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Spielberg is back! After some pretty terrible efforts in recent times it’s good to see the much-maligned director getting some praise again. The tallest poppy in Hollywood seems to be cut down by critics at every opportunity, and not always with justification. In an age where many critics seem to be shunning mainstream cinema in favour of building up the quality of indie films and the like, one can only hope that experienced directors such as Spielberg can wrest back control for those who deliver on a consistent basis. Sure, they might follow a more conservative line than many new-age directors with nothing to lose, but Spielberg’s films, along with those of Scorcese and Soderbergh, for example, never fail to entertain. It’s whether you enjoy the story that’s the key to their success.

Pina Colada's were out of the question

Movie
Minority Report is certainly some story. If Bladerunner was the foundation for writer Philip K Dick’s success in having his novels translated into film, then Minority Report is the money shot. Beautifully photographed, brilliantly staged and with a cast of unique characters not seen since Ridley Scott’s equally engaging futuristic adventure, the audience is taken for an immediate ride with a quick fire opening sequence.

From this sequence we learn about Pre-Crime, a novel initiative from the 2054 Washington government to eradicate murder using three pre-cognitive psychics, pre-cogs for short. Using this scheme the Pre-Crime division of the police department can stop the murders before they happen, and the way they find the location of the future murder has to be seen to be believed. The man heading up this division is John Anderton (Tom Cruise), himself wishing that pre-crime had been in place when his son was abducted from a local swimming pool while under his care. Anderton is a determined man while at work, possibly driven by his pain over losing a son. But, like many other of Spielberg’s characters he does have his flaws.

These flaws are where the crux of the story comes in. Anderton stumbles upon another vision by the pre-cogs, but this time his name comes up as the murderer, with a man he’s never heard of announced as the victim. From here Anderton must try and figure out whether there’s a flaw in the system or whether he is actually going to murder this man. The “minority report” from the title refers to the rare occurrence when the pre-cogs disagree on a certain event, something which is covered up by those in the know to prevent people from realizing there may be some doubt on behalf of the pre-cogs and therefore a flaw in the system.

The world created isn’t too far fetched compared to what we live in today, nor should it be considering we’re only talking around fifty years ahead. But the advancements that Dick and the writing team for the film have created are well grounded in reality and work as a vision of the future. Everything from advertisements targeting individuals by shouting their names to new-fangled projection and recording equipment is covered beautifully and never feels like a gimmick in the world of DC fifty years on.

Some of the sequences, using some very slick special effects, are pure brilliance and are great to watch in the context of the film. While the opening piece gives us all the information in the most succinct way possible the chase sequence a short way in shows us the world in which the characters live whilst still providing the ‘wow’ factor and moving the story along. Then there’s the launch of eight little spiders, robo-arachnids that find their way into your home to scan your eyes for identification. Their pursuit of John is eerily tense and will definitely have you on the edge of your seat. Couple these brilliant sequences with some great scenes in the pre-cog ‘temple’, an amusing look at a virtual reality amusement parlour and an eye-swapping scene that’ll make you squirm and you'll soon realise there’s a gem around every corner.

Transplant techniques were still a little outdated

Having just watched I Am Sam it is refreshing to see a film that never preaches one side of the obvious moral dilemma it poses. Minority Report contains some seriously complex issues with the pre-crime initiative but we’re never told if it’s right or wrong, just given characters with opinions. You’ll have to sit there and think a little with this one, going against the trend of providing a mindless action film yet never trying to be too smart for its own good. Yes, some have mentioned there are flaws in the workings of the story (how can the pre-crimes only see murders that happen in the DC area?) but with any sci-fi flick there’s going to be some degree of suspension of disbelief. Instead of trying to pick the holes and ask questions that are never raised in the film the viewer should be sitting back to accept the world and see where it takes them.

Spielberg has assembled an accomplished cast and it’s great to see him finally join forces with Cruise on a quality project. Cruise is perfect as Anderton and is ably supported by the up-and-coming Colin Farrell, who pulls off the cocky investigator to perfection and goes through a bit of a journey with his character along the way. Then there’s Samantha Morton as the pre-cog Agatha, who puts in a hauntingly perfect performance even though she spends half her time lying in water. Max Von Sydow is a tried and tested veteran and his portrayal of the vulnerable Lamar Burgess is absolutely spot on. But it’s the unique bit-parts that give us the real feeling of a different world, with Tim Blake Nelson’s small role the perfect example. It’s basically a nod to the myriad of personalities involved in Bladerunner, though I don’t think they have as much of an impact in this one.

With a sci-fi flick that appeals very much to the mainstream thanks to characters we actually care about and a story that lets us think for ourselves, Spielberg has definitely shown how to give us meaningful action and astound us with the way it is presented. The metallic wash over many of the scenes, the haunting score that belts out the beats with aplomb and a meticulous attention to detail don’t come as much of a surprise and all contribute to what is a very solid, very entertaining film. Easily one of the best of 2003.

Video
You won’t want to swap your eyes at all with this transfer, cause it’s right up there with the best of them. If the visuals that were so impressive in the cinema didn’t translate that well on to DVD then there would’ve been some disappointed Minority Report fans out there who have been hanging for this release from day one. Thankfully this is the best you could possibly get and is amongst the most remarkable transfers of recent times.

The film is presented in anamorphic 2.40:1 and utilizes the brilliant cinematography to keep you amazed at the level of detail in the sets and surrounds. Each metallic piece is given its own level of sharpness and the blacks are basically perfect, keeping you engrossed in the story but letting your mind stop to enjoy the view every now and then. There is intentional grain at various parts of the movie, which Spielberg happily admits to using as a means to set up his futuristic world. One of the more visually distinctive films of recent years benefits greatly from the DVD format, so thankfully you’ll be able to enjoy the brilliant composition and effects right there in your own lounge rooms. Top notch.

Palm Pilot

Audio
DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks have been getting closer and closer together in terms of quality in recent times. This disc isn’t a good example. The DTS 5.1 mix provided on the disc is a lot richer and more powerful than the Dolby Digital 5.1 track which, in itself, is nothing to sneeze at. Regardless of the increase in volume that inevitably comes with a DTS track, the sound on this disc is sensational on the ears.

Right from the frenetic opening minutes you’ll be immersed in the sounds of the film. Enjoy the whooshing of John fiddling with the evidence and the many effects used pumping out of the rears to surround you in the story. The dialogue sits nicely in the front speakers and is never intruded on by the magnificent score, penned by the accomplished John Williams. This is a different sort of Williams score, much more aggressive and intense than a lot of his previous efforts, yet nevertheless entirely appropriate and totally effective.

You can’t get much better than this in terms of listening pleasure. The subwoofer will boom its way along with story and your ears will happily follow suit, leaving them to declare this one of the best sound mixes going around to go hand-in-hand with the visuals.

Extras
Oh dear. It seems like we have come to a bit of a slowdown.

The animated menus on the disc are quite impressive, yet the navigation in the extras section just seems like an excuse for the menu designers to show off their wares a little. There’s no play all feature with any of the material on the disc and every entrance into a new page is greeted with sliding text and general flashiness. But you can get used to it being a bit of a pain, so the extras do become the focus.

Basically there’s a bunch of featurettes broken up into five categories, making up a total of around ninety minutes of footage for the second disc. Each includes behind the scenes footage, clips from the film (often too much actual footage is shown in a few sections) and interviews with key players such as Cruise and Spielberg as well as specialists such as the effects team etc.

The first section is entitled From Story To Screen and deals with how the concept came about. There are two featurettes included here, entitled The Story/The Debate and The Players. The former is interesting in that Spielberg enlightens us as to how he and Tom Cruise came to working together on this film. The latter talks about the individuals in the cast, and it’s strange to hear Colin Farrell talking in his native Irish accent. He sure does pull off being an American very well.

Walt Disney wasn't the only one....

The next block of featurettes is entitled Deconstructing Minority Report and includes five pieces on the make-up of the movie. The World Of Minority Report gives us a brief run down as to how the filmmakers decided to portray society 50 years from now. Great to hear how Spielberg gathered brainy people from all over the world to talk about the future. Then there’s Pre-Crime and Pre-Cogs, which starts off with a look at the set for the Pre-Crime precinct with all its glass and metallic surfaces. It then goes on to look at the water in the chamber and the difficulties faced with staging three characters partly submerged in the water for a long period. Possibly the most interesting piece in this section is The Spyder Sequence, detailing how the Spyders were created and integrated into the film. Director of Photography Janusz Kaminski tells us how painful it was to shoot from a logistical point of view, while composer John Williams details how he went about constructing the score for this awesome sequence. Very interesting indeed.

Moving on with this section, there’s Pre-Cog Visions, where Spielberg tells us how he hired the team behind the Se7en title sequence to design the pre-visions we see in the film. We then learn how the effects team integrated these designs into the investigative interface at Pre-Crime. Effects nuts will love this piece. The last featurette in this section is Vehicles Of The Future, obviously looking at how they designed the futuristic cars for the film.

The next section is called The Stunts Of Minority Report and looks at three sequences within the film. There’s The Mag-Lev Escape (Anderton breaking out of his car), The Hoverpack Chase and The Car Factory, all of which are great to watch how each sequence is designed and performed in terms of stunts. Good to see Cruise working with his ten-year stuntman, the brief stock footage to final film comparison in the Hoverpack sequence and how they rigged cruise up during the Car Factory piece. Very interesting overall.

The ILM & Minority Report section deals with all the CGI created for the film. After an introduction that gives us an overview of the attitude to the effects we delve into several sections on specific aspects of the CGI for the film. There are pieces on the Holograms, Hall Of Containment, Mag-Lev, Hoverpacks and Cyberparlour all of which are incredibly interesting. Well worth a look, this section.

The last featurette is entitled Final Report – Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise. There’s a lot of back-slapping between the two but it’s all pretty genuine and they both give examples of why they have so much admiration for each other. It’s also good to hear Cruise’s thoughts on his motivation as well as Spielberg’s feelings on his current situation as a director.

Rounding out the extra features is an Archive section, with production concepts, storyboards, trailers, cast & crew biographies and production notes to keep you busy. Not much of interest here but they are a worthy addition nonetheless. And boy, do you get sick of that woman’s singing voice during the extras section, or what?

Despite what seems to be a wealth of extras crammed into the second disc there’s actually not all that much on there. While 90 minutes is probably a large amount of time to cover the making of the movie, what we end up with is merely an extended behind the scenes documentary that is restricted by how much detail it can give the audience. Curiously there are no deleted scenes, and of course there’s no commentary by anyone for this disc. It’s hard not to feel slightly disappointed by the extras line-up for this release. Sorry, Mr.Spielberg, but until you start providing what we’re all after, that is a decent commentary track for your films, we’re probably always going to feel a little cheated in the extras department.  

Paper,scissors, rock for the new millenium

Overall
As a storyteller Steven Spielberg is rarely beaten. While others have lost sight of the fact movies are designed primarily to tell a story, big Steve still has his finger on the pulse. Minority Report is ripping entertainment, relentless in its showcase action sequences while giving us a protagonist who endears sympathy the whole way through, even if we don’t know whether he’s guilty. The disc is very impressive, with a video transfer that ranks up there with the best and a reference quality audio mix to add to the equation. The extras department isn’t at all as deep as it looks and is the one factor bringing the overall quality of the disc down a notch. But you’ll want this DVD for the film; a magnificent piece of escapism that will take you along for a unique ride through the wonderfully crafted streets of 2054 D.C.


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