24 Lies A Second

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Just Another Pre-Cog In The Machine

Hello again one and all, and welcome back to the newly refreshed, rejuvenated and regurgitated 24 Lies A Second - the film review column you can safely ignore. I only hope I can remember how this works...

Let's kick off with a new feature snappily entitled 'Who gives a damn what I think!?!' where I'll be shooting my mouth off about something fairly trivial that still exercises me to an unreasonable degree.

A while back I was browsing the shelves at my local comic shop when a guy came in and started talking to the clerk. Eventually the conversation got onto the topic of Blade Runner, and - clearly believing himself to be bearer of Big News - the guy revealed that Ridley Scott, the director, had let it be known that - well, let's just say he'd made a pronouncement that could be viewed as resolving one of the major plot ambiguities of the movie, something everyone had been debating for years. Irked to hear this, I dived in and asked what gave Scott the right to do that.

'Well, it's his film,' said the guy.

'Not to that extent,' I replied. 'Millions have seen that film, it's a cult classic, people have invested a lot of emotion and energy in it. And now Ridley Scott's telling them all what to think. If he wanted them all to draw the same conclusions about the movie he shouldn't have made it so ambiguous in the first place.'

'Oh,' said the guy, followed by '****', to my back as I was leaving the shop.

I suppose the point I'm belabouring is about overly-possessive directors who refuse to admit that their films can mean as much to other people as they do to them. The particular example that set me thinking this way was - yes, you've guessed it - George Lucas, who has decreed that the original (ie, good) versions of the Classic Star Wars trilogy won't be getting DVD releases as they were unfinished 'works-in-progress'. Well, I don't care if they were, and neither do quite a few other people. I'm not disputing Lucasfilm's legal ownership of these movies, but they're part of the fabric of the childhoods - of the lives - of generations of people. Very few of whom, I'll wager, want to see Greedo shooting first for the rest of eternity.

Speaking of directors with God-like influence and adaptations of Philip K Dick stories brings me to Steven Spielberg's latest offering, Minority Report. It's another big-budget high-concept SF offering in a broadly similar vein to last year's marvellous AI. This, however, is a slightly more conventional piece of work.

It's the year 2054. Tom Cruise plays John Anderton, chief of Washington DC's Precrime Division. Created by Cruise's mentor Burgess (reliable old Max von Sydow), the Precime project has harnessed the psychic powers of a trio of genetically damaged children to chart the future and eradicate homicide. Anyone now intent on murder is now arrested and imprisoned (without trial, no less) hours or days before they actually commit the crime - Cruise and his team only need to show probable causality in order to bring their target in.

(Now this is a fairly far-fetched concept for an audience to swallow, as the potential for gross miscarriages of justice inherent in this set-up is obviously immense. However, the movie sells it well, helped no doubt by the fact that the real-life US seems to have adopted a vaguely similar system in recent months.)

With the success of Precrime in Washington DC, moves are afoot to introduce it on a national scale, and Anderton is bedevilled by an obnoxious Fed (Colin Farrell) intent on finding flaws in the operation. Strange gaps in the record of predictions are coming to light and (as if all that wasn't enough) Anderton is haunted by the disappearance of his son and has a drug habit. But all this is nothing to the shock he gets when the pre-cogs announce that he's going to murder a total stranger in less than two days time, and is forced to go on the run from his own men...

Using my own prophetic abilities, I forsee two schools of thought developing regarding Minority Report. One will be that this is a lofty-intentioned, very clever SF thriller with added chases, fist-fights and death-defying leaps to sugar the pill for the Saturday night popcorn audience. The other will be that this is just a remake of Logan's Run or - God help us - Judge Dredd, with bogus intellectual pretensions.

There's certainly evidence here to support both views. On the one hand there's a complex, thoughtful plot (even if some of the causality is suspect), serious treatment of serious themes, a rich vein of eye - and vision- related subtext and some fantastically inventive moments. But on the other, there are all those chases and gunfights, and a general feeling of having seen it all before prevails as Cruise finds his belief in the system shaken, resolves to uncover the truth, etc, etc.

And to be honest Spielberg himself seems happy to swerve back and forth between the two styles, never managing to achieve the balance struck by - for example - Terry Gilliam's Brazil, a film this in some ways resembles. Visually it's all very striking, shot in washed-out blues and greys, with ILM providing the usual immaculate special effects... although I had to keep reminding myself I wasn't watching an advert for perfume or mobile phones. There are moments of sly, dark humour, but also ones of crass comic relief. And it seemed to me that to focus the film on Cruise's loss and grief, rather than the moral and philosophical implications of the Precrime system, was rather a sentimental cop-out - also, the way the villain's motivation isn't meaningfully explored at all.

But as I say, it looks great, and Spielberg's direction is as impeccable as ever. He's re-employed some of the actors from TV's Band of Brothers, who are both very good, and Samantha Morton has a lot of fun wailing and twitching and flopping about as one of the pre-cogs. The film does seems to go on forever, though.

Minority Report impressed me, but I couldn't really warm to it. For all that it's about emotions, it doesn't really engage with them. It's long, and cold, and I wouldn't recommend taking kids to see it, but the quality of the concept, performances and direction make it a distinctly superior piece of work. That said, most people have raved about it unconditionally - so consider my qualified approval the minority review.

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