Friday, July 30, 2010

Homemade summer movie marathon: Minority Report

Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg)

One of the great science-fiction storytellers of modern cinema, American Steven Spielberg’s filmography during the aughts showcase a somewhat spotty record, with films such as The Terminal (which I personally don’t like), Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which most people don’t like) and A.I. (the merits of which which people are still debating) hurting his recent credentials somewhat. If wasn’t all bad however. In the early parts of the previous decade the acclaimed director found inspiration in the works of a certain Philip K. Dick, known to many readers as one of the premier sci-fi novelists of the 20th century. The story in question was Minority Report, which takes place in the future at a time when the police force in the United States is equipped, both with the help of technology and more mystical means, with the ability to ‘correctly’ predict murders even before the crimes transpire. Pre-crime is what they call it, but with that come certain ethical issues regarding the arrest and imprisonment of someone who has not, at least officially, committed any crime. Spielberg’s vision of the story is founded on the same general thematic outline, but offers far more thrills and action sequence than author Dick would have ever wanted to put into his novels. Tom Cruise is John Anderton, a Precrime Chief who believes in the system with all his mind and heart, that is until the day the precogs, unique beings with the ability to predict future crimes, reveal that none other than Anderton himself will kill someone in cold blood in the very near future. Suddenly, friends and allies become enemies when the hunt is on for John, who must go against his own instincts and beliefs in trying to demonstrate that the entire foundation upon which Precrime bases itself is flawed.

Of all the worlds director Spielberg and his creative departments have mustered over the decades, be they wholly original or inspired by other source material, I firmly believe that the universe of Minority Report is one of the more sophisticated, elaborate and fascinating. This sentiment I hold pertains no merely to thematic and moralistic implications of Precrime, but echoes for the visual style employed for the entirety of the picture. On a more story related level, Minority Report sports a phenomenal setup, with the unique and surprising artillery utilized by the Precrime police force upon arrested soon to be criminals, as well as the impressive headquarters where John Anderton and his team anticipate every next prediction by the precogs. The holographic interface used to fully contrast the scenes of crimes once the general predictions have been made (the precogs tell the police whom will kill whom, but not necessarily where) has since been used in many big budget films, most notably the Iron Man films, but seeing it in this film first made for a real visual treat. It’s slick, sophisticated, intricate, and shows that the Precrime unit still has to work a lot before they proceed with any arrests, it isn’t as though the precogs do all the work. Not to mention that there is often a time limit the unit has to work against when researching where the crime will take place, which is surely an additional stress to deal with.

Of course, once Precrime jump into action, they don’t come with simple batons and pistols. No sir, the units where fancy jetpacks to improve their mobility in the event of a chase (although John seems to outdo them rather handsomely when it is him they must fly after...). It might a little bit bulky, but the overall effect is pretty cool. Additionally, some other agents, such as the feds, come after John with these super sonic pistols that essentially blow other people quite a few yards into the air. On paper it sounds silly, but when realized on film, such as when Precrime and the federal agents, led by Colon Farrell, pursue their hunt for Anderton in a car factory. The moment doesn’t last very long, but when Cruise’s character takes hold of one of those guns, the results are both hysterical and exciting. In fact, to put it in blunt terms, most of the action scenes in Minority Report are hysterical, surprising and exciting. Spielberg, as he has demonstrated time and time again including with this film, is one of the best visual directors working in the Hollywood system and seems to understand how to setup and properly execute a darn good action sequences. I hadn’t seen the film in a few years, so I was surprised, probably for the second time, at how well realized the high octane moments were.

Complimenting the action and solid storyline is a cinematography which at times is a bit jarring. The picture itself is especially grainy, but there is also the issue of the overall colour palette. The lighting seems overdone with many of the colours appearing especially dark. Apparently this technique is called ‘bleach-bypassing’. I will admit that it required a few minutes out of me to grow accustomed to the visual style of the picture, but slowly and surely I began to like it more and more and by the midway point I had trouble imagining any other way the film could have been presented. The story itself, the themes it touches upon and the central character of John Anderton all have significant shades of metaphorical darkness about them, and therefore the intentionally stark contrast between the lighting and darker colours ended up being essential.

I think there are two principle issues that people can have with the film, one of which I slightly agree with, the other less so. The one I don’t agree much with is the notion that the film spends too much time enjoying itself with the chase scenes and all the bells and whistles that come along with them, leaving by the wayside the real meat of the subject matter, that is, what are the moral and ethical implications of trusting the precogs and subsequently arresting people who, at the time of their arrests, are in fact innocent. How certain can Precrime be regarding the predictions of the precogs. I think the scene when Cruise’s defends the system in the face of Collin Farrell’s skepticism by using the example of catching a ball that was falling before it hits the ground because it was ‘going to hit the ground’ is an excellent one. I for one was more on the side of the Colin Farrell character, who thinks the argument is a rather flimsy one when defending a system that imprisons innocent people. Only a few scenes later, Anderton himself is living under the threat of a precog prediction. Yes, the film has a lot of fun with punching, running, flying and hiding in tubs of icy water from robot spiders, but the point is that Cruise’s character is now the center of the debate. He believes in the system but refuses to believe he will murder the man the precogs say he will. Either those mystical beings are correct and John’s days as a free man or numbered, or there really is something screwy with the system, the latter thought which John would have outright rejected only hours ago. Naturally, it’s always easy to be certain of such things when you are not at the center of the issue. Once you’re the one in trouble, well then something’s gotta be wrong somewhere. The entire rest of the film is all about proving how the system is faulty and by extension morally reprehensible. There’s nothing wrong with having some fun while doing it.

The other aspect that earns the film some scorn, and the one I do agree with partly, is the nature of the ending. Given how I try to shy away from spoilers in my reviews, I certainly don’t want to blatantly give it away, so be warned that I will reveal at least the nature of the ending in the following sentences. I think the boldest thing Spielberg could have done would have been to have the John Anderton embark on his gargantuan quest to prove his innocence only to have him incarcerated for the murder, whether accidental or intentional, and end the story and be done with it. Prove that the system is right in the universe of the film. Tantalize the audience with the notion that what Precirme is morally unjust, that Tom Cruise is going to set the record straight, and then slap them in the face with a downer of an ending. I know there are theories floating around the internet about how the ending might in fact be a downer due to certain very specific details that are revealed (or not) in the closing moments, but I don’t entirely buy them. I think Spielberg wanted to have the audience leave the theatre with at least something positive after a movie that was filled with a lot of dark elements. I can respect that even though that isn’t the way i wanted things to turn out. Still, the ending isn’t enough to detract from my overall viewing experience. It isn’t a bad ending per say, even though I used to think it was, it’s just that there is a part of me that wonders what it would have been like to go one step further into the whole ‘film noir’ aspect of the movie and prove protagonist having him spend his life in The Big House for a crime his own system predicted. Oh the irony that could have been...

Minority Report
is one of director Spielberg’s finer efforts, providing plenty of visual treats for the audience as well as a little bit of food for thought at the same time. That’s a mixture I can get behind any day of the week.


CS said...

My only complaint with this film is that the last twenty minutes fall a bit flat. I understand Spielberg's need for a happy ending, but the way he tries to get there is very forced. Other than the end, I found the rest of the film to be outstanding. It is one of those films that I can watch on repeat.

edgarchaput said...

That is essentially my contention with the ending as well. It feels as if Spielberg told himself that there had to be a happy ending despite all the darkness that came before. I still think the explanation behind the mystery is adequate, but it would have been one heck of a climax had things not gone so well.