Minority Report

dir: Steven Spielberg
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Even with access to my hefty imagination I didn't think this would work. See, Spielbergo gypped me last year with AI, and it left me thinking that the man had traveled so far up his own anus that getting an intelligent and enjoyable film out of him was an exercise in wishful thinking.

Sometimes I am happy to be proved wrong. This film more than makes up for the lacklustre, uninspired kiddies' film AI. Even though he appears to be working in the same genre, this film, based on a Philip K Dick short story of the same name, towers over pretty much all of the recent sci-fi films that you've bothered to shell out your hard earned money for. Attack of the Clones looks like the work of a very technically minded retard in comparison.

Fans of PKD will wonder whether this is a faithful adaptation of his book. I haven't the faintest idea. I've read most of PKD's books, but this one slipped past me, and I haven't been able to find it in any of Melbourne's second hand book stores. At a guess I'd say that Segnor Spielbergo kept what he needed to, added shamelessly, and left out a whole bunch of unnecessary stuff. PKD's books, whilst short, often rambled off onto strange tangents which neither the author nor the book would ever recover from. Endings would come from nowhere, presumably when PKD had either completely lost the plot, lost interest, ran out of drugs or lost his marbles (again).

Here, the main question is whether a) the John Anderton character as written and directed is 'faithful' to the pseudo-heroes PKD would have in his books, and b) whether perpetual shit-eating grin wearer Tom Cruise could possibly be up to the task of portraying him.

Well, let's see. Character and plot elements in Minority Report: 1) Is the main character a drug user / addict? Check 2) Mentally unstable? Check 3) Paranoid / Is everyone out to get him? Check 4) Is at least one of his enemies a large, monolithic government organisation recalling PKD's favourite representations of totalitarianism he 'borrowed' from George Orwell? Check. 5) References to psychic abilities such as precognition (which occurs in every second PKD book)? Check

Well, thus far it seems that it sticks fairly closely to the environment or memescape that PKD created through his writing. Is Cruise up to the job? Most certainly.

It is routinely said that the genre of sci-fi, in both film and literature, has been a way for the longest time to address contemporary issues in an alternate setting. As this film operates on several levels at the same time, it's interesting to see how it delivers on an entertainment level as well as on that level few big budget films bother to operate on: the thinking, interlekshual level.

Already I can see the fear growing out there in the vital 18 to 35 year old demographics. "Think? You mean I have to go waste money on this film, pay for parking, popcorn, choc-tops, sit through crappy trailers for fifteen minutes and then have to think? Fuck that for a joke." I am on hand to deliver sweet relief to those that are afraid: the film is structured beautifully in that if dialogue or concepts regarding predestination, determinism, free will, the nature of time and the future, utilitarianism / ends justify the means thinking make your eyes glaze over, your jaw hang slackly, and your saliva pool in the corner of your mouth until the surface tension is broken and the liquid pours forth from your head, then Worry Not! The film doesn't care! It's an action film in the first place. Phew!! What a relief.

It is in essence a detective story, the type that on the surface looks like a crappy movie of the week made-for-television affair: "A good cop is falsely accused of murder and has to struggle against the authorities, fight racism, beat gingivitis and surmount insurmountable hemorrhoids in order to prove himself innocent and save the woman he loves from a fate worse than a bad hair day. Starring Scott Bakula as the good cop, Anne Archer as the wife, Eric Roberts as the bad cop, and Denise Richards as his faithful dog Spot. Coming to the Hallmark Channel Fall 2004."

But here the setting and the technology serve the story and propel the plot in ways a conventional detective mystery can't usually go. It's a very interesting spin on an old story. It is a pleasure to see technology faithfully service the plot rather that be gimmicky all over the place and be solely for show. Ideas posited on how our lives could change in step with technology, and the advances made in that technology are well thought out and well-realised on the screen. As an example, there is a ridiculous amount of product placement in this film, however instead of detracting from the experience by making me groan out loud and hurl invectives at Spielbergo for being such a whore, it actually makes sense within the context of the story, and shows how potentially even more annoying advertising could get in 50 year's time.

The wall screens in subway tunnels that tailor themselves to the individuals walking by, and the same screens at The Gap referring to shoppers by name and harassing them with personal information broadcast around the store were classic, quite inspired (although obviously not original). The premise, whilst still essentially a detective mystery, requires an actor who aims more for the dramatic than the muscle-headed, and Cruise acquits himself quite well here, being fundamentally different as a character than anything that seems similar on his recent resume (Missions: Impossible foremost come to mind).

Twenty years from now Cruise should be able to look back on certain performances of his with pride. I don't think he's going to care that much about MI:2 or Top Gun. One would hope that he remembers Frank TJ Mackey from Magnolia, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffey from A Few Good Men and his Detective John Anderton role here with much deserved fondness in his twilight years. He plays it well, and he combines enough elements from other roles to make him an interesting character and an enjoyable 'person' to spend the next 2+ hours watching as he careens around the place being played like a cheap fiddle. It's not a freaking showy role, he doesn't give grandstanding speeches that make you want to grab a passing usher in order to throw up all over their red and black uniforms. The story is plot based, moved by story dynamics instead of drama orientated or character based. The characters themselves are believable enough, which enhances instead of detracting from the action, because you actually give a fuck that so-and-so is running away from these hired goons, because you understand why they're there and why they're doing it.

Despite some very funny overdubbing carried out to get a PG-13 MPAA rating, the film sometimes has a gritty feel usually lacking from Spielbergo films (except for the hyperviolent Saving Private Ryan, and the depressing 'realism' of Schindler's List). In that sense the story at times has more of a cyberpunk feel than a hard SF aesthetic, though the two are blended quite well.

The central plot device that allows the story to exist is the future itself. The year: 2054. The place: Washington DC. The premise: over the last six years the murder rate has been reduced virtually to zero thanks to the sheer wonderfulness of Tom Cruise specifically and the success of the Precrime unit in general. With the help of three precogs (referring to the psychic ability of precognition or being able to see the future), this police department can get to murder scenes before the murders occur, sparing the victims and incarcerating the potential perpetrators with these headpiece dumbening devices and thence underground for all eternity.

They have a perfect success rate. Or do they? So, depending on your interest level, these points as a viewer either pique your sensibilities and leave you curious for more, or they bore you senseless as you wait for another exciting action set piece, of which there are several.

Closest in terms of plot sensibilities and certain quirky uses of gadgetry is the film Total Recall, which is also based on a PKD story. This film is far more considered, has less emphasis on violence, is not focused on issues of identity or memory, and doesn't have anywhere near as stupid or unlikely an ending. For the most part the story progresses fairly logically, though there were two or three contrivances and coincidences that left me rolling my eyes, but they weren't deal breakers by any stretch.

There were, regardless of the money spent on everything else, two most excellent 'money shots', the first one being the search by the Precrime unit of the tenement building where they search for the naughty John. The whole segment, with the camera going in and out of rooms as these ID spiders eye-spy with their little eyes the residents; now that was superb. Gratuitous, but superb. Another shot that was much simpler but worked superbly was a swinging shot on handheld (I think) where John and Agatha are holding each other close, and it looks like they're one body with two heads. It occurs at this place where John goes for his holographic hardware kicks usually, where the most logical and realistic use of holographic technology is on offer (rampant orgies).

Max von Sydow, venerable Swedish actor and legend of the cinema plays a key role in the film as John Anderton's mentor. Let's just say that he plays an interesting role, one which he rarely gets to play.

I liked Colin Farrell in this as a seeming rival for the John Anderton character. Where the hell did this guy come from? One minute he's lolling in obscurity, the next he's in every film playing (Tigerland, Hart's War, Phone Booth, the upcoming superhero flick Daredevil). Hey, Colin, slow down, you're only 26, mate. You'll burn yourself out. Life is short, take it easy...

He is a very decent actor, and although I hate myself for saying this sort of media whore PR crap, he is certainly an actor to look out for.

The effects range from ample to fantastic. There are certain scenes where I thought the 'level' of technological advancement was deliberately left at a less than perfect level i.e., the scene where John is replaying old videos in a semi-holographic form in between doing hits of what I assume wasn't Ventolin. The cars of the future looked excellent, in that they go faster than anyone ever hoped for, but people don't have to drive them. I imagine that leaves you free to abuse other passengers or drivers with full, throaty shouting and both hands with which to give obscene finger gestures. Ah, welcome to the future. Indeed. Questions of 'greater good' come to the foreground, but only if you want to think about them. If not, switch off and enjoy the ride.

The film raises issues and ideas, without necessarily answering them. As an example: would it be right to keep three people in captivity all of their lives, if it meant that as a proximal effect, you save the lives of countless thousands? Are there some people that have 'less' rights than others? Are members of society willing to give up their personal freedoms if it means the police can better 'protect' them? If you stop someone from committing murder, is it 'right' to convict them for something that never happened (and I don't mean as in attempted murder, smartypants)? Is the future really going to be so bland? Why were there no breasts in this film? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Does knowing about a future event mean that you can change the future or does it lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. What does 'knowing' the future mean, is it one of many possibilities or does life contract thusly always?

It also raises bad questions, as in, why is it that the precogs only see murders about to be perpetrated in Washington DC? As the story says, they're planning on making the system national, well, what was stopping the precogs from seeing murders everywhere in the States or the world? Worldwide, with the population being what it probably will be in 52 years time, wouldn't there be deaths/murders every few seconds?

If Agatha is that powerful a precog that she can see future, past and present so clearly, why did she wait so long to tell Anderton to run at the crucial moment? If a large fascist organisation is chasing a former member, would they really leave all their 'logons' intact? Couldn't a certain crucial murder have been carried out outside of Washington to avoid any precognition on the part of the psychics at all? I could go on.

There are some clever twists, but there is also a certain level of predictability towards the end. There are also the inevitable plot holes which still make me cringe (having to do with the eyes, think about it, it shouldn't have worked, at least not the second time). After all, there is conventionality mixed in with the futurisms, just to make sure it's not too out there for the sensitive little viewers.

Spielbergo and Tom Cruise are at the top of their game. They can do whatever the hell they want these days, and no-one's likely to ever say no to them. This degree of power can lead to excesses of ego where people drunk on their own sense of power end up drowning the rest of us in the stink of their own vanity. In other cases, it means people can choose and shepherd a project and make sure it gets done right. Spielbergo's films have, over the course of his career, earned more than 2 billion dollars at the box office. The man can do whatever he wants as far as I'm concerned, as long as they're this good. Same goes for Cruise. Finally you fuckers are using your powers for good instead of evil. Would you mind having a word to George Lucas whilst you're at it?

A worthy film, which almost makes up for Spielbergo's shocking abortion AI. If only he'd incorporated some elements from this film into the last one, maybe I could have cared. No, it still wouldn't have mattered. It still would have sucked because just because an appliance may act like it's special doesn't make it so. My toaster keeps making funny noises whenever I go into the kitchen, but that doesn't mean I'm going to devote a whole fucking movie to the goddamn thing.

But, this? This one? This is good. Mark my words. See it. Or don't, see if I care. It's not like Cruise or SS need even more of your money. Excelsior. 8 eyeballs out of 10

-- "I thought it was because you didn't want me to fuss with him." Patrick Kilpatrick, Minority Report