A Split Decision on "Minority Report"

Or, Why Hollywood Should Swallow Their Pride Wad and Let Terry Gilliam Show the World How To Produce Cocaine From Over-The-Counter Products.

I hate to begin an article of writing — of any sort — with a nod, quote, hat-tip, or balls-out plagiarism, but here I must, and so I shall. I was up late one night, letting waves of painkillers wash over me like the breasts of a mutated whale, and read a fascinating piece on a sports website that has stuck in my head like a picture of piranhas flying over Leonardo DiCaprio’s severed penis. This particular piece noted that greatness, in any form, was graceful and sublime, and although it may struggle, it always shone through… and then it mentioned those who were great in their efforts, but not blessed with the ease of true talent. It compared Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, compared Michael Jordan to Charles Barkley, compared Muhammad Ali with Evander Holyfield and Joe Frazier. The point of the message was clear; how often have we watched good men conquer incredible odds and obstacles, to root for them and honor them for their labors, and yet understand that it was never meant to be in the first placer Champions they may all be, and their stripes they may have earned, but did they truly deserve itr

I apologize for the sports analogies, but they all sprang to mind once more watching Steven Spielberg’s latest attempt at the glory of champions: “Minority Report.” Here is the boy wonder who was once, still is and will be again, the king of his rank and genre, but strives for glory which may not be within his grasp. Men like Stanley Kubrick and Akira Kurosawa made it seem so easy, even through their struggles and sufferances; but once the obstacles had passed, they sat deservedly upon the throne without a doubt in mind, as if it was all for the show of theatrics.

“Minority Report,” as a film project, resembles a kitchen prepared for a master chef. It has an unlimited budget, a talented supporting team, and every possible ingredient for greatness. The chef steps into the kitchen, and begins to prepare his opus. His vision and imagination is boundless, and his technique has been honed with more than 25 years of experience. In the end, a dish is prepared, a sumptuous feast that stuns the mind and is nearly flawless in its technique execution. The diners sample the gourmet, and they smile and marvel at it’s brilliance, but they know better. The risks, while taken, were too calculated. The opportunities to be bold fell back on traditional ingredients arranged in a different manner. The attempts at creativity were creative in their packaging, but not in their substance. Nearly everyone likes it… but no one acknowledges that it was truly great.

And in the fourth paragraph of this so-called ‘review’, we come back to the same conclusion. Steven Spielberg is so close to greatness, and yet so far. He has mastered the art of making mainstream entertainment, but cannot grasp the art of making cinema. I raved endlessly about “A.I.,” but I see now that the legwork was done by the master; it was the understudy that finished it, nothing more. “Minority Report” is proof that Steven was a truly worthy understudy, but he has not yet attained the master’s rank. His work and his resume are unparalled; he disappoints us only because we believe, perhaps mistakenly, that he is capable of so much more.

Is the film goodr It is quite good, but it could have been great. “Minority Report” could have gone one of any number of ways: 1) An Agatha Christie-type ‘whodunit’ mystery set in the future, 2) a Terry Gilliam film filled with brilliant philosophy, shifty paradoxes, and macabre humor, 3) a Stanley Kubrick film filled with the cold cruelty of humanity and social warning, 4) a Hitchcockian Fugitive-style suspense/adventure set amidst a strange landscape, or finally 5) a Blade Runner-esque set piece feature designed to inspire awe to vision. Unfortunately, Steven does all of the above, and he’s not officially qualified for any one of those, much less a Play-doh mishmashing of them. Part of the problem is that the source material… based on a story by the great Philip K. Dick… does mishmash all of them. PK Dick is one of the greatest concept-writers of all-time… his stories are instant fodder for brainstorms. His writing, to the word… well… it leaves much to be desired, but who needs eloquent style when you have the ability to think of shit like how to produce pure cocaine from Solarcaine sprayr (the poor man’s Bactine for sunburn and cuts, an explanation I have noted for those of you who live in somebarren pisshole that’s basically famous for football and cheese) Plus, it’s hard to write on acid and herb, much like you shouldn’t meditate on amphetamines. So here is my report on “Minority Report”: we get a poorly written mystery with alternating scenes of adventure that are not suspenseful, filled with weird scenes that are way too normal and scenes of humor that aren’t funny, with background commentary on the future that refuses to ask tough questions, won’t get vicious, and doesn’t stay long enough to inspire awe. At least Paul Verhoeven had a glimmer of hope with Total Recall doing serious 8-balls and mad cocaine; Steven has no prayer of a chance without at least, well, Ritolin and Vicodin. Look, a guy like Terry Gilliam can get away with a shot of neon-blue underwear during the climactic scene of a movie about the end of the world. Spielberg has several chances at moments like this, and somehow manages to make them completely ordinary in his world — which is a bad thing.

Don’t get me wrong… the film is worth your $15 or whatever the fuck theaters are charging these days… it has moments of true brilliance, and Steven is still the best technical director out there for my money, even beyond heavyweights like Cameron and Lucas and Zemeckis. It will entertain you, it will not bore you, and it will dazzle you at times. It has no bad scenes or weak spots. In fact, I suspect that most of you will like it, at least a lot more than you liked “A.I.” “Minority Report” doesn’t give you the opportunity to despise it completely; it hedges its bets, and it shows. The fans will label it a classic, but not a CULT classic… it belongs in the same vein as films like “T2” and “Requiem For A Dream”… damn good, damn close, but not pure. It’s no “12 Monkeys” or “Brazil.” It’s no “A Clockwork Orange” or “2001: A Space Oddysey.” It’s not even “Blade Runner” — a film which still ranks as my all-time most overrated, a hunk of heaping, juicy shit disguised with artistic bravura — but man does it want to be.

Plot details are useless in a review like this. This is more of a post-fight commentary, and while I would normally judge the fight itself, I believe that the fighter is the topic of interest here. The fighter knows he will win (delusional, but determined! – Evander) but he’s not quite sure how. The film itself can’t seem to agree on anything more than a basicstrategy; even the cinematography is heavily uneven in technique (although uniform in that cool blue lighting and scheme, which is easy if you plan ahead). John Williams is told to stay the fuck out, and we all know what happens when John Williams is not allowed to riff and showboat. And yes, like Ridley Scott in “Gladiator,” Steven plain runs out of steam at the 2-hour mark. He dogs it and survives to win the decision, but it’s no KO.

For those of you who are still impatiently waiting for me to review the film itself, I don’t think I will, because it’s so much more fun to toy with other possibilities. Let’s say that Terry Gilliam directed it and Bruce Willis was the star. I guarantee you this movie would have been the greatest of all time; it would have been weird, sinister, and most importantly, insightful. Bruce has the wattage and is vastly underestimated as an everyman actor. How about David Fincher and Edward Nortonr Moody, doomsy, and possibly sardonic. (I did not team Fincher and Pitt simply because Pitt, like Cruise, is incapable of seeming truly helpless, which is a quality that the role of Anderton required.) Hmmmmm, how about Ridley Scott and Russell Crower Oh, wait, I already saw “Virtuosity.” How about Steven Spielberg and… gasp… Harrison Fordr Harrison Ford, although unlikely, has actually proven to be at home in a PK Dick world, and we know he can play the Innocent Man on the Run. Harrison Ford can act helpless. Indiana Jones is not immortal, and he bleeds… a lot. So does Richard Kimble. Okay, enough possibilities for the moment, but the movie does skim over territory which would be a GOLD MINE in the hands of a bolder director. The fact that Spielberg is doing this movie at all seems to be bold enough.

Quick, let us join hands and pray that Terry Gilliam finally gets the goddamn rights to “A Scanner Darkly”, which is THE penultimate PK Dick story (and this isn’t just wishful thinking, Gilliam has been pursuing this very project for many, many years). Sorry to self-serve, but I gotta do it, because I know who actually reads this shit. Here is your logline-pitchy thing:

In a future that never was… (I love that phrase. Okay, seriously now.) …an undercover cop works to bust junkies and dealers of a dangerous narcotic that causes certain schitzophrenia and death. In the process, he becomes addicted, and is assigned to gather evidence against his own criminal alter-ego, whom his superiors do not realize is him. In keeping with his cover, he agrees to the assignment, but eventually cannot distinguish between the two lives while continuing to live both of them out simultaneously.

Now, I dare you to tell me that this high concept alone does not make you all wet inside. If you’re a schizophrenic, and you try to kill yourself, is it suicider If you try to arrest yourself, is it entrapmentr Hollywood, please call Terry’s agent up. Package it with Bruce Willis or Gary Oldman or both. Please. Do it for the children.

Back on the “Minority Report,” in all fairness, I place the most blame upon the screenplay… it’s got issues… it’s got some serious plot holes, BUT… I have also read and heard interviews on how that screenplay was concocted, and Steven was involved, possibly enough to get it screwed up. We’ve all seen what he can do when he throws the script away completely (see: “Saving Private Ryan,” or rather, read it, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about) but you can’t shoot a film with this many F/X shots from the hip.

“Minority Report” is a good film, and maybe even a great film. It will win at the box office, it has won with the judges (the critics), and it will win the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. It is a film of technical genius and wonder, and the flashes of genius that it offers far outweigh the opportunities that it’s missed. It’s one of the best films of the year, in a time and era where true prize fighters are becoming extinct. It does not buckle or show weakness, but it does not show effortless either. There is something missing, much like a shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho” with better actors… there is something invisible that a director can bring to a project, and “Minority Report” has something different lurking beneath the frames. It may be genius, but it is not greatness. It is as good as it probably can be, and Spielberg may be performing above his own abilities at this point. As you can see, I give the film a split decision, and I myself may have sniffed one-too-many of those PK Dick schizo drugs. I suppose it all depends on whether you compare the film to the rest of Hollywood or if you compare it to the all-time best. How can I be so hypocritical, bashing this film while singing its laurelsr I live in the United States in the year 2002, where I am (currently) free to love lesbians and still remain homophobic, get loaded on prescription drugs but can’t smoke weed, go to church and then steal some money, go to Starbucks and rant about the evil corporate empire, and write an article just like this one.

Evander Holyfield was the greatest Cruiserweight of all-time, slicing through opponents like butter. As a Heavyweight, he’s been a champion more times than anyone else in boxing history, but he has struggled bitterly to earn his glory. It didn’t come easily, and it was only made possible by sheer prolificness and stubbornness. The world of boxing feels that this man has absolutely nothing left to prove, but everyone including Mr. Holyfield knows that’s a lie. Down but never out, able to make masterpieces out of B-flicks, Spielberg, too, is the reigning champ. He still wins, and we still cheer him on… we just all quietly understand that it never came easily, and it probably never will at the level he’s playing on now. Not as easily as mutated whale breasts wash over my face, anyhow.