My favorite Jurassic Park style standard-issue movie character was Wally, the hippieish science nerd who sits by the pool taking care of the Precogs, talking to them lovingly like they’re his pets. The first time you see him he’s wearing shorts and a hawaiian shirt and you get the idea that he’s basically a guy who works at Sea World. These three poor bastards have to dream of murder all day to keep the world running, but he thinks he takes real good care of them. They’re his dolphins, jumping through hoops for him.
I also liked Samantha Morton as the most talented of the Precogs, who he dresses up in pinstriped slacks and tries to take out into society. Luckily this does not lead to crazy fish out of water misunderstandings. But she does act a little Milla Jovovichy and it would probaly be weird taking her to the mall, as Tom does. Anyway it is nice to see Samantha Morton trying a different type of role. Unlike in SWEET AND LOWDOWN, she can talk. And unlike JESUS’ SON, she acts weird because she has been raised by a dolphin trainer, not because she is really high. You know now that I think about it this IS the same type of role she always plays god damn it. But it works.
The only times I really thought the movie was clumsy was in the action scenes. I don’t mind the occasional obvious blue screen or digitally removed cable. But it’s like Spielberg doesn’t have faith that anybody will enjoy this much hyped new “Dark Spielberg” style. He has to puncuate every action scene with wacky jokes, like a chase through an apartment building where a jetpack flame broils some burgers and other unexpected dinner time antics. Or another chase through an apartment building where husband and wife fight, then stop to have their eyes scanned by robotic spiders, then start fighting again. It’s just like The Lockhorns, only with robotic spiders!
I mean usually I like a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and at least he’s trying new territory for him, like some Evil Dead style slapstick when little Tom drops his eyeballs in a sloped hallway. But for this movie it’s all wrong, throwing off the rhythm of the chases, destroying the tension. Steven, we need some fuckin tension over here man. Remember Duel? Remember Jaws? Let’s erase 20 whatever years of filmmaking and get back to the basics there bud. thanks.
There are also a few of the ol’ “plot holes” that internet movie geeks think make a movie devoid of all merit. For example it seemed pretty stupid that the Pre-Crime unit would not cut off Tom Cruise’s security clearance once he was on the lam. But in today’s world it is easier to accept this kind of shit. Because you wouldn’t think suicide pilots who killed 3,000 people would get their visas renewed six months later, either. But they did. And for that matter you wouldn’t think they woulda been able to be suicide pilots in the first place after the CIA knew they were terrorists, they lived in the country under their own names with listed phone numbers, the FBI was investigating people they were connected to for suspicious behavior in flight schools like the ones they attended, and the white house was warned about impending terrorist action by the CIA, Israel, Russia, England, Germany, James Woods and everybody else. You see, modern society is full of plot holes. MINORITY REPORT is a product of our society.
And now for the overall comparison to AI. This is a more consistent use of the Dark Spielberg style. It does not have a long chunk that doesn’t work like that one section of AI, the one with Chris Rock in it. On the other hand its highs are not as high. It does not get quite as creepy as AI did in those first scenes with the family, or reach as boldly as AI did in those last scenes after the second ice age. And by the way buddy they were obviously robots and not aliens, that’s why they had tvs in their chests. Pay attention. TV in chest = robot, not alien. Or it could be a teletubby, I guess. But teletubbies are more like robots than aliens in my opinion, because they have tvs in their chests, like robots. Also they have antennas, like robots do, or aliens do also. Now you’re confusing me. Leave me alone.
Anyway I would say MINORITY REPORT is a pretty good one. Good story with mostly great execution. Remember that talking bear in AI that was cool also. the end
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.