Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

" I’ll be monitoring your frequency "
— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

MRQE Top Critic

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There are flaws in Minority Report. A mad scientist character speaks only in plot exposition. A fugitive is unbelievably allowed to enter a secure area. A few implausible bits of science fiction are “explained” with equally implausible explanations. I might even concede that the film was too long by an entire act.

Still, Minority Report is an excellent movie. Director Steven Spielberg proves he’s more than just a big name; he actually is a top-notch director.

They See Dead People

Tom Cruise walks in Spielberg's futureThree human mutants have the gift of precognition (but only when it comes to murder). They are kept floating in a pool in a hypnotic state, connected to an elaborate system of computer displays, laser lathes, and glass tubing.

This Rube Goldberg machinery is the interface to the brains of the three “precogs,” and the master of the interface is John Anderton (Tom Cruise), who plays it like a symphony conductor.

Anderton’s Precrime division has made hundreds of arrests for murders that were never committed. As a result, Washington, D.C., is now the safest city in America.

Everybody Runs

One day Anderton gets an odd indicator from the interface: a murder that will happen in a day and a half is premeditated. Usually the interface indicates a crime of passion, because nobody’s dumb enough premeditate any more. As Anderton begins to investigate the scene of the future crime, he discovers that he himself will be the killer.

The second act follows Anderton over the next 36 hours as he runs from his former colleagues. Fear and curiosity drive him. He seeks out the scientist who mutated the precogs in search of a fatalistic loophole. He seeks out a back-alley eye surgeon who can help foil the D.C. retina scanners. Finally, he tries to find out who his future victim is supposed to be and why he’d want to kill him.

Heir to Kubrick

Spielberg seems to have learned much from his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick. (Spielberg inherited A.I.: Artificial Intelligence from Kubrick). The movie has several tips of the hat to the great director, and a general visual style that is reminiscent of Kubrick.

Even the underlying conflict harkens back to Kubrick’s “future” trilogy of films — Dr. Strangelove, 2001, and A Clockwork Orange. The future may be shiny and pretty, but it’s still inhabited by human beings. Technology may be wonderful or powerful, but its potential toll on our humanity must be considered.

For better or worse, some Spielbergian pap seeps in to balance the Kubrick-style gravity. Cheesy children who never misbehave and corny, idealized notions of fatherhood add spots of pastel cheer to the dark and brooding story.

The Eyes Have It

Minority Report is visually interesting. Home holograms and rocket-powered transports are taken for granted. Personalized billboards call you by name and holographic helpers at The Gap ask about your last purchase. Newspapers, magazines, even cereal boxes (“Pine & Oats”) are animated.

It’s not all gee-whiz new, though. The poor live in dark and dirty apartment blocks, while the rich live in Victorian townhouses with manicured lawns patrolled by crisp cops on horseback. Even the Rube Goldberg device uses blocks of wood, paint, and lacquer to deliver the names of perps and victims. This mix of new and old allows someone with a fertile imagination (e.g., Steven Spielberg) to really make a rich, tasty movie.

Adding to the movie’s look is awesome cinematography by Janusz Kaminski (who has worked on Spielberg’s last several movies). A complex and interesting sequence with some through-the-ceiling photography is truly inspired. It not only shows the action of the plot, it also captures the intrusiveness of technology and also how easily people accept it. It’s just one example of great work throughout the film.

After the Movie

The film also has a moral aspect that appeals to the ethicist in me. Should people be arrested and jailed when they have committed no crime? What if the predictive system is perfect? Why use the system to punish instead of merely intervene? And what if the system were only 99% accurate? Finally, what loopholes are there, either for the rich and powerful, or for those clever enough to work the system? These questions make great fodder for lengthy discussions after the movie.

The flaws in Minority Report may also make for some interesting discussion. I pointed them out up front because I don’t think Minority Report is flawless. But like last year’s Moulin Rouge, the visuals and the story are so strong as to earn the movie a little forgiveness.

I hope I see some better movies this year, but if I don’t, I won’t be surprised.