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Movies: Minority Report

This has been, like, The Summer of Redemption. First George Lucus atoned for Star Wars: Albatross I by cranking out the pretty good summer movie Attack of the Clones. Now Spielberg gives us Minority Report, a movie that, while not perfect, is good enough to serve as an apology for the abysmal A.I.

And although I have, at various times, sworn never again to speak of A.I., let's review why that movie was so darned bad. Problems #1-10: the lack of a consistent tone. The movie was a much ballyhooed "collaboration" between Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg -- which, if you think about it, ought to be a match made in cinematic heaven: Kubrick is often accused of making frigid, sterile movies, Spielberg is prone to making over-sentimental touchie-feelies, so staking out the middle ground would have been a great idea. But instead of blending the two styles, it seemed like they just took a glue stick and gummed 'em together: the first hour of A.I. was emotional codswallop, the second hour was vintage Kubrick cynicism, and the third terrible hour was pure Spielberg syrup. (I dunno if the movie was actually three hours long, but it certainly felt like it.) Furthermore, Spielberg obviously hadn't decided ahead of time if he was going to make a science-fiction movie with philosophical undertones or a philosophical movie set in a science-fiction universe, and the flick switches from one to the other about every seven minutes.

Not so with Minority Report. Here Spielberg has made a full-on science-fiction opus, and although he just can't seem to help himself from sermonizing now and again (and, alas, again), the atmosphere is at least consistent: dark without being gritty, exciting without being mindless, intriguing without being overly complicated. It certainly helped that the author of the screenplay, Scott Frank, is an old hand at writing tight thrillers. (He penned the fabulous Out of Sight, as well as the enjoyable Get Shorty). Minority Report also boasts a great cinematographer by the name of Janusz Kaminski -- the same guy who did the cinematography for A.I., true, but then the cinematography in A.I. was its one redeeming feature.

Tom Cruise does what he always does with considerable aplomb: he runs around and jumps over things and climbs up walls like Spider-man in khakis. He plays a fairly intelligent police officer and, to his credit, Tommy a good job of furrowing his brow at various points to give the illusion that there's something rattling around upstairs. Although there are lots of supporting characters, this is pretty much a one-man show (think Mission Impossible --- of the future!), and Cruise carries the 120+ minutes admirably.

As far as Phillip K. Dick adaptations go, Minority Report is closer to Blade Runner than to Total Recall. It helps that the screenwriter didn't confine himself to the short story, and threw in lots of extra stuff cribbed from William Gibson (e.g., "The Sprawl") to keep things on an even, cyberpunk keel. Yes, the last thirty minutes falter, but (sadly) I've come to expect that of a Spielberg movie. But despite my mild disappointment with the ending, Minority Report gets a hearty recommendation.

** Spoilers (for both the movie and the short story) Below **

Although I'm glad Minority Report didn't stick to the original story (which, frankly, had a pretty muddled plot), it's a shame that it didn't at least incorporate all of the interesting ideas therein. In the movie, it turns out that there is no "Minority Report" for Anderton because he has been framed. In the story, however, two of the precogs agree that he will murder someone, while the third says that he won't. Seeing his name come up, Anderton realizes that all he has to do is evade the police until the time of the murder has come and gone, and then he will be scot free -- after all, they won't arrest him for a precrime that never occurred. But then, at the last minute, he decides to go ahead a murder the guy anyhow. Why? If he declines to commit the crime he is accused of, he reasons, detractors of the Precrime system will seize upon it and question how many of the other "criminals" in detention would have opted not to commit the crimes they were accused of. So rather than undermine the entire Department of Precrime -- a Department he has worked his entire life to build -- Anderton chooses to fulfill the precogs' prophecy. At the end of the story it is revealed that there was no majority report after all -- there were, in fact, three separate minority reports. The first precog saw Anderton kill his victim; the second precog saw the future where Anderton went on the lam and never killed anyone; the third precog saw the last future, where Anderton decided to kill the guy anyhow to preserve the system. In other words, the "majority report" was an illusion: two of the precogs agreed that Anderton would kill this man, but they saw this in completely different time-lines.

What a great twist! Unfortunately, Spielberg couldn't use it, because he wanted The Department of Precrime discredited to further the "anti-Big Brother" message of the film. Yes, that message is relevant in this time of Bush & Ashcroft denouncing folks as "potential terrorists," but what a waste of a perfectly good ending. Phillip K. Dick wasn't the greatest of writers, but people love his work because he used science-fiction to fully explore the philosophical ramifications of technology. Spielberg, on the other hand, is too busy advocating his ideals to fully utilize Dick's ideas. And that, my friend, is a shame.

Posted on July 02, 2002 to Movies