"The future is so much more interesting than the past, don't you think?"
Like far too many of Steven Spielberg's films, the 2002 sci-fi thriller 'Minority Report' is about 3/4 of a great movie, followed by 1/4 of a pretty bad one. The director has an infuriating habit of developing thematically rich and intriguing concepts, only to let them fall completely apart in the last reel. More than anything else, this stems from his overwhelming need to force a happy ending onto every movie, and tie every plot thread up in a tidy little bow, even when the attempt to do so starkly flies in the face of narrative logic or coherent storytelling.
Still, there's no denying that the set-up for this one is pretty terrific. In the future year of 2054, the murder rate in Washington D.C. has plummeted to near-nothing thanks to the establishment of the PreCrime task force. The discovery of three psychic individuals called "precogs" has led to the development of a sophisticated computer interface that can tap into their visions and allow the police to see murders before they happen. Premeditated killings can be detected well in advance, while crimes of passion may occur more suddenly. With enough lead time, the PreCrime unit can prevent murders from occurring and arrest the would-be killers for theoretical crimes almost performed. While this may present a host of civil rights issues for the lawyers to sort out (Can you really imprison someone for a crime that didn't happen?), the PreCrime cops are only interested in protecting the public.
Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) has a personal need to enforce this sort of justice. His own young son was kidnapped and presumably murdered years earlier, and the perpetrator never found. That tragedy caused his marriage to fall apart, and left him with a secret drug habit. Now, he exerts all his energies to prevent the same from happening to anyone else. He's proud of his work, and absolutely convinced of its moral necessity. But that all comes crashing down the day that the precogs display a vision of Anderton himself killing a man he's never met or even heard of. Before his colleagues can arrest him, Anderton goes on the run in order to personally investigate what that vision actually meant, and whether the PreCrime system is really as reliable as he once believed.
'Minority Report' was a big budget sci-fi picture by Steven Spielberg. Its production values and visual effects were impeccable at the time, and have held up fairly well in the eight years since. Spielberg crafts a detailed and visually arresting depiction of the future, complete with fancy cutting-edge tech (Anderton "conducts" images from the precog visions within a slick holographic touch-screen interface) and some amusing satirical elements. (Everywhere that people walk, they're bombarded with personalized spam advertisements that follow them from building to building.) One of my favorite bits involves sonic stun rifles that can knock a target across the room, but must be manually flipped and cocked to recharge after each shot. It's hard to describe, but looks really neat in action, and is the sort of pragmatic working detail that most fantasists would ignore.
Even so, like most "near future" movies, 'Minority Report' has its cornier aspects. I have a hard time believing that in a mere 50 years, the entire metro transit system for a big city like Washington will be completely overhauled such that computer-controlled mag-lev cars will race along pre-programmed tracks up and down buildings like some elaborate Hot Wheels playset. The PreCrime cops also zip through the city in solid fuel jetpacks that look like they were borrowed from 'The Rocketeer'. While jetpacks like this have been a staple of science fiction since the 'Buck Rogers' serials, they still inevitably beg the question of how a pilot would avoid burning his ass off. Seriously, there are open flames shooting straight down the pilots' legs. It just looks a little ridiculous in an otherwise serious-minded movie like this. Especially so when Anderton hops onto the back of another character and hitches a ride; somehow, he doesn't notice those flames blasting directly into his midsection.
Spielberg orchestrates several elaborately-choreographed yet utterly chaotic action sequences that are impressive to watch even if they don't always hold up to logical scrutiny. A chase through an auto assembly line looks like it was built from almost the exact same CG template as the droid factory sequence in the same year's 'Attack of the Clones'. It's dynamic and intense, but the payoff is kind of ludicrous.
For some reason, the director has cast Tim Blake Nelson, Peter Stormare, and Lois Smith – all actors known for their eccentric performances – in supporting roles, and instructed them to play each as off-the-wall kooky as possible. Any one of these characters individually might have added some color to the movie. The combination of all three is just bizarre and tonally discordant.
Of course, such small failings are forgivable so long as the story is interesting and the movie works overall. For a long time, 'Minority Report' really crackles with drama, suspense, stimulating ideas, and kinetic action. It seems like the perfect fusion of popcorn blockbuster and weighty, old-school intellectual science fiction. (Roger Ebert even named it his favorite movie of the year.)
Sadly, things start to fall apart after a couple of badly-scripted plot developments. In the first, Anderton manages to sneak back in to the precog crime lab solely because the police department forgot to update its security system settings after he'd been declared a fugitive. It's funny, but at my current job, as soon as an employee is fired or leaves the company, all of his security access cards are canceled before he can even leave the building. Yet this high-tech police squad is too incompetent to do the same. The stupidity of this is even further compounded by a silly scene where Anderton chases a pair of human eyeballs rolling down a hallway like marbles, when they should squish and splat upon hitting the floor. Did someone really script this?
Worse, later on there's a big shocking plot twist that's been copied line-for-line from 'L.A. Confidential'. I'm sure that Spielberg and screenwriter Scott Frank were hoping that the audience for their movie wouldn't have seen that earlier film (or read the novel it's based on). That may even be true for the most part; but anyone who is familiar with 'L.A. Confidential' will find the shameless plagiarism pretty galling.
Even that wouldn't be so terrible if only Spielberg knew when to end the damn story. About two hours in, the movie has what would amount to a darkly ironic yet fitting conclusion. Unfortunately, Spielberg just can't let things go there. His obsessive need to give every story a happy ending drives him to tack an additional 25 minutes onto the picture, in which events spiral absurdly out of control and everything comes up roses for our hero against all reason and narrative sense. What's wrong with a happy ending, you ask? Nothing, if it makes sense. This one doesn't. Forgive the possible spoiler, but the movie is nearly a decade old by this point. No proper analysis of 'Minority Report' can ignore that Anderton's actions would have the direct and immediate result of causing the murder rate in the city to skyrocket. A turn of events like that actually could have been used for some effective dramatic irony, if in any way acknowledged within the story. That apparently never occurred to Spielberg. So long as his characters are happy in the moment, then the whole world must be a better place.
Honestly, I think that Spielberg was just the wrong director to adapt a short story by the brilliant but undeniably nutty Philip K. Dick. The author's stories are filled with inexplicable surrealism, ambiguity, and irony. Those things simply do not exist in Spielberg's cinematic universe. The director has an abiding need to explain away any trace of ambiguity. (Witness the insufferably tedious ending to 'A.I.', with its annoying Explainer character who's brought in to sit the protagonist down and feed him a bunch of ridiculous pseudoscience gobbedlygook about the "space time continuum.") Even his best films are safe and conventional, and completely devoid of irony. He's just not the right man for this job.
There's a popular theory that the entire last act of 'Minority Report' is a dream, based on a single offhand line of dialogue delivered by the Tim Blake Nelson character. I don't buy it. Spielberg is too much of a literalist. If the ending of this movie were a dream, he'd have a character step in and tell the audience in no uncertain terms that it's a dream. As much as this theory might make the end of the movie more palatable, there's just no evidence in the film itself to support it.
With all that said, despite its sometimes significant failings, 'Minority Report' is still an intriguing and often satisfying sci-fi thriller with more ideas rattling around its rickety construction than the typical summer blockbuster. It just never completely comes together like it should. If you can forgive that, the film has a lot to offer.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Minority Report' was originally a co-production between 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks Pictures. Fox claimed the theatrical distribution rights, while Dreamworks took the home video rights. The film has been released on Blu-ray as a 2-disc set by Paramount Home Entertainment, the current distributor for Dreamworks. Disc 1 contains just the movie. Disc 2 has the bonus features. The new Photoshop cover art they've chosen is pretty hideous. However, for what it's worth, the image works reasonably well with the lenticular 3-D slipcover.
The movie disc has one annoying trailer before the main menu.
'Minority Report' is a highly stylized movie that was photographed to stand out from the usual sci-fi eye candy. This is not a bright or cartoonishly colorful movie like 'The Fifth Element'. Spielberg and his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski originally used a "bleach bypass" process to emphasize stark, blown-out contrasts, gritty film grain, and a deliberately skewed color balance. The look is effective in some portions of the movie and annoying in others.
The Blu-ray comes from an all-new film-to-video transfer supervised by Spielberg and Kaminski, in which they used the latest digital tools to fine-tune the picture to their liking. The result is true to the original intention, but helps to bring out more detail than previous video transfers. The stylization of the image prevents it from ever being the sharpest or clearest picture you'll see in high definition, but the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is still fairly sharp and nicely detailed. Some scenes are better than others.
The disc is presented in the movie's original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Colors and flesh tones look sickly and bleached, as they're supposed to. Contrasts bloom and shadows fall off to absolute black quickly. Yet shadow detail is visible when it's dramatically important. The picture is often very grainy, and sometimes that grain has a noisy digital texture to it. Nevertheless, overall, this is exactly what 'Minority Report' is supposed to look like.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack has a great deal of power and breadth. Many stinger effects are truly jolting. The stun rifles slam into their targets with a bass impact you can feel in your gut. Regular gun shots have satisfying crack and thump. The surround channels are constantly engaged to create an immersive soundfield.
The John Williams score is also broad and expansive. Fidelity is excellent in all respects, if a little cold (which could be intentional for the tone of the movie). The dynamic range strikes a nice balance between thundering impact and more subtle ambient effects. The track is rarely loud just for the sake of being loud. Bass is crisp and refined, not boomy. This is every bit the slick and polished action spectacle soundtrack you'd expect from a craftsman with the skill and resources at Steven Spielberg's disposal.
As mentioned above, all bonus features on this Blu-ray edition are found on Disc 2. Steven Spielberg continues to shun the possibility of recording an audio commentary.
The DVD edition released back in late 2002 was fairly packed with supplements. Some are pretty interesting, while others are promotional fluff from the Electronic Press Kit. The Blu-ray carries over all of the video features from that release. They've been segmented into several major categories.
From Story to Screen
Deconstructing Minority Report
The Stunts of Minority Report
ILM and Minority Report
'Minority Report' comes very close to being a great film, but just never quite gets there. It's a flawed but still worthwhile sci-fi thriller. The Blu-ray, freshly remastered with the director's approval, looks and sounds pretty great. It's also loaded with supplements, both old and new. This disc is certainly worthy of a recommendation, despite my quibbles with the movie.