RogerBW's Blog

Minority Report 21 August 2022

2002 science fiction, dir. Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow: IMDb / allmovie. Precrime stops murders before they happen. But what happens when its boss is named as a future murderer?

All right, so this film adaptation of the novella began its life as a sequel to 1990's Total Recall, starring Schwarzenegger. And although that didn't go far before Carolco went bankrupt, it may explain some of the choices here: on the one hand the film's saying you should take this stuff Terribly Seriously, with grim blue-tinted Tom being brave and manly. On the other hand we have a jetpack chase, leading straight into a factory chase, and an eyeball bouncing down a corridor. (They don't.) I've noticed before that Spielberg as a filmmaker seems to have a split personality, such as with the big look-at-me moments in Schindler's List, and that's very much in play here.

And it's not Tom Cruise's fault, or a majority opinion, but I find him hard to sympathise with: I always get the sense of watching Tom playing the guy, not of watching the guy. Yeah, his character here is a drug addict, but only in that convenient cinematic way that doesn't actually stop him doing his job.

A lot of this film is for the visuals. Great big gesture controls! Paperback book sized USB sticks! Cars that turn sideways and go down vertical roads! Carving the names of predicted murderers on wooden balls because that's hard to fake, and then rolling them down a track. The production design is gorgeous, and being shot on Super 35 and enlarged helps too, but so many of the decisions were clearly made to pick the thing that would look good rather than the one that would make any kind of sense that again I'm pushed away from any feeling of immersion.

Which means I have time to think: why does being prevented from murdering someone automatically get you a no-trial life sentence with no parole? Consider that guy at the beginning, who walked in on his wife with her lover and if not prevented would have killed them both. Give him thirty seconds to think, and chances are he'd say something like "no, no, you're right, I'm not a murderer, let's just get divorced". If that were what happened rather than bam, out of society forever, then it wouldn't be so tearingly important that the psychics are never wrong… and so the whole thing falls apart.

Colin Farrell does a good job here as the guy who thinks he's the hero, doing that standard conspiracy-thriller thing of taking his suspicious to the Top Guy who turns out to be In On It… but it is a standard thing that we've seen many times before, and it just feels like a lack of genre savvy. (Also someone else then does the same thing. And we get two separate full explanations of the plot. I wonder if test audiences complained about being confused?)

Yes, of course there are people who saw an advertisement that recognises people and calls them by name, and thought "this is a really great idea". ("Hi, Bob, how are those [embarrassing purchase] working for you? Want to buy some more?")

There's fridge logic, and there's stuff that made itself obvious even while I was watching. Cars have fuel right there in the factory? And no override switch, like the ones that we've already seen all cars have? Why the articulated chairs during the not-helicopter assault, compared with just piling out of a door? Because it looks cool.

I've never been a great Spielberg fan, and this doesn't make me re-evaluate that, but it's still enjoyable. All right, it doesn't need to be a two and a half hour film, but neither does it feel like one. Two, at most.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

See also:
Minority Report
Schindler's List

  1. Posted by dp at 06:37pm on 21 August 2022

    I liked this when I saw it in theatre; a few scenes like the spider robots made a big impression. On re-watch last year, I found some bits like the extended eyeball scene excessive.

    I also thought it was interesting that for a high-concept SF movie they did indeed add a lot of other sci-fi elements when they could have opted to just "change one thing" and put the pre-cogs into an otherwise modern-day society. It may be rule-of-cool or a residue of Total Recall, but I did appreciate some effort at worldbuilding anyway!

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 06:58pm on 21 August 2022

    This was new to me when I watched it recently for the podcast.

    The visual design is great; it's the way the visuals are used, or not thought through, that irks me. What's the point to a car travelling sideways rather than turning? To let Tom jump between them, and nothing else; and to me at least that was blatantly clear while I was watching.

    I agree, the spider bots are rather pleasing.

  3. Posted by DrBob at 07:33pm on 21 August 2022

    The bit that made me go "Wait, what?" was the announcement that they were going to ramp up the Prediction scheme from state-wide to national. When they had very clearly stated that the only way to produce precogs was to get a drug-addict pregnant then steal her baby. So are they going to legalise that, then?

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 07:44pm on 21 August 2022

    As I read it, they'd had such great success in preventing premeditated murders that the precogs didn't have much to do, so giving them a wider area to work with (how?) wouldn't overstrain them. But I can't say that's firmly supported by the text.

  5. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 08:22pm on 22 August 2022

    I suspect the point of the story is to discuss free-will. If you can predict someone's actions then there is no free-will.

    Arguably, this is the world we actually live in, according to relativity and quantum physics. The only difference is that we don't have any pre-cogs able to do the calculation.

    One can then argue it either way. Prevention where there's no free-will means the crime was always going to happen, so the choice then becomes to punish, or not to punish.

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 08:24pm on 22 August 2022

    Surely if there's no free will then the precogs were always going to prevent the crime? :)

  7. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 01:08pm on 23 August 2022

    Sure, but does this fall under, we must do something, this is something, therefore, we must do this (prevention)?

    Is it right to control people even if we can show that we know they will do bad things?

    If yes, then what bad things do we want to control?

    If no, then what do we want?

    Arguably, punishment is just the lowest level intervention. It doesn't solve the dilemma, but the establishment can say this was the problem, we have done something about it.

    An imperfect answer for an imperfect world.

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