Minority Report — Watchlist Title #1

Minority Report, #1 on my watchlist, is a 2002 sci-fi action picture based on a 1956 science fiction short story by Phillip K. Dick.  If you are unfamiliar with the name, you certainly know the titles he has inspired.  Blade Runner, Next, and Total Recall are all based on his work.  It is curious that an author can have such a profound impact on film, yet only five of his thirteen works used as source material for screenplay are full length novels.  He must just have a knack for it I suppose — he has contributed more conceptual development to cinema, than many actual directors — that his stories are dense enough to dictate or provide a springboard for so many features (its worth mentioning that they generally meet with considerable acclaim).  I’m not sure what it is.  Personally, I’ve never read any of his writings.  50s sci-fi tends to put me to sleep.

Thankfully so, Steven Spielberg’s effect on one’s status of conscienceless is quite contrary.  It is a well established fact that he knows what he’s doing, and with John William’s score playing along, your attention is their’s for the taking.  Minority report is an excellent film on so many levels.  It is sound technically, and the  plot structure is also nearly perfect.  The excellent pacing is something that comes to mind, only days after viewing the film; as it should.  If you are watching a film, and you are actively considering its tread, chances are, it is missing something; that ill-defined quality of seamlessness that is scarcely found in popular film these days, but that Speilberg has in spades.  Each scene flows perfectly into the next; action scene, drama scene, whatever it is, every element of the film fits in perfectly part of a well oiled machine.

I’ll be light on the spoilers since part of the movie’s greatness is its tendency to do the unexpected.  Minority Report is about a man who is head of a futuristic police division called precrime.  They, with the use of three psychics, predict murders before they take place, and stop them.  A perfectly shot first sequence shows them in action; using little details about the surrounding environment, the team tracks a murderer down, and stops him before he attacks his victim in a fit of rage.  When the psychics predict that John Anderton (Tom Cruise) will murder someone in four days, he goes rogue to clear his name, with a by the book high ranking enforcer (Colin Farrell) on his heels all the while.

Minority Report dodges a bullet that is the downfall of many science fiction stories by avoiding entanglement in the net of its own niftiness.  With all of the awesome instances of world building, it could very easily substitute story and depth for displays of technology, but instead the futuristic technology (some of it has nearly been realized in our day and age) is merely a supplement, to what is really, a very familiar story.  The premise is not that different from “The Fugitive” (1963).  at one point, John Anderton leaps out of a building into traffic.  The cars of course, are futuristic, and capable of things like vertical travel.  The ensuing rapid chase scene is exhilarating of course — Speilberg has always been good with chowing one person trying to catch another — but the great thing about it is that it would work with regular cars as well.  The futuristic bells and whistles are really just there for visual stimulation.

As T.S. Eliot once said, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal”.  I’ve thought of this quote often as I’ve been studying the works of director Quentin Tarantino, who is practically a cat burglar of cinema.  Tarantino is one of the great directors of our time, and yet he has scarcely made a movie based on an original premise, not a popular one at least.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Steven Spielberg had been up to the same film-pilfering mischief.  A chase scene in Minority Report, that leads into a car factory, is in fact, inspired by a scene Alfred Hitchcock planned to use in the 1959 classic North by Northwest.  Whatever Hitchcock’s vision of the scene may have been, Speilberg has certainly made good use of it.  The best part — probably not in Hitchcock’s scene — is the sonic shotgun Anderton uses to fend the men off.  He whirls it around a couple times, and shoots a blast of sound energy, he spins it around a few more and dispatches another goon likewise.  The raw footage of this must have looked pretty funny before the CGI was added on.

Here’s the scene, enjoy:

Speaking of CGI, this is a movie from 2002, fifteen years ago; hearkening back to a time when computers and there abilities were far less elevated than our 2017 culture now knows them to be.   Many other movies from that year are rendered nearly unwatchable at some times by an overuse of animation, that is not as good, as the filmmakers thought it would be (I still love you Attack of the Clones).  However, Spielberg, in his supreme wisdom, seemed to know that one day the eras CGI would be dated, and he only uses it, when he absolutely must.  The unique visual flare comes from clever, but minimal uses of computer animation, and a bleached sort of lighting effect throughout.  (I’ve just been informed that the films negatives were, in fact, bleached.  And yes, I do mean with actual sodium hypochlorite.)  One wonder’s if J.J. Abrams was inspired by this process for his adaptation of Star Trek.

I hesitate to describe a movie as perfect, but Minority Report is pretty darn close.  Of course, plenty of people have tried to find errors.  One IMDb user details a continuity error one can see if they “freeze-frame the DVD, then flip the image horizontally to read the text being displayed on the transparent computer screen”.  For me at least, Minority Report represents the best of most established movie genres.  There is action, in all of the immaculately shot scenes of combat, well placed throughout the picture.  There is drama, in the tragic plight of John Anderton.  There is horror, when John undergoes optical surgery to escape the government, and even an oddly humorous incedent, in which Anderton drops his eyeball, and scrambles to retrieve it before it rolls away (it’s not as gross as it sounds).  Bottom line: not everyone will see this film as the masterpiece that I do; as it happens, Minority Report appeals really well to my specific taste in movies.  However, you are missing out if you haven’t seen it.  Even if you find the plot uninteresting, the action trite, or the climax weak — all very unlikely occurrences — you will still be able to appreciate the massive effort, and talent, involved in Minority Report’s production.

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