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Minority Report By Brian Jacks
There are some things in this world that people crave more than life itself, in a lip-smacking, hands-rubbing, crazy-eyes sort of way. One of these was the thought of director-extraordinaire Steven Spielberg and Scientologist-extraordinaire Tom Cruise hitching up to do a film together. Prayers across the globe were answered when the two announced they were finally collaborating on bringing futurist Philip K. Dick’s science-fiction classic short story, Minority Report, to the silver screen. Released earlier this year, the film went on to become one of the biggest hits of 2002, paving the way for a truly awesome two-disc DVD release by the perfectionists at Dreamworks.
Minority Report takes place in Washington, D.C., circa 2054. For six years, the city has been rendered murder-free thanks to the establishment of the “Precrime Unit,” a division of the police department that relies on three psychics known as the “Precogs” to predict who will commit a murder. Chief John Anderton (Cruise) is the head of the unit; a fervent supporter of the program until, suddenly, the Precogs accuse him of a murder. Stripped of his title and now on the run, Anderton has just 36 hours to discover who set him up, and why, before the murder he is supposed to commit comes to fruition.
Spielberg creates a lush world for this film, artfully merging today’s architecture with tomorrow’s technology, developed in part by a scientific think tank the director assembled for this project. Magnetically powered automobiles, sonic weapons, jetpacks, artificial spiders, and a host of other futuristic gadgets provide a fantasy world with just enough realism to make it believable, all combing to make a eccentric playground that’s nothing short of mesmerizing to behold.
The acting is just as good, with Cruise giving one of the best performances of his career, perfectly seizing upon his character’s many emotional facets to portray a troubled man saddled with guilt over the loss of his young son. It’s refreshing that after all of these years the veteran actor still allows himself to completely open up as much as he does in this film. Cruise’s colleagues are just as fabulous, with nary a weak performance in the bunch. Great acting and great direction; what more could audiences hope for?
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Minority Report is presented in its OAR of 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen. Spielberg’s longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski shot the film in his customary style of removing entire sections of the color pallet and dramatically pushing up the grain and contrast, mostly tilting towards the blues and other “cold” hues. While this has been a source of discontent for some, in this reviewer’s humble opinion the film is nothing short of incredible to look at.
With many scenes depicted in their own unique visual style, Kaminski’s technique radically emphasizes the powerfulness of what’s onscreen, much like the movie Traffic, but often done so in a way that highlights the ticking of the clock to the film’s climactic conclusion. Given the film’s many special effects (wonderfully provided by George Lucas’ ILM studio), Minority Report comes off looking like a futuristic sci-fi action movie, and that’s a good thing. Technically, blacks are solid and detail is almost omnipresent, and since the film is separated on a disc of its own allowing it room to breath, compression artifacts are nonexistent with no real edge enhancement noticed. All in all, a spectacular presentation.
If there was any consternation about the visual effects, we doubt there’ll be any displeasure voiced over the audio transfer. The DVD is equipped with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, and while both are excellent, the DTS comes out ahead with slightly deeper bass and more definition overall. At its core, this is an action film, and the audio acknowledges that with numerous scenes that provide for an almost reference-quality listening experience. One fight sequence in particular sees Cruise firing a gun that delivers non-lethal shockwaves to its target. With each shot fired, the bass channel literally explodes with the rush of the sonic boom flooding the entire room. Another scene involving Cruise leaping from car to car is just as exhilarating. Composer John Williams fills in the musical side with a subtle score that is gently accompanied at times by a wonderful operatic melody, such as whenever the Precogs are onscreen.
With the cinematic stuff behind us, now it’s time to discuss the supplements. Right off to bat, fans will notice that, like all Spielberg DVD releases, no commentary is included. This disappointing trend is due to the director’s view that commentary tracks take away from the magic of the film, and reveal too much of the process. What we do end up with is an assortment of behind-the-scenes featurettes, each presented in 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen.
“From Story To Screen” is divided into two parts. The first, entitled “The Story,” features interviews with Cruise and Spielberg discussing how they had always wanted to work together but could never find the right project until Cruise brought Minority Report to the director. It goes back and forth with each discussing how great each other is (a theme that is repeated quite often throughout the extras). We also hear from screenwriters Jon Cohen and Scott Frank about adapting Dick’s story to the film and how they went about building upon it to create this new world. The second section, “The Players,” is a look at the cast of Minority Report and the characters they play. Actors such as Cruise, Colin Farrell, Kathryn Morris, and Max Von Sydow give their own introspective view of the people they play.
“Deconstructing Minority Report” is a look at the technology and how the this futuristic world was created, and is split into five individual chapters. “World of Minority Report – An Introduction,” sees the director discussing how he brought in scientists from across the globe for a symposium on what the world could look like in fifty years. Spielberg reiterates that he wanted the world that is depicted to be even remotely feasible, and that leads us into the other four, more-specific, vignettes.
“Precrime and Precogs” looks at how the sets were created for both the Precrime headquarters, and the pool-filled chamber where the Precogs reside. It’s particularly interesting to hear from the set designer about what vision was followed to create these settings, such as how the Precrime offices should contain a lot of glass, reinforcing that they have “nothing to hide.” We also hear from Samantha Moore, who plays the lead precog, Agatha, about her experiences making the movie, including those not-so-pleasant ones derived from spending hours in a tank of water.
“The Spyder Sequence” is a detailed look at one of the film’s more memorable scenes, where eight super-intelligent mechanical “spyders” are sent through an apartment complex to find Anderton by scanning the eyes of the building’s residents. In one of the movie’s most remarkable moments, the cinematographer filmed the spiders fanning across the building in an overhead sweeping shot, and here we learn the difficulty in filming such a sequence. Because the spiders never existed outside of a computer, we hear from both the special effect guys who created the animations as well as from Kaminski.
In “Precog Visions,” we hear from the special effects teams that created the unique depictions of murders that the Precogs projected. Spielberg interestingly recounts how he was so impressed with the company that worked on the opening of the movie Se7en that he tapped them to create the visions of the Precogs.
“Vehicles of the Future” is exactly as it sounds, with a detailed look at the many vehicles used throughout the film. This includes the magnetically-levitated automobiles, the large troop-carrying police craft, a very sweet-looking Lexus, and smaller cars that were used only for background shots. We hear from not only the designers who created the vehicles, but also from the sound designer, who describes how a chance encounter with a washing machine resulted in the mag-lev’s sound emissions. Conceptual art as well as blue-screen shots and computer animations are used as we browse through this futuristic car lot.
The next section is “The Stunts of Minority Report,” and it contains three segments, each looking at how a specific action scene in the movie was constructed. In “The Mag-Lev Escape,” we look at how Cruise’s character escaped from a moving automobile as it twisted and turned, culminating in a stunning sequence where the freeway took a vertical drop (magnetic cars allow for that, you see). “The Hovercraft Chase” occurs relatively early in the film, and sees Cruise being chased by his former police subordinates on jetpack. “The Car Factory” goes inside the scene where Cruise and Farrell are fighting it out on an automobile assembly line as they duck and swerve as machines pound around them.
Moving on, we come to “ILM and Minority Report,” which is divided into individual parts, each one depicting how a special effects shot was created. George Lucas’ specialty shop was utilized pretty heavily for this film, and that’s quite evident in the many scenes involving the Minority Report’s heavily stylized futuristic technology. After a five-minute intro by Tom Cruise discussing his work with ILM and blue-screen technology, we delve into five specific areas: “Holograms,” “Hall of Containment,” “Mag-Lev,” “Hovercraft & Hoverpacks,” and “CyberParlor.”
Concluding the featurettes portion of the extras is a three minute “Final Report,” which is essentially Spielberg and Cruise talking about how great the other one is, and on this film it’s hard to disagree.
Now that the featurette side of the supplements is behind us, there’s an extensive collection of extras in the “Archive.” “Production Concepts” features a conceptual look at thirteen individualized sections, including hoverships, roadway systems, apartment interiors, and the Precogs. Overall, the section possesses hundreds of images, so if you like production-related art, sit back and enjoy. Next up are storyboards from three sequences: Mag-Lev, Alley Chase, and the Car Factory. Four trailers are also included, three from the film and one for the upcoming Activision videogame.
Rounding out the extras package are the extensive cast and crew bios, and a whopping twenty-three pages of production notes.
The Movie: A. A powerful film with engaging performances.
The Look: A. While the film’s style may rub some the wrong way, it’s spectacular to look at.
The Sound: A. Reference-quality DTS and Dolby Digital tracks put you right in the movie.
The Extras: B+. While a commentary would have been nice, it’s hard to complain given the amount and extensiveness of the supplements.
Overall: A.Minority Report is one of the year’s best, and there’s no excuse not to own it.