Friday, November 28, 2014

Rewatch: Minority Report

2002, Steven Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Hook) -- Netflix

Almost anytime I review a movie set in a non-spaceship future, I mention my fondness for I, Robot and Minority Report.  Its about time I rewatched and blathered about them.

Minority Report is the Steven Spielberg adaptation of a Philip K Dick novella.  Dick's story is more about the views of multiple timelines and choices made, while the movie was more about the moral implications of convicting people for something they technically have not (yet) done. Its a flashy movie of near future technical marvels and exciting action, but with a hint of thoughtful ideas. I am not all that concerned about which is better. I like both equally.

I wonder who first decided that data of the future would be stored on glass. Data crystals, as the usual science fiction nomenclature. At the Stanley Kubrick exhibit (www.tiff.net/kubrick), I was reminded of the idea, as Dave slides rectangular blocks of numbered glass into slots, or maybe out of, while HAL sings slowly. Why glass? Is crystalline structure really perfectly built to replace magnetic tape, liquid crystals in disk format or even integrated circuitry? What will be the next level of data storage?

Set in 2054, the authorities in Washington, DC have discovered a way to manipulate the precognitive abilities of three young people, to predict potential murders. They stop the murders before they happen. But they still incarcerate the potential criminal. The "investigative" magic takes place in a room with a giant, curving, clear glass monitor. Images sucked from the brains of the precogs are tossed onto the screen and investigator John Anderton (Tom Cruise) manipulates them via gloves with finger-tips of light. I guess they never imagined one's movements could be tracked merely by the movement, not requiring balls of light at reference points. He grabs images, wiggles his fingers, swings his hands, moving things about like items attached to a white board with magnets, but working in three dimensions.

The glass is clear, yet he sees clearly (ba-dump bump). I have yet to see that idea represented well in real life. I think we would be too distracted by what is on the other side of the clear screen.  This was ten years ago, when the idea of mobile & wireless technology was still young, thus they still have to use "flash drives" to move data from one workstation to another. Large, flat, slates of clear glass grab the data, represented by video clips on their surface, and allow it to be slid out from the slate onto the big, clear screen. Later (other movies & TV) representations feel more fluid, more real, as people grab data and just toss it from one screen to the other, effortlessly, wirelessly. But all this glass is pretty, and futuristic. Given the current popularity of clear glass smart phones in science fiction movies, too bad Nokia didn't use the opportunity to display a concept for a future phone, instead just dropping their latest model into the movie. And it looks really outdated now. Think Neo in The Matrix and his slider phone.

Being overdone for the sake of being overdone is the technological standpoint of the movie. Sure, the cars are typically concept-model type and auto-driven isn't too far fetched, but they slide up and down, and all over the place. Highways run up buildings, down buildings, with vast stretches that must be atop buildings. It just seemed frivolous and potentially dangerous. Want to kill hundreds of people? Kill the maglev control centre of a highway. And then there were the cops in jetpacks. Yes, I understand its the future and jetpacks are to be expected, but I didn't see the purpose they served, other than Action Sequence, which I honestly found more annoying than exciting.

The use of targeted advertising, in which the store sees you as you walk in, checks your buyer history and starts talking to you, was innovative and believable. Except for the idea that there should have been dozens of reactions to dozens of customers, all competing with each other in a cacophony of Google ads. And no chance to opt out? Maybe close your eyes just as the retinal scan happens.

Finally, there was the technology seeded into the movie to help substantiate Anderton's motivations, his utter obsession with his son's abduction. Memory enhancing drugs were combined with the lamest representation of 3D video ever depicted. Key reference objects from the video, his son, are stretched out in a horrible, bleeding aspect, sort of like a video pop up book. It looked terrible in the movie, and probably intentional to show not fully developed but possible tech. They should have stuck to holograms which felt more real because of the drug he was inhaling.

Don't get me started on the laser lathing of wooden balls just to announce Murderer.

The focus of the plot is that Anderton is framed for a murder, but doesn't believe he can possibly commit it. But his whole career has been based on believing exactly what he saw on the screens. If anything our current age has taught us, is that everything seen on the New Fangled Technology (i.e. The Internet) is not to be believed. And if Anderton can be framed, then so can anyone else. And if anyone can game the system, then it should be shut down and every single criminal released from their tubular incarceration. Whoah whoah there Nelly. I would imagine most of those criminals were going to do exactly what they precogs saw them doing. They already had the idea of red balls (crime of passion) vs blue balls (*snicker* planned murders) -- they were blue, right? So a planned crime could be substantiated after the fact, with all the details confirmed. But no, social outcry against it won out and people were freed. I wonder how many took the chance to actually murder the person they had considered earlier? Would double-jeopardy come into play? The Law & Order: Washington, DC 2054 episode would have been great.

And yes, these are the sort of things I think about when I see a movie again. I also made note that Cruise as Anderton is a very unlikable main protagonist. He is rude to his coworkers, dismissive and condescending. And it played out, because as soon as he was a suspect, his direct reports jumped into action to have him arrested. Samantha Morton was great as the traumatized Agatha, an unbalanced precog dragged out of her milk bath and into the real world by Anderton, who really only cares about himself. And there is Colin Farrel's bit part, whom was written to be disliked, but in the end, is the understandable character. In the remake, he would play Anderton.