(2002) dir. Steven Spielberg
viewed: 07/17/02 at Kabuki Theater, SF
When I first heard that director Steven Spielberg and star Tom Cruise were working together on a film, I wasn’t too interested. Spielberg’s heavy-handed film work for the past 20 years has eroded any of the charm of his early output for me, and Cruise just simply annoys me in general. It’s one of those pairings that looks great to a Hollywood suit in terms of combined box-office draw, and maybe sounds great to the average moviegoer, but doesn’t sound too exciting to a “pseudo film snob” like myself.
But after seeing Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001) on DVD a few months ago (which I was shocked to like so well despite terrible word-of-mouth), the idea of Spielberg taking on another sci-fi adaptation started to seem more promising than I would have thought only a few months prior.
In actuality, Minority Report is another solid summer popcorn movie, with some good action and special effects. It’s pretty entertaining. I enjoyed it coming out of the theater.
Now, however, a week or so later, my head is not filled with the striking images of the film, or of anything of real power in it. This may be more of an arbiter for me of how striking it really was…or not.
Spielberg employs some weird, low-brow gross-out humor in the film that struck me as odd. The scene in which Tom Cruise chases his extracted eyeballs as they bounce down into a gutter was absurd and strangely out of tune with the tone of the film and his character. Cruise is not a comic actor, or at least that is not how he has made his money since his earliest of days.
The background characters in this film were an interesting assortment of genericky stereotypes. There is a shot in which the camera flies over a floor of a building in a poor, derelict part of town, looking into the rooms of everyone on the floor, catching the action from an “impossible” view. As though there is no ceiling, the camera looks down into the action in the rooms of various people living in this sqalid building. The shot is not so revolutionary — we have seen such a shot before — it is so full of artifice (in the inherent impossibility to really for a camera to “see” such a view of the “real” world — the shot emphasizes the fact that the camera is clearly shooting a “set”). The characters that are glimpsed in this shot are an interesting array of stereotypes, the “types” of people that live on the poor side of town, according to the film-maker, captured just momentarily in this sweeping shot. I don’t know why this stood out for me.
I have never read the Philip K. Dick short story upon which this film was based, but there were some allusions to the sort of more spiritual side to the narrative that seemed pretty under-realized in the film, though might have had more significance in the original text. The whole film is about an apparatus that utilizes a freak ability to glimpse the future (though mainly or only murders). Some characters vaguely reference a “religious” quality to the nature of foretelling and changing the future. Spielberg drops this in, but hardly analyzes it.
Spielberg does seem fascinated with advertising, though. Interestingly, he is often “credited” with having established product placement in films. In Minority Report, product placement is everywhere, but it exists mostly in the representations of the advertising of the future (as it is interpreted by the designers). For the characters, advertising is invasive and “in your face”, with retinal scans that identify and market directly to a person. As Cruise is in the midst of his noir-ish escape, he is assaulted by ads, in a clearly nightmarish fashion. In another scene, in a futuristic Gap store, the same type of assault plays humorously. Anonymity is gone, however. Spielberg certainly suggests that advertising is only going to become far more inescapable.
Ironically, as Cruise keeps looking at his Bvlgari wristwatch and drives his futuristic Lexus, some of the less-critiqued placements just show up as fashionable.
As a critique, the film knows that advertising is annoying but gives it a lot of screentime anyways.
There is a lot going on in this film, featuring a couple of classic Spielberg themes: children in danger (in the film, Cruise’s son has been previously abducted and presumably murdered) and evil Germans (Max von Sydow is the villan). Years ago in Film Threat Magazine, I read a joking analysis that suggested these themes to be present in all Spielberg films. And amusingly, it is often the case.
Well, there could be more, but this is all I’ve got at the moment.