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Can A Two-Star Movie Be Recommended? Let's Find Out. 'Minority Report'

Feb 1, 2003
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:It couldn't have more good press, so Spielberg's happy.

Cons:It sucks, so I'm not.

The Bottom Line: If you are bound and determined to see something that's mindless, action-packed entertainment, this is a pretty good choice.

In the end, you have to give Spielberg credit for a certain genius.

It takes genius, after a fashion, to take an intelligent, mind-bending short story, and turn it into the same old garbage we’ve seen countless times before. It also takes a certain sort of genius to take a story about seeing the future, and make the seeing of the future not only all but irrelevant, but internally inconsistent.

‘Minority Report’ is the story of a man who is fairly high in ‘the system’, and soon finds himself on the receiving end of ‘the system’. He’s soon on the run, and learns that he has to break back into ‘system’ HQ to get some vital piece of information that will clear him. It becomes largely a chase movie, with our man being pursued by ‘his own’. At a critical point (because the scene is obligatory to the useless genre), the pursuers are closing in, and our man comes up with a ‘cunning plan’ (ala Baldric of ‘Black Adder’ fame) to avoid detection. Alas, just at the point that the pursuers give up, our man snaps a twig (I mean... blows a bubble), and the pursuers are alerted to his presence. He escapes (surprise), but the story all comes down to the old ‘bad guy lets information slip that he could only know if he were the bad guy’ trick.

Are you telling me I haven’t seen this movie before? Did you notice predicting the future didn’t get mentioned in there? ‘The Minority Report’ is simply the same old story wearing a ‘predict the future’ suit. It also, just as an aside (in keeping with how much interest this movie has in its source material), has virtually nothing (truly relevant) to do with the Philip K. Dick story.

But, in some ‘I say predicting the future a lot, and therefore the movie is about predicting the future’ way, the movie is about predicting the future.

The central question is whether or not the future, once predicted, can be changed. Our hero, John Anderton (Tom Cruise), is the lead cop working for the pre-crime squad in Washington D.C., about four decades in the future. A group of three ‘precogs’ see murders that are going to happen, and our special police force goes and arrests the person for the future crime. For pre-crime to be a legitimate idea, the assumption has to be that these predictions are going to come true, no matter what, unless the person is arrested beforehand of course.

We know it’s our central question, because the movie not only starts with it and ends with it, it plays it a few times in between. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t seem to realize that it’s too stupid to present the question in a meaningful way, or that it answers the dumbed-down version of the question several times.

At the beginning of our story, Anderton rolls a ball toward the edge of a table, and the somewhat skeptical bureaucrat sent to investigate pre-crime catches it. The fact that you caught it, Anderton says, doesn’t change the fact that it would have fallen. And there you are. See, it would have happened.

But, hold on. Does that mean that predicting future murders ‘works’? That seems only to prove that the forces of nature work. I mean, did we try reasoning with the ball, and telling it that maybe it shouldn’t fall after all? Did we tap the ball on the shoulder and say, ‘Psst... ledge coming, you should stop before you get there’? Does rolling a ball have anything to do with anything?

If you aren’t convinced that you have more choice in your life than a rolling ball, don’t worry, the movie will answer the question several other ways as well. The most glaring being when our man Anderton is trying to escape pursuit with one of the precogs. While maneuvering through a crowded mall, Agatha (the stolen precog) keeps telling Anderton when and where to go, and what to do so that they can get away. Could this be more obvious? She isn’t merely predicting what he’s going to do and telling him (or is that what we're supposed to think?), she’s seeing futures where he gets caught, and avoiding those futures. Question answered.

Even in its simpler attempt at looking at predicting the future, its pretty clear that we’ve got people messing about with ideas beyond their intelligence. Our ‘hook’ to the story is the prediction of the future murder where Anderton kills someone he doesn’t even know. We (the audience) get a nice explanation we can say, ‘Oh..., that’s why he kills him’ to, but it’s still rubbish. We can see where this is the result of clueless people trying to work with Dick’s story. In his story, the fact that the hero sees the prediction throws a sort of monkey wrench into the system, but it all makes sense in the end. Here, those who ought not mess with that which they don’t understand, have the prediction being something that couldn’t actually be predicted! Anderton only goes to the place to find the person he supposedly kills because it was predicted. That’s nonsense. I predict that if I predict you will murder someone, then you will? Anderton even has the precog with him... in the prediction! And, the whole thing is a setup right. Some non-precog created the situation as a trap. So, now it’s, I predict that if I do X a precog will predict that if she predicts that Anderton will kill someone, then he will? Right. Please, let’s leave possible futures and their prediction to people who have gotten past ‘Shiny is neat!’

And, in other ways, the movie obviously doesn’t pay the slightest attention to itself, or what it’s doing. In an effort to avoid any thought of the legal ramifications of arresting people for things they haven’t done, the movie thinks that throwing the Constitution completely out the window will dispense with any struggles. There’s no need to worry about people complaining about ‘rights’ that may be ignored by pre-crime arrests, because apparently no one has any rights anyway. Police, when doing the future version of looking for a suspect, simply go around building to building releasing tiny, robot spiders that go into every apartment and perform a retinal scan on everyone. The citizens have this sort of thing down to a routine. They know they have no rights.

This avoidance of the question, however, just makes for new questions. This is a world where the police pretty much do whatever they want, they can turn your car off and have it drive you back to the police station on a whim, and every public place on earth has thousands of retinal scanners going off at you all the time (and the government is tapped in), so we know where you are all the time. So, we surely have no questions about the infringement of rights involved with pre-crime, but we might have some questions as to what the heck we need it for anyway. You can’t tell me (though the movie does, more than once) that the murder rate was all that high. The world where you can’t possibly get away with murder (alright, a few might, but seriously, how many could there be? Look at this world!) is also the world with the staggeringly high murder rate?

The movie is, I have to admit, a wonderful bit of ‘cool-looking movie’, and you have to give it something for that. I’m of the opinion, however, that what you have to give it is not very much. It looks neat, sure, but so what?

The overall impression I got from the movie was simply that Spielberg wasn’t comfortable making it. It just isn’t his sort of movie. He cops out at every opportunity. Any chance to avoid anything remotely unpleasant is taken, and we have the obvious Spielbergization of the story that renders it devoid of any real intelligence or emotion.

The ‘Big Brother’ government is diffused by the ‘so cute you want to get one’ spider-robots that do the dirty work. The ‘goon squad’ police are themselves diffused by the (very Spielgerian gimmecky) ‘sick sticks’. Why simply stun a criminal when he could be throwing up on you? The eye doctor who has a bone to pick with Anderton, and has him at his mercy, builds a lot of tension and then does... nothing (why is this in the movie at all exactly?). The fairly well-done (pun intended) rocket-pack chase/fight is undercut by several cartoon-like moments, including the rocket-pack ‘cooking’ of the burgers. The introduction of the wildly cool, wind-up, sonic blast gun, has the wind immediately sucked out of its sails by the old ‘run up the wall and magically land on the bad guys shoulders’ trick. Our drug addict hero resembles a drug addict in no way whatsoever, except that he keeps taking drugs. The, perhaps, harsh ugliness of the fact that our hero has his eyes removed, and perhaps more importantly carries them around with him in a bag, has the edge taken off when we get to see him scamper after them as they roll down a hallway. Eyeballs, it seems, once freed from the prison of the human skull, acquire the surprising gift of locomotion, and can thus scurry down the hall, mainly because there wasn’t enough that was just plain silly about this movie (???). The human race has gotten this far without a use for the sentence, ‘Our man chases his eyeballs down a hallway’, and there’s a good reason for that.

Spielberg shows that he’s even uncomfortable with the idea of having a bad guy we think is a good guy at the beginning of the movie by casting Max von Sydow in the role. Any possibility for surprise is usurped by Spielberg’s desire for tidiness. We can be more comfortable (because von Sydow is only trumped by Christopher Lee in the ‘obviously the bad guy’ department), so Spielberg is more comfortable.

Does it have entertainment value? Suppose it’s just a bit of a lark, and isn’t actually supposed to be about anything intelligent. Sure, I suppose it does, but you’ve got to try not to pay much attention to any of it. It’s as dumbed-down as it could be, and it still thinks you’re an idiot. Every bit of dialogue that has to do with precognition is written for those who went to school on the little bus, and is repeated ten times besides. There is a scene in a greenhouse in which much is explained, but it’s clear that the script thinks everyone is retarded, especially you.

There are also countless scenes which have no actual (or, let’s say legitimate) purpose at all. Anderton eats a bunch of disgusting ‘food’, and this is just so we can make sure you understand he can’t see, in case the bandages and the fifteen times we said so didn’t give it away. Toward the end, we get yet another look at the eyeball in the bag, and for no other reason than to see the eyeball in the bag again. Cut the scene short, just before we see the eyeball (and maybe take out the person asking the stupid, useless question that makes way for the introduction of the eyeball), and it’s exactly the same scene, serving exactly the same purpose.

As really stupid, pumped up with action, Summer goofiness movies go, it’s far better than most. Tom Cruise is actually pretty good in it, even if his general theory that acting like you have some emotion simply means yelling really loud doesn’t carry any more weight than it ever did. It suffers a bit from some less-than-supporting, supporting roles, but what use is there in noticing something like that?

It looks great, has some really wonderful special effects backing it up, and is certainly miles better than other things in the same category, such as ‘The Scorpion King’, but that’s not exactly something to brag about. Being the best really stupid, pumped up with action, Summer goofiness movie, doesn’t mean you’ve somehow gotten out of the category.

If you're looking for some mindless entertainment that you can nevertheless pretend has some intelligence behind it, this is your movie.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for something that actually has some intelligence behind it, or something that is actually good, look elsewhere.

Still, I have to admit that there are parts worth looking at, and parts that are a bit of fun. There is even, in a wildly unexpected move toward intelligence, a pretty interesting bit in the ‘how to beat the system’ plotline (though it still has nothing to do with the original story).

I’ll still recommend it in the very qualified, know what you’re getting yourself into, mindless entertainment way. But, two is the most stars I can give a movie that has virtually nothing apart from looking good going for it.

Recommend this product? Yes

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