minority report eyes

The Eyes Have It

On a surface, Minority Report is all about set-pieces. Spielberg stages one high-octane, sublimely entertaining set-piece after another as he moves Anderton and Agatha from one place to the next.

When Anderton first breaks Agatha out, the pair storm through a mall – where all the advertisements are tailor-made to know exactly who you are, like internet pop-up ads. Every step of the way, Agatha throws out weary advice to help Anderton evade capture – stop here; go left; drop some change. At one point, she advises him to steal an umbrella – an act that makes little sense until the two get outside and find it to be pouring rain. There, Anderton opens the umbrella, and the pair blend into a crowd of umbrellas.

Another highlight includes a chase sequence on a car assembly line, where Cruise ends up inside a car as its being created – only to drive the car away when it’s done.

But the real show-stopper is a lengthy, nightmarish sequence involving an eye transplant. The eyes of individuals in this society are the number-one point of identification. As long as Anderton is walking around with his own eyes, ever-present scanners – like the ones in the mall used for advertisements – will be able to pick him up. His solution is to get a black-market eye-transplant.

While Anderton is healing at a rundown apartment building, the police arrive looking for him. Rather than go floor to floor, the cops deploy spider-like drones that scurry about from floor to floor, crawling under door cracks and scanning the eyes of the residents with in. The residents have no rights here; no say in the matter – they have to simply sit back and take it. Spielberg stages this in engrossing, often comedic fashion. He plants his camera above the rooms, and travels from one room to the next, as if we’re viewing an architect’s floor plan. From one room to the next, we look down at the residents interacting with the spiders. One couple are in the middle of a fight, and pause briefly to let their eyes be scanned – only to start fighting the minute they’re cleared. One man sits on a toilet and doesn’t even react as the mechanical spider climbs up his body. It’s so goddamn cinematic to watch that it puts almost all of Spielberg’s contemporaries to shame.

Yet for all Spielberg gets right with Minority Report, he can’t quite stick the landing (although this problem mostly lies with Scott Frank and Jon Cohen’s script). The film spends so long being so lightning-quick and pulse-pounding that when it slows down to spell out its plot, it gives the audience whiplash.

Anderton was indeed being set-up, but the setup is almost too complicated and too convoluted to really make sense, or even be plausible. Nonetheless, Anderton ends up being haloed, and placed in an eerie, haunting future-prison with other Pre-Crime suspects – locked away in suspended animation.

Anderton’s estranged wife (Kathryn Morris) – a character that just never quite works, and seems unnecessary in the long-run – springs him from prison to help stop the man who orchestrated all this trouble: Director Lamar Burgess. Burgess eventually dies, Pre-Crime shuts down, and the Pre-Cogs are free. They get to live out their lives on an secluded island somewhere, while Anderton reunites with his wife.

There’s an uneasy question to this ending – was shutting Pre-Crime down the right thing? Or was the program a necessity, despite its flaws? The same questions can, of course, be applied to the real-life war on terror. But frustratingly, even though Spielberg starts the film out asking these questions, the ending doesn’t provide much closure either way. Perhaps it’s too difficult a question. Perhaps it’s a question that’s up to the future to decide.

Still, Minority Report is remarkable in that it crafts this big, complex ideas onto a crackerjack blockbuster full of huge action beats. On a purely technical level, it’s one of Spielberg’s most masterful works – a film with more energy than most modern-day action flicks can muster. It was a sign of things to come.

Minority Report colin

Experimenting

“Right now in my life I’m in a period where I’m experimenting, where I’m trying things that challenge me,” Spielberg said when Minority Report was being made. “And as I challenge myself, I also challenge the audience. Now I feel that I’m striking out in all directions trying to find myself, trying to discover myself.”

As the 21st century kicked-off, Steven Spielberg had begun a journey. With A.I. and Minority Report, he had crafted two of his most challenging, exciting, cerebral films. He wasn’t leaving his early blockbuster days behind. He was molding them into something brand new – he was experimenting, and we, his audience, were his test subjects.

From the blue-tinted, often terrifyingly dark future worlds of A.I. and Minority Report, Spielberg would move on to the brighter-lit yet just as unique films Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal. In the early 2000s, Steven Spielberg was just getting started.

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In the next edition of 21st Century Spielberg, Part 2: Phone Home –  Catch Me If You Can & The Terminal.

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