Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review, both John and Eddie provide their opinions on the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Film According to John:
"Science fiction...frees the imagination to journey anywhere it can imagine itself.... It doesn't have boundaries. It doesn't fence you in.... It's the most liberating genre." --Steven Spielberg
People may argue about Steven Spielberg's place in the pantheon of great film directors, but there can hardly be any doubt that he is among the world's most consistent directors. His string of megahits speaks for itself and marks a director whose eye has always been equally on the intellect, the heart, and the gut.
"Minority Report" from 2002 is a case in point. What might have been just another sci-fi flick in some other director's hands becomes under Spielberg a stylish, thoughtful, and thought-provoking future-noir thriller. The movie is not without what I see are a few minor annoyances, but it is still one of the best sci-fi films around.
The filmmakers based the movie on a story by the late Philip K. Dick, from whose prolific writings have come such other sci-fi films as "Blade Runner" (1982), "Total Recall" (1990), "Screamers" (1995), "Impostor" (2002), "Paycheck" (2003), "A Scanner Darkly" (2006), "Next" (2007), and "Radio Free Albemuth" (2010). Maybe with an author like Dick, a director like Spielberg, and a star like Tom Cruise, the movie couldn't fail to draw attention.
Dick's stories are never without their gimmicks, and this one's a doozie: The America of the mid twenty-first century (2054) has developed a system for preventing crime before it happens. Cruise plays John Anderton, Chief of the Department of Precrime in Washington, DC, a unit that for the previous half dozen years has kept the city homicide free, courtesy of a technology that utilizes the talents of a small group of people called precogs, whose psychic abilities detect murderers before they commit their crimes. But things go awry for Anderton when the precogs tab him for a future murder, and he has only a day and a half to figure out if someone's framed him or if he really will kill somebody.
Most of the plot is, admittedly, a standard variation on the old Hitchcock routine where a supposedly guiltless man is trying to prove his innocence while all the world is chasing him. But Dick adds a few surprising twists to the situation, and Spielberg and his actors embellish it with such visual flair that we hardly notice the tale's timeworn origins or lapses of logic. Be especially mindful of Spielberg's philosophical exploration of free will in the film, along with his rather less-weighty use of black humor, like a grotesque eye operation that may have you smiling and cringing simultaneously; plus his production of a series of cliff-hangers worthy of Indiana Jones.
A major accomplishment of the film is that while it stars one of the biggest box-office attractions in Hollywood, it is not what I would term a "Tom Cruise" movie. That is, under Spielberg's direction the actor so thoroughly submerges himself in the part of Anderton, we don't notice he's a movie star anymore; he simply becomes the character. This is, I'm sure, the most convincing mark of a good actor, as opposed to a star--that he can become so chameleonlike he is able to blend into the character he's playing. Beyond maybe the first five minutes of the film, we forget entirely that it is Tom Cruise in the lead role and only concentrate on the role itself.
Cruise's fellow actors are of commensurate stature in the film. Colin Farrell plays Danny Witwer, a Justice Department agent assigned first to observe the Precrime facility and later to track down Anderton. Like Anderton, Witwer is a dedicated policeman, and he is up to the challenge of finding his man. But is he also open-minded enough to understand and possibly sympathize with Anderton's dilemma? It reminds one of the relationship of the Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford characters in "The Fugitive." Samantha Morton has perhaps the most challenging role of all, playing one of the precogs, Agatha, at first a mere automaton, who must later take on a life of her own. The venerable Max Von Sydow plays the Director of Precrime, Lamar Burgess, the man in charge of the city's new technological wonder unit and an implicit father figure to Anderton. He is, as always, authoritative in his part. The final cast member I'll mention is Lois Smith as Dr. Iris Hineman, the scientist responsible for developing the Precog technology, a woman who now wonders if it's all worth what it's cracked up to be. It is she who steers Anderton in the only direction that may save his life, toward a "minority report." Ms. Smith is remarkably skillful in conveying her character's compassion and distraction for the events that transpire, even if she has only a brief appearance in the film.
Then, there are the special effects. They are not of the sort to wow you the way George Lucas's special effects sometimes do; instead, they're more subtle, more integrally woven into the fabric of the story. A chase segment using outdoor elevators and jet packs, for instance, we have seen done before, yet here it's done so well it provides one of the most truly thrilling parts of the movie, one effectively punctuated by a fight scene in a fully automated automobile factory. The future society's use of retina scans to identify anyone within range of a retinal camera is frightening because advertisers use the device to target customers, putting ordinary people's names on signs and marquees as they walk by them. And mechanical "Spyders" are among the creepiest of the police's detection appliances, wriggling their way around and through anyone's home and personal effects in their relentless pursuit of wrongdoers.
Occasionally, movies with significance beyond the casual plot line or characterizations encounter a degree of resistance on the part of viewers, if not downright hostility. Yet with extraordinary insight Spielberg explores, along with the more esoteric subject of free will, two other, rather sophisticated topics, and they both add to one's enjoyment of the picture. The first is the idea of mind police. I mean, what if we really could stop crime before it happened by, in essence, reading people's minds? Would a civilized society accept the risks? Would people be willing to put aside personal freedom and respect for privacy in their quest for a safe, ordered, and crime-free community? Do we really want the government reading our innermost thoughts?
The second idea is whether the means ever justify the ends, in this case the treatment of the precogs in the movie. They are human beings, after all, but the story reduces them to mere vegetables as they serve only the good of the state while languishing in a government laboratory. Would people be willing to allow the sacrifice of a few to assist the many? They are hard questions, ones we have to face even today when issues of national identity cards, universal DNA records, street-corner surveillance cameras, and the torturing of war prisoners come up. How far should we go, and would we go, to preserve our personal and national safety?
I mentioned earlier that I noticed a few minor annoyances. Beyond some glaring plot holes I won't mention, I also quickly tired of Spielberg's use of largely bleached out, ice-blue colors. The device of washing out the colors worked perfectly well in "Saving Private Ryan" to convey a sense of documentary reality to the opening moments of the picture, and the device works to an extent here, also, to establish a mood of sterility and deadly sameness in the antiseptic wasteland of the future world. But for two-and-a-half hours, well, enough is enough. It isn't as though the colors reveal the striking contrasts of the best black-and-white cinematography; film noir needn't be dull to convey a dark mood. I mean, even when we do get color, it's mainly low-key pastels as in the scenes of the countryside or inside Dr. Hineman's greenhouse. I thought early on while watching the movie, Yes, we understand the importance of the color scheme, Mr. Spielberg; now, may we move on to more natural shades?
Trivial as it may be, the medium and long shots of the future cars and highways also momentarily distracted me. They looked to me for all the world like the little speeders in Disney's old "Tron" movie. I kept thinking they were computer generated instead of being real, and I don't believe that was the idea the director was trying to convey.
Then, too, while I have always enjoyed the use of classical music in movies, Stanley Kubrick's work comes to mind, and while I found Spielberg's use of classical music in "A.I." to be quite effective, I wondered during "Minority Report" if the director wasn't now simply using it as a gimmick, maybe to make points about the enduring quality of the compositions, to be sure, about the timelessness of it and all, but, more important, about the stifled, homogenized tone taken by a future world as conveyed by the balmy, eighteenth and nineteenth-century classical tunes playing like elevator music in most of the homes and offices. I can understand the use of movie music to convey mood, but, like the director's use of color, I question if enough of one thing isn't enough.
Finally, there's the matter of the film's conclusion, which could have wrapped up thirty minutes earlier. Let's just say that despite Spielberg's creation of a hard-edged atmosphere in the film's first two hours, he couldn't resist tagging on a conventional Hollywood ending. Well, maybe this is how Dick's own story ended, and it suited the director's needs. I don't know; I haven't read the original story. But the ending exemplifies, after all, why Spielberg is Spielberg and why he's so successful. He knows how to reach out and please a maximum audience.
John's film rating: 8/10
The Film According to Eddie:
During its run in theatres, I saw "Minority Report" twice, both times on an IMAX giant screen. Admittedly, the IMAX format tends to overwhelm a person, what with its humongous screens and thunderous sound systems, but I'm convinced that "Minority Report" is one of the best films of the first decade in the 21st century. Its themes indicate that brilliant minds have been thinking about issues key to humanity's next steps, and its visuals, story, and style indicate that talented artists continue to celebrate the sheer joy of creating and entertaining. The movie is a thrill ride of ideas and set pieces designed to be as practically believable as they are awe-inducing. The future-world of "Minority Report" is both plausible and fantastic.
First things first, I would like to address an issue concerning finding faults with the screenplay. Usually, a science-fiction movie will draw attacks from viewers who've found plot holes, and at first glance, "Minority Report" seems to have its share of problems. However, save for one (it has to do with Anderton's eyes being able to disable the Precrime building's security measures), if you deliberate calmly and thoughtfully, the story doesn't really have the kinds of gaping gaps through which one can drive a truck. For instance, some people might wonder how the main character can "premeditate" a murder without knowing that he's going to commit it, but you should understand that legal definitions of "premeditation" differ greatly from how the word is used in common, everyday language. In fact, legally speaking, one does not have to plan the exact details of a murder to be guilty of "premeditating" it.
I hesitate to say that Tom Cruise delivers his best performance ever as John Anderton, but the role IS the best-written hero-archetype that he has played. Cruise is not limited to being a straight arrow or a cipher as he was in "Top Gun" and the "Mission: Impossible" series, but those scenes of Anderton elegantly and forcefully orchestrating the precogs' thoughts into coherent clues metaphorically imply that Cruise and Spielberg, whom Cruise represents in the movie, are the lone gods of their respective games. Incidentally, Cruise has hidden behind façades in "Mission: Impossible", "Magnolia," "Eyes Wide Shut," "Mission: Impossible 2," "Vanilla Sky," and now "Minority Report." Is this the world's biggest star's way of playing with the nature of identity?
Cruise does a solid job of anchoring the film, and he has great support from Max von Sydow, Samantha Morton, Kathryn Morris, and Lois Smith (in a wickedly colorful cameo as one of the inventors of Precrime). Spielberg admits that he has had problems dealing with women actors (namely, his inability to photograph them well), but he uses both Morton and Morris to great effect. Agatha becomes Anderton's enabler as Spielberg does not shy away from depicting a female character as an integral part of the story's development. Morris, despite limited time, shines as the woman who still loves Anderton and who believes in his innocence. As in "Mission: Impossible 2," Cruise plays a guy who needs a gal to save his hide, and Morris becomes Anderton's second female enabler towards the end of the film.
"Minority Report" will stay in your mind for quite a while because of its stunning imagery and high filmmaking artistry. There's a sonic handgun that sends visible shock waves through the air and requires its handler to spin it a few times to prime it. Cars travel up and down the sides of buildings so that people can park right outside the windows of their apartments. The Precrime police force uses jet packs and hovercrafts when in action. Electronic Spyders crawl through the streets, scanning eyes for quick identification. All of this wonderfulness has been captured by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, bathing the film in a chemical process that gives everything a silvery film noir sheen. Needless to say, Spielberg got the best in the business to create the film's sound design, and you can close your eyes and simply listen to the soundtrack and get your money's worth.
The film has more humor than the insipid comedies made today, and this is a great feat made all the more wondrous because of the fact that "Minority Report" is a drama/thriller, not a comedic/camp fest. There's macabre humor courtesy of a scene where, through eye surgery, Anderton is able to assume someone else's identity. There's twisted humor, such as when Anderton forces a "stun stick" meant for him to someone else's throat, causing the other guy to vomit profusely. You like ironic humor due to a case of mistaken identity? Don't worry--you'll get your laughs when an eye-camera in a Gap clothing store identifies Anderton as "Mr. Yakamoto." There's even physical humor when Anderton crashes through a window and lands, with contorted limbs, in a body-bending fitness workshop complete with a woman able to bend herself in half and walk like a crab.
Spielberg manages to discuss philosophical ideas with great dexterity, using visuals rather than expository dialogue to convey themes and ideas. In both broad strokes and small gestures, the camera and the actors find bits and pieces of information that tell us more than is said. ("Minority Report" reminded me of Roger Ebert's review of "Saving Private Ryan," in which Mr. Ebert stated an admiration for the way Spielberg express a philosophical view of war via a distinctive visual sstyle.) It's true that the script does not fully explore the implications of surrendering privacy for safety, nor does it really pursue the concept of subverting free will. However, the convictions of the actors provide the context for us to believe the filmmakers' vision.
Although he makes excellent (even great)moviesbelonging to other genres, Spielberg's heart belongs to science fiction. Unlike other filmmakers, Spielberg uses special effects to complement his visual storytelling style rather than letting them dominate the foreground of attention. "Independence Day," "Star Wars: Episode 2," and even serious fare such as "Alien" want audiences to be satisfied with merely gawking at visuals, but Spielberg realizes that special effects are simply props that are as "ordinary" in the future as, say, cans of Coca-Cola in the present.
"Minority Report" may be a science-fiction film, but it works on many levels--as an action flick, as a philosophical treatise, as a whodunit, and even as a scare-fest. During the last twenty-five years, most filmmakers have relied on ever-increasing amounts of gore and violence to elicit screams from audiences, but Spielberg manages to frighten people with intellectual and sensorial creeps. There are few things worse than being held accountable for something that you haven't yet done. Also, Spielberg juxtaposes moments of stillness with sudden bursts of movement and sound for genuine jolts rather than cheap scares. Both times that I saw the movie, more than half the audience jumped or shrieked when Agatha lunges out of her "body soup" and grabs Anderton. More than a few eyes were averted when an eye doctor attaches a nasty surgical device to Anderton's eyes. Once, during an unexpected execution, a lady sitting four seats to my right literally threw a handful of popcorn in the air as she gasped at the suddenly violent tone of the scene.
A lot of people will probably think that "Minority Report" has a happy ending, and I agree with that assessment. However, I think the movie EARNS the right to have a happy ending. It's not exactly a cheerily optimistic ending, but it is a cautiously hopeful one. The protagonist endures such a perilous journey--an odyssey that begins with totally believing in something and ends with the realization that blind faith resolves nothing--that his personal awakening, analogous to the one experienced by his society, merits the possibility of hope.
With "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "E.T.," "A.I.," and "Minority Report," Spielberg allowed for his thematic "boy-lost-in-a-difficult-world" to mature and to help him understand what it means to be a human. If there had ever been any doubts, Spielberg stands taller than that other sci-fi-as-morality-play hard-hitter, James Cameron. The "little-boy-lost" of so many Spielberg movies has grown up to realize that even brilliant philosophers cannot fully appreciate the complex dimensions of existence. The film successfully argues for humanity's right to stay "free," and it also confirms Spielberg's status as one of the five greatest filmmakers of all time.
SPOILER ALERT--SPOILER ALERT--SPOILER ALERT--SPOILER ALERT
(Don't read any further if you have not seen the film, unless you don't care about knowing the ending.)
I think that had Lamar Burgess killed John Anderton as predicted by the Precogs, the ending would have been really breathtaking. Sure, Burgess would have been imprisoned, but as Anderton says, Burgess would have demonstrated that Precrime works perfectly. The sinister crime prevention system would then be used in the entire United States, and a new social order, one that disregards the possibility of people changing their minds at the last minute, would totally overwhelm any ability for humanity to be truly free. I'm not saying that this would've been a better ending for the film, but it would've added an extra layer of thoughtfulness to the story's premise.
Eddie's film rating: 10/10
The DreamWorks video engineers used a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4 codec to reproduce the film's original 2.35:1 screen ratio in Blu-ray high definition. However, as I said earlier, Spielberg purposely used toned-down, muted colors--mostly dull, iron-blues--to suit his needs, colors that come across well on the home screen but still look bleached out to a sameness of hue, combined with dark, gritty overtones. Most often, the picture appears shrouded in a mist, a heightened contrast, and a faint glare, with what looks like natural lighting used for many scenes, as well as an abundance of more obviously processed shots. Fortunately, the PQ in this high-def transfer replicates the movie closely--whether soft, glowing, sharp, clean, or well focused as the occasion arises. The keep case notes that Spielberg approved the HD master, so I suppose whether we like what we see or not, it's what the director intended and as good as it's going to get on BD.
You'd expect a Spielberg production to have good sound, and it does, now available in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. This is not quite blockbuster (or neighbor-buster) sound, but it is natural, wide-ranging audio, nevertheless, that always reinforces the action rather than calls attention to itself. Just listen to those creepy little mechanical Spyders scuttling around or the dynamic, sometimes gut-thumping bass, and you'll get my point. The front-channel stereo spread is also impressive, as are the well-placed surround noises and the pleasant ambient musical bloom.
Disc one of this two-disc Blu-ray edition contains the feature film; twenty-four scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Disc two contains the bonus materials, the first half of them in high definition. Foremost is "The Future According to Steven Spielberg," an extended, interactive interview with the director; the feature comes in eighteen chapters, during which you can access art, storyboards, cast and crew interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage and stills. It can last as long as you want it to.
After that is "Inside the World of Precrime," a mock documentary about the Washington Precrime Unit, about ten minutes long. Then, there are "Phillip K. Dick, Steven Spielberg and Minority Report," about fourteen minutes with the author's daughter; "Minority Report: Future Realized," over six minutes on the science behind the film; "Minority Report: Props of the Future," over nine minutes with Spielberg's collection of memorabilia from the film; "Highlights from Minority Report: From the Set," two sequences analyzed, "The Hoverpack" and "The Car Factory," about nine minutes total; "Minority Report: Commercials of the Future," about four minutes; and "Previz Sequences," the "Hoverpack" and "Maglev Escape" segments in previsualization and finished form, about six minutes total.
The rest of the extras come directly from the previous DVD set and are in standard-definition, mostly non-anamorphic widescreen. "From Story to Screen" is divided into two nine-minute segments, "The Story: The Debate" and "The Players," both using interviews with the director and star. "Deconstructing Minority Report" is in five sub-categories that take us behind the scenes, each lasting from four to nine minutes. These sub-categories are "The World of Minority Report," "Precrime and Precogs," "Spyders," "Precog Visions," and "Vehicles of the Future." Next, "The Stunts of Minority Report" includes three visual explanations of about two-and-a-half minutes each on how the filmmakers executed specific stunts. "ILM and Minority Report" includes six different special-effects expositions of about two to three minutes each. "Final Report: Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise" is four minutes of final wrap-up with the gentlemen in question. "Production Concepts" contains thirteen galleries of production concepts from hovercraft to buildings to architecture, followed by three storyboard sequences and three theatrical trailers, the latter in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
The two discs come in a double Blu-ray keep case, further enclosed in a slipcover with a nifty holographic picture on the cover.
Now, before finishing up, I'd like to reflect upon the issue of product placement in the film. Spielberg used a number of existing company names and logos throughout the picture--Lexus, Pepsi, Guinness, American Express, USA Today, Ben & Jerry's, The Gap, and others--and at the time they came under some small attack. Detractors claimed that the director was only trying to make more money by charging for advertising space on a virtual two-hour-plus billboard. I personally found the ad placements well intended and a help in establishing the verisimilitude and plausibility of his future society. Besides, I doubt that Spielberg needed the extra cash. Of course, sometimes the display of such prominent company names can backfire, as in the example of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." In 1968 when he made the film, the director figured that if anybody would be hauling people to the moon at the turn of the twenty-first century, it would be the biggest airline in the world, Pan Am, and he prominently displayed their name and logo on his shuttle craft and space station. By the actual year 2001, Pan Am was out of business.
In any case, "Minority Report" is another link in a long chain of Spielberg accomplishments. It's fun, it's exciting, it's shrewd, and it may even be--a scary thought--prescient.
The film value rating listed below is an average of the two reviewers' ratings.