Minority Report   Rated        TEPID

Run! Run! RUN!

The first scene basically lost me.  It involves poor creatures known as “Precogs” issuing prognostications which somehow result in the carving (yes, carving) of red balls (like Lotto balls.  On one ball the name of a murderer is written, and on the other is the name of the victim.  Very high tech!  At the same time as this was being shown, we see in passing a woman who is pregnant – they’re giving birth to crime, don’t you know? A nauseating combination of pretension and stylistic confusion, I’d say!

For a film which revels in the details, I found many of them ludicrous.  When Tom Cruise,  a hot-shot specialist in “Pre-Crime” enforcement, tries to work out from the visions of the Precogs exactly what is about to happen, he has to whip up some kind of aerial symphony.  When he conjures up a Judge and a psychiatrist for the arrest warrant, the Judge says “Affirmative,” and both speak in such strange stilted language, I realised we had a script with problems.

Still, if you have enough special effects, and enough money, you can paper over such cracks. But there’s more: the casting of Max Von Sydow, for instance.  He plays a character called Lamarr Burgess – presumably he’s meant to be from Sweden’s deep south. Once you see Max Von Sydow, and you see that he’s a political character, you know he’s implicated.  So much for the mystery.  Von Sydow is not only badly miscast – he’s also not directed, so he’s dreadful.  Steve Harris and Samantha Morton’s talents are also criminally wasted.

While we’re on the subject of waste, the screenplay wastes an interesting premise.  I love the idea of a film about the abridgement of civil rights (especially in the post-September 11 Bush-led mania).  Philip K Dick’s original short story was just 31 pages long, but it raised some fascinating ideas.  Spielberg and the scriptwriters don’t capitalise on it.  Imagine what Kubrick would have done with it!  Instead we have a kernel of an idea built up into an overblown film, top-heavy with special effects.

 We are presented with the Precogs (clumsily named Agatha, Arthur & Dashiell, after detective novelists).  They live in a strange place named “The Temple” allowing the scriptwriters to give us a clumsy religious metaphor which they never explore. Suspiciously, there is no proper analysis of why Precogs exist and why they are treated so badly.  In a very bizarre scene at about the half-way point we (with Tom Cruise on the run) enter a conservatory and hear a mad lecture from one of the inventors of this Pre-Crime stuff (Lois Smith, in a role that could only have been saved by Judi Dench, Maggie Smith  or Vanessa Redgrave).  She reveals (to Tom Cruise, who must already know this stuff) that the Precogs are children of drug addicts. Why does she tell him what he must already know at such great length?

There’s no denying the special effects are fabulous, but they seem like non-sequiturs.  The advertising billboards  act like Paparazzi - calling out your name as you go past.  And there’s an interesting mix of new and old in the chase scenes.  But why all the strange digitally-interrupted vision flow?  It’s just distracting.  There’s an absolutely terrifying scene in a car factory, with robots making a car around our hero who’s in hiding.  But it is spoilt by the absolutely terrible music (thank you John Williams). Occasionally the Precogs disagree. That’s why there are 'Minority Reports.'  This seems to have been the main point of Dick’s short story.  But that fascinating aspect of justice is just about lost in the chase scenes.  There’s no time to think of the implications.  We just have to catch a killer.

I liked the way that, in the future (2052) there are so many people around, in the streets, at the  swimming pool -  and I liked the strange photography of the old pool.  It was like colour slides or old colour home movies.  But, then, why did the pool look like it was from the 1940s?  Wouldn’t it have been 2046 or so?

I liked the retina-scanning spiders.  There was  a very funny set of scenes involving the spiders search buildings for Tom Cruise and catching the inhabitants at all sorts of activities.  And I liked the scenes involving  black market eye-replacement, with the weird doctor (Peter Stormare) and his even weirder assistant.  But this only reminds me of similar scenes played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990).  Mostly when the film tries to be funny, it doesn’t work: eg the snivelling character of Rufus, and the scene where Tom’s eyes roll down the corridor.

This is such a schizophrenic film – it doesn’t know what it wants to be.  At times it is a mystery, but it is not nearly taut enough.  There is sloppiness everywhere:  if the whole world operates on retinal scans for ID, and if he citizens are used to having their lives interrupted  to be ID-ed, then why is Tom Cruise still able to enter his building after he’s gone AWOL?   Why is the murdered trying to cover up a third murder when he’s already on the  hook for 2 others?  How could Spielberg possibly have tolerated one of the oldest techniques in the book for his revelation of the crime: the killer blurts out a detail he couldn’t possibly have known.  I mean, I can quote here from any number of films & TV shows, eg:  ……...  
“Garrotted sir? I don't recall I said he was garrotted.”
And why did it all have to be explained, not once, but twice (via a clumsy telephone conversation)?  Didn’t Spielberg think we could follow the first explanation?

Indulge me for long enough to tell you of a moment of trivia sloppiness too:  at one stage in Peter Stormare’s rooms, the movies playing on the wall are This Gun for Hire, with Alan Ladd and The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power (both in black and white).  However, in the credits they are listed as House of Bamboo & The Mark of Zorro!  House of Bamboo was a colour film and Alan Ladd wasn’t in it.  I’m convinced I’m right about this!

Towards the end, Tom Cruise actually gets to act at last. And he makes quite a good show of it.  He could even be following in Harrison Ford’s footsteps as a stoic and taciturn reluctant hero.  However, just I was starting to see a plot, Spielberg winds up proceedings in an orgy of bathos.  Tom recalls how he used to read Tom Sawyer to his dead son.  Tom’s new wife is pregnant.  All unfairly jailed prisoners are “unconditionally pardoned and released,” although the police “kept watch on them for many years to come', - what an amazing prospect that is!  Agatha and the other Precog kids “live out their lives in peace'” somewhere around the 1930s (or that’s what it looks like to me).  The Nanny state lives on, even if the Pre-Crime system folds.  So we can all go to bed happy in Spielbergian comfort.


© Michèle M Asprey 2002

This review is copyright. You must not use any part without my permission.