Movies just don’t come any better made than Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report.
They can be more important (Schindler’s List) or more innovative (Memento), more challenging (Black Hawk Down) or more rewarding (The Fellowship of the Ring) — but they don’t come more solidly put together. For sheer craft — for the ideal marriage of bravura storytelling, rip-roaring action, dazzling visuals, moody atmosphere, masterful effects, and evocative social and philosophical implications — Minority Report is an achievement of the highest order.
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (who also provided the source material for Blade Runner and Total Recall), Spielberg’s film combines the virtues of good science fiction, good film noir or crime fiction, and good popcorn summer action. It’s simultaneously futuristic and retro; it’s effects-laden but story-driven; it touches on issues of moral and social freedom, but doesn’t get all cerebral on the audience. Those who felt shortchanged by either or both of last year’s dark-themed sci‑fi offerings from the same director or star (A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Vanilla Sky, respectively) will find themselves more than repaid.
Set little more than a half-century in the future, Minority Report takes place in a world in which magnetically powered cars race along the sides of skyscrapers, ubiquitous retinal scanning technology is used for everything from subway access to direct marketing, and data is stored on small clear cards or projected onto enormous transparent screens.
Most importantly, an experimental law-enforcement project
At the heart of this operation are the
The system seems perfect. The
The examination of the recorded visions is carried with a
punctiliously observation of ritual: There are two witnesses in
remote locations, and a vocal record of the findings is kept as
the examiners ferret out clues to when and where the crimes will
occur. Of course, because
Does this mean people are being arrested and sentenced for
mere intent to commit a crime — intent they might never actually
have followed through on? Anderton argues not: "The
Still, questions remain. Federal agent Danny Witwer (Colin
Farrell), a skeptic investigating
Anderton refuses to contemplate these questions — until one
day when he has no choice. That day comes when the
Here the story shifts into murder-mystery mode: Has the infallible system failed? Or has someone done the impossible and framed him somehow? Or, even more unthinkably, could he really be guilty?
Then comes the impossible task of running in a world without anonymity, hiding in a transparent city, fighting a force with a perfect track record of winning all its fights. Here Spielberg proves that, even if the last Indiana Jones movie was over a dozen years ago, he’s still an action virtuoso. Standout episodes include a stunt sequence involving jumping from vehicle to vehicle in gravity-defying traffic, a battle involving jetpacks, and a combat sequence on an automated assembly-line conveyor belt.
If those three scene descriptions sound oddly reminiscent of three parallel sequences in this year’s other big sci-fi movie, Attack of the Clones, rest assured Spielberg is doing something very different from what Lucas did. (The conveyor-belt battle in Report, in particular, is far more effective than the rather bloated parallel sequence in Clones, and has a terrific resolution. This movie’s jetpack combat is also cooler, if only because there are more guys in more jetpacks and the battle actually gets airborne. As for the traffic sequence, while there’s no upstaging the mad charm of Lucas’s aerial car chase over Coruscant, the more restrained sequence in Report is equally memorable.)
Spielberg has always known how to manipulate an audience’s
emotions, a knack he makes effective use of here. Humor
alternates with squirming discomfort and emotional release as the
director pokes fun of Cruise’s sex-symbol status in a couple of
funny incidents, then leaves us wincing with a number of scenes
involving eyeballs, or a character fumbling blindly for the one
edible sandwich in a squalid refrigerator. There’s also a
thoroughly enjoyable Fugitive-like chase scene in a mall
that involves some of the more dramatic applications of the
Along the way, Minority Report raises questions about social freedoms as well as existential or moral freedom. Washington, D.C. may be a murder-free zone, but it’s also a city in which talking billboards know your name — and spending habits — and policemen can send creepy arachnoid robot room by room through a tenement building, optically scanning and identifying every warm body they find, whether the inhabitants happen to be sitting on the toilet, having sex, whatever.
Then there’s the matter of the Pre-Cogs themselves. Is it
moral or humane to keep them in a nightmarish stupor of
atrocities for the sake of the rest of society? "It’s better not
to think of them as human," advises a
As with most time-bending movies, issues of temporal logic
aren’t necessarily worked out with total consistency. (The
Another plot hole involves one character’s continued optical access to a facility long after the point when his access should have been revoked (and without setting off any alarms for the people who are theoretically waiting for him to show up on some optical scanner). Despite these flaws, the film proceeds with such authority that you can’t help believing it as you watch it.
Spiritual allusions and references appear throughout the film.
A few are explicit and literal: a character making the sign of
the cross before a mission, a dying man kissing a holy medal, an
agent who’s an ex-seminarian. Others are figurative or symbolic:
The protected room in which the
In any case, these religious echoes resonate with the movie’s theme of fate and free will. Spielberg doesn’t explore this question in any kind of profound way, but he takes it seriously, and offers an answer that’s satisfyingly humanistic while respecting the ground rules established by the movie. It’s a fitting touch in what will very probably turn out to be far and away the best escapist entertainment of the summer of 2002.
“Hi, Internet,” Steven Spielberg says affably.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.