This film made me realise I don't like Spielberg. Obviously I have enormous respect for the guy and especially his magic run back in the 1970s, but these days I find him cold. He's lost his warmth. He's still an astonishing filmmaker, especially when it comes to World War 2, but for me even those landmarks in cinema have something slightly clinical about them. I admire them tremendously, but... bloody hell, I've been almost half an hour already on this paragraph and I'd better get on with it. I'm still struggling to put my feelings into words. Obviously all this is deeply subjective and sure to get me shot down in flames by filmgoers across the world, but I feel I'm on safer ground with the likes of Minority Report, AI or War of the Worlds. Sure, they're full of tremendous visual artistry and invention. They're also a bit boring.
Mind you, I haven't seen Indiana Jones's Crystal Skull yet. I believe Spielberg was the traditionalist and George Lucas the shaker-upper on that one, so that might yet be the exception.
Coming back to Minority Report, it was much praised by critics and it's easy to see why. Spielberg can shoot the hell out of a scene. This is a beautiful film, shot on desaturated but high-contrast stock reminiscent of film noir. That's easy, but he also understands kinetics and editing on a level beyond pretty much everyone else ever. Needless to say, it also has a great-looking future. It's not Star Trek
or anything silly like that, but instead the fruits of Spielberg putting together a team of sixteen future experts in Santa Monica to brainstorm out the year 2054. It's realistic, but out there. The vehicles are awesome, but at the beginning we also glimpse cops on horseback. This is the kind of cinematic future that makes you ache to see where we'll be in fifty years time, just for comparison purposes.
Then of course there's also Phil K. Dick. Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, two separate adaptations of A Scanner Darkly... that's a seriously impressive resume. For a while apparently Minority Report was being groomed as a sequel to Schwarzenegger's Total Recall, although in subject matter and tone it has much more in common with Blade Runner. It's set in a Washington DC in the year 2054 in which pre-cogs have eliminated murder by spotting the killers before they can act. High-tech supercops are hauling away hundreds of people for things they haven't done. We all know that they were going to, but the future isn't fixed. This raises all kinds of ethical questions, even if it is through the lens of a Hollywood movie that can't afford to leave the safety of a three-act plot structure with a big-name star in the lead role.
That doesn't make it bad, though. It's got the themes. It's got the deep distrust of authority, viewed through the eyes of an authority figure. How far would you go to eliminate murder? I'm not even sure that I wouldn't have made the same choices as the villain. Even the tech level spices up the film's issues of civil liberties. The Pre-crime program has some seriously nifty gear. Overall this is another good, meaty Dick with plenty to chew on.
Nevertheless I still feel as if Spielberg was directing from the head, not the heart. My favourite sequences are the set pieces about how to get away from an entire platoon of supercops. However I only ever felt that Spielberg seemed to be having fun during a couple of gross gags, one with a fridge and the other with eyeballs. It's as if that family film reputation did something to him. I could also point at his obvious glee at doing Bloody Great Killing Machines of War of the Worlds, or the mean streak of Jurassic Park 2. Similarly my favourite part of AI was the Mad Max robot fair where Spielberg gets sleazy. I've decided that I'd rather like to see him go all-out with an outright exploitation flick. Imagine Jurassic Park with an 18 certificate.
Oh, and there's Tom Cruise. For me he's an oddly appropriate fit with Spielberg these days, in that I respect him without really liking him. He pleasantly surprised me in Interview with the Vampire, not to mention his work with both Spielberg and Kubrick. As an actor, he's underrated. As a movie star, I'm less convinced. Personally I preferred Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall. Obviously there's no comparison between the two when it comes to thespian talent, but Schwarzenegger is far more watchable. He owns the screen. You want to know what he'll do next. Cruise just isn't very interesting. The other actors you'll remember here are Max von Sydow (always good) and Colin Farrell (who's fine).
Did I like this film? Yes, probably. It's no Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan, but the Phil K. Dick factor also makes it clearly better than AI and War of the Worlds. It's operating at a level far beyond most other movies. It's Spielberg. That makes it an event and I think important in a way hardly any films manage to be. I'm looking forward to rewatching it more than I was just to seeing it in the first place. In an odd way, I'd still support both of those opposing opinions.