Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

Minority Report (2002) **

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay, Scott Frank & John Cohen, from a short story by Philip K. Dick. Photography, Janusz Kaminski. Editing, Michael Kahn. Production design, Alex McDowell. Music, John Williams. Cast: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow, Lois Smith, Peter Stormare, Tim Blake Nelson, Steve Harris, et al. 140 minutes. PG-13

Here is my minority report on "Minority Report." The critical reception of the movie has been enthusiastic, with just a small minority of naysayers. The plethora of reviewers' praises, including top critics, baffles me a bit, but I will not lose much sleep pondering this mystery.

That "MR" is pulling in huge audiences is no surprise. It's a Spielberg movie. It's sci-fi. It's a Hollywood movie in every way, which means that its target audience is young. I saw a photograph of a horde of people lining up early for it well before the box-office opened. The clientele was of school-college age. I saw the film with a large, attentive, quieter-than-usual audience. When the end-credits started rolling and, as usual, ninety nine percent of the people stood up and departed, I noticed that the younger viewers looked semi-thoughtful, the few over-twentysomethings seemed puzzled.

"MR" is "serious" Spielberg. In the year 2054, a special Government program limited to Washington, D.C., has freed the district from murders in the last five or six years. The program, a very High Tech affair, was the brainchild of the Justice Department's Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow). His outfit, the Pre-Crime Unit, had the task of catching people who, while not knowing this now, would commit murder someday. Those who do know are the Pre-Cogs (short for Cognitives), space-age Nostradamuses, or else like Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece.

The Pre-Crime outfit, headed by a super-cop, Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) has three Pre-Cogs. They are kept floating inside a tank. I wonder how they stay alive, but then this is one of 341 questions I have about this film. In any case, they have visions of crimes-to-come, which get communicated to the Pre-Crime Unit in mind-and-eye-boggling ways, which in turn lead to the arrest of the killers-to-be (who do not know they will kill some day) before the fact. Who could ask for anything more?

It is notable that when caught, the criminals are not executed. Instead, they're kept, alive but (I think) dormant, in small compartments. In effect they seem to me to be canned.

All I've said until now is just for starters. The film, a colossal mix of sci-fi visuals, effects, tools, gadgets, holograms and stuff, is a major case of overkill, as is the tech jargon, mumbo-jumbo in Jumbo size. It reminds me of one of my childhood's comic books. The password to a speakeasy was not "Joe sent me," but "ocular and hyperglucose troubles of the cephalo-spinal liquid."

The script is very freely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, who among much else, was the source of 1982's "Blade Runner," that great, masterfully bleak, futuristic film. My main quibble with it was that it was set in 2019 rather than later, but even so our suspension of disbelief was not a major factor. And this, partly because "Blade Runner" showed results while delving minimally into the technology of creating replicants.

Take another case, that of one of the granddads of sci-fi, the British "Things to Come" (1936, from the H.G.Wells novel) produced by Alexander Korda, directed by the American William Cameron Menzies who later did the production design for "Gone With the Wind." This seminal film came at a time when England's cinema was entirely overshadowed by Hollywood; when its main film assets were Alexander Korda and Alfred Hitchcock. Whether for pecuniary reasons, limited technology, or both "Things to Come" special effects were primitive. Yet its stress on humanism made it a classic.

On the contrary, the techno-means and processes of "M.R." overwhelm the movie. They are confusing, muddy, distracting, inchoate, with fabricated tensions and pretentious pre-tensions. Also ridiculous, unwittingly funny bits --as whenTom Cruise stands before the technogadgetry's displays and moves his arms like someone playing a theremin, that ancestor of electronic music. He is more expressionless than necessary, uncharismatically practicing Cruise-control.

"M.R." is ridden with arbitrariness, inconsistencies, plot and continuity holes. It borrows from many movies, from A ("Arachnophobia," co-produced by Spielberg) to sentient, menacingly moving plants as in "The Day of the Triffids," to almost Z ("The X-Files.") Product placement includes Gap, Bulgari, Lexus, Radio Shack, and more.

The tone is of post-"Schindler's List" solemnity. That (and this) film's cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, now a regular Spielberg collaborator, shoots in ominous, de-saturated colors the way another Steven, filmmaker Soderbergh shot his "Traffic" (2000). I see this more as a reaction to the lush, "pretty" colors of mainstream Hollywood than as an advantage.

This yarn will be a gold mine, yet it appeals neither to the heart nor to the brain. A nice touch of musical humor created in post-production uses Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, songs like "Bad Boy, Bad Boy" ("What you gonna do when they come for you"), "Moon River," and others.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel