Minority Report (2002)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

It seems to me science fiction writers can pretty much give up on the idea of ever having one of their stories done over as a screenplay. The late Philip K. Dick has the market cornered. He’s the Microsoft of sf screenplays. So there’s no surprise in finding the Steven Spielberg movie Minority Report finds its roots in a story by Dick.

This is both good and bad.

At the heart of most Philip K. Dick stories is at least one very intriguing idea — this accounts for why filmmakers like his stories for source material. The downside is the dark, paranoiac world we end up getting — endlessly. In movies, sf has become pretty much a one-trick pony.

The world’s gone to hell in a handbasket, we’re living lies and miserable about it, the bad guys have won … and so on. In the early 21st century, Gene Roddenberry is clearly dead.

How does this apply to Minority Report? In this way: this appears to be a brilliant movie. But it also appears to be a story we’ve heard a million times over. At least, the general tone is one we’ve encountered over and over again.

Even some of the specifics are redundant (troubled, angst filled main character who has lost his son and wife, guilt ridden, drug taking, yada yada).

Tom Cruise establishes a TV sci-fi commonplace: man waves hands in air and images move and change.

It’s odd … On the surface, it really does seem to be a great movie. Yet there is the gnawing notion that there’s something not right. Again, I think it resides in the feeling that it is largely taken from an sf template — ingeniously done, yet from a template.

The brilliance of the movie lies in a number of areas, but primarily in the way the film focuses on its central idea — preventing crimes before they happen, and finding people responsible for actions they’ve yet to do — and the moral implications of this.

Spielberg is easily the best director of science fiction alive. This is not because he’s almost flawless as a director but because he is the director most true, and consistently true, to the heart of real science fiction — science and its implications to us. In this case, the movie projects forward and examines where we’re going with technology and how its current development appears to inevitably lead to an erosion of our personal freedoms.

Whether you agree with the film’s vision or not, you can’t deny the film’s firm logic and spectacular presentation of its vision. Spielberg is a director of ideas, probably the best, and Minority Report is an absolutely wonderful film from this perspective.

Scene of police dipsy-doodling in the air courtesy of unexplained jet packs. Bad guys: look out!

You also have to love Spielberg’s approach when it comes to special effects.

Unlike so many of the films made now, his effects always serve the story. They are never gratuitously thrown in for the sake of wowing an audience. In Minority Report, they’re incorporated perfectly, seamlessly, and help create a believable world of the future. They help create a world much like the world Ridley Scott created in Blade Runner (another Dick story); futuristic yet not so much so we don’t recognize it. This, in fact, is why these films work: they are so much rooted in the world as it is now we easily accept them as true.

The one aspect of the film I didn’t like (apart from the redundant aspect mentioned above), is the overexposed, high contrast look of the film. It may be a personal thing but I found it extremely off-putting. Having watched some of the special features included on the 2 disc DVD set, I understand the filmmakers were going for a noir look, and this makes sense. However, for me this didn’t come across until seeing these features. In other words, I didn’t understand through watching that they were using a noir approach. And this may simply be that I’m slow on the uptake.

In the future, laser eye surgery continues to be an uncomfortable experience.

What did come across through the stylized look was a feeling of distance between me and the story and its characters. I found it distracting and annoying. It bothered me throughout and prevented me from ever getting to a place where I was fully involved with the film (as opposed to Spielberg’s earlier film, 2001’s A.I.).

Also a bit off-putting was Tom Cruise as action figure. I’m simply tired of seeing Cruise jump around, run, and so on. This isn’t to say Cruise isn’t good in the film, but I certainly would like to see him in a film like A Few Good Men where he’s not doing the athlete-of-the-week routine.

Overall, I suspect this may be a great movie. But for me there were too many elements that interfered with its enjoyment: the sense of same-old sf story, the stylized look, and the Tom Cruise action routine.

However, my guess is I’m alone on this. And despite my reservations, I think most people will love this movie.

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