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June Letters:
the VanderMeers respond






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July 2002

Posted 23 July:

Posted 18 July:

  • Eric M. Van realizes Minority Report's bugs are actually features
  • David Moles identifies Minority Report's villains

Posted 16 July:

Posted 12 July:

Posted 8 July:

Posted 5 July:

  • Ted White continues the discussion of Minority Report

Posted 3 July:

Posted 1 July:

  • Brett Cox replies to Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's comments on Minority Report
  • John Shirley replies to Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's comments on Minority Report

Note: Return e-mail addresses will be posted only if you include it in your closing, or your subject matter specifically requests some sort of response; otherwise it will be omitted.


Once Was Enough

Dear Locus Online,
     I can't resist jumping into this discussion of Minority Report — in particular, to Adam Roberts' (Category Error) and Eric Van's (Not Bugs, Features) recent letters.
     But first — I consider Minority Report an ok movie. And a movie can be ok for at least two reasons: (a) it's uniformly ok, (b) it has some great parts and some lousy parts, and averages out as ok. Minority Report was clearly the latter, for me. I loved the cyberspider and sympatico plants interludes; I thought the retinal sections left gaping holes in the plot, as many commentators have noted.
     Which brings me to Mr. Roberts' defense of the retinas: He agrees that, realistically, the detached retinas "would rot in his [Anderton's] pockets," and thus couldn't possibly fool any security. But Roberts thinks the movie must be taken on a mythical, not realistic, basis.
     Mistaking categories — attacking a comedy because it is not tragic enough — is of course a classic error. But a text or movie must have a legitimate, reasonable claim to the category which its defenders claim for it. For example, if a mystery, with a dead body in a locked room, is resolved at the end by the killer beaming into the room, can a defender of that movie say it was really science fiction not mystery? Perhaps, but only if there are salient science fiction elements woven into that hybrid, prior to the ending.
     I don't see much if any of that in Mr. Roberts' defense. His main claim that the movie is not realistic is that it has some absurd plot points. A rather tautological argument, at best.
     Eric Van's defense is subtler, and raises questions that are ultimately more interesting. Eric says that flaws upon first viewing become explicable, and thus emerge as features, in the second viewing.
     Now, there is no doubt that texts (movies) reveal their delights on different schedules. Much of the last part of Mulholland Drive was incomprehensible, at least to me; but by the time the movie was over, and thinking about it shortly after, I came to regard it as a minor masterpiece, whose pieces fit hauntingly into place. Dune (the original book), to take another example, was painful to read for the first hundred or so pages; but the rewards that followed made the whole experience eminently worth it.
     Can we extend this largesse to Eric's claim — that a movie can vindicate a problematic initial viewing on the next viewing?
     Perhaps. But, here too, I think we need standards. First, we need, in general, enough working in the movie the first time around to want to see it a second time. And, second, the first-time bugs should have a minimal level of recognizability as features, even the first time. The examples Eric cites seem under the radar.
     For me, the irritations of Minority Report are probably enough to keep me from seeing it again. But I'll certainly enjoy talking about it for a long time.

Paul Levinson
18 July 2002


Colour Palette

Dear Locus Online,
     I've just been to see Minority Report and greatly enjoyed it, in the main. I agree with much of what John Shirley has to say. A thing that struck me too, re the colour palette of the film is that there is a strongly emphasised touch of red in the clothes of Anne Lively, Agatha's mother who is murdered. It put me in mind of the one touch of red in another Spielberg film, Schindler's List, when Schindler sees the little girl in the red coat in the ghetto. Both figures represent an important emotional statement — innocents caught in the remorseless grip of evil.

Sophie Masson
22 July 2002


Not Bugs, Features

Dear Locus Online,
     Has anyone actually gone back to see Minority Report a second time?
     On second viewing, it's extremely obvious why John Anderton's retinal patterns still grant him security access after he's on the run. After seeing it once, I hypothesized that some subordinate still loyal to him must have intervened on his behalf, but that the filmakers trusted us to figure this out. And indeed, Casey, the black woman on the pre-crime team, both chastises Witwer for sitting in Anderton's seat — admonishing him that Anderton will return — and grins in triumph when Witwer announces that Anderton is regaining access to the facility.
     And on second sight, the triggering mechanisms for the "drain" at the bottom of the pre-cog tank sure look like those for an emergency escape hatch. How else could the pre-cogs be evacuated if the Temple were attacked?
     Almost every one of the alleged bugs in this movie is a feature. For instance, that the Pre-Crime Initiative will be a multi-billion-dollar genetic engineering programming designed to create enough pre-cogs to cover the nation follows from everything we are told. Almost everything that the movie forces you to figure out adds to the story.

Eric M. Van
18 July 2002


Villains

Dear Locus Online,
     Just a quick comment on Mr. Braunbeck's letter on the film's alleged attitude toward the working class and the poor. Mr. Braunbeck apparently misses the important point that the cops are not the good guys. As individuals, some of the cops are decent enough and some of them downright nasty. But the system that they are part of — the entire Precrime apparat — is the villain of the film.
     I notice that Mr. Braunbeck omits to mention the part of the spider sequence involving the mother and two small children, which is certainly not played for laughs. If he'd paid more attention to that scene and less to the rooftop tracking shot, perhaps he'd have noticed that the spider scene was supposed to be humiliating.
     Spielberg is not trying to make the Precrime system look pretty. The audience is supposed to identify with the system's victims, not its agents.

David Moles
17 July 2002


Sgt. Fury

Dear Locus Online,
     A useless little factoid of information came to mind while I was reading John Shirley's delightful review of Reign of Fire (the review is delightful, but I'm not sure if I'm ever going to see the film). He described the Matthew McConaughey character as a cigar-chomping Sgt. Rock-type...
     Hmmm. Sounds more like Sgt. Fury to me (of "... and His Howling Commandos"). Said Sgt. Fury (later "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.") was constantly jumping out of tanks or off the wings of B-24s into burning ammo dumps and highly-fortified enemy bunkers, always with a cigar clenched between his teeth, leading his commandos — howling or otherwise — with some exhortations like "C'mon, ya yella-bellied nursemaid! You'll never be heroes sittin' in that ditch!"
     Sgt. Rock, on the other hand, was drawn by Joe Kubert (and Fury, appropriately, was drawn with thicker, broader penstrokes by John Severin), and usually involved in some gritty, small, desperate battles. He wasn't above spouting off some war cliches, but usually in a softer tone of voice — less likely to take over an enemy command post by himself with a submachine gun in each hand and a garland of hand grenades around his neck. Sgt. Rock seemed (as I recall; it's been ages since I've read the comic stories) a little more down-to-earth, less interested in glory and heroism and more interested in surviving the war and keeping the members of Easy Company alive. Where the soldiers of Easy Company usually seemed to be lying in a foxhole or shell crater, the Howling Commandos' feet hardly ever seemed to touch the ground. A few of the Kubert-drawn stories even had some grim endings that went as far as questioning the nature of war (and this some time before we were that deeply into the mire of Viet Nam). In any case, even if my memory is dim on the details, Sgt. Rock was a less flamboyant figure than Sgt. Fury. And it sounds, from Mr. Shirley's review, that McConaughey's character is cut from the latter cloth.
     Mind you, the Sgt. Fury stories were great fun, but somehow the Sgt. Rock stories seemed a little closer to the real thing. Maybe because the dads on my block when I was a kid seemed to have Joe Kubert-drawn faces rather tha John Severin-drawn faces.
     I've seen similar confusions before (I think, in some of John Holmstrom's cartoons for Punk magazine), perhaps because Sgt. Rock is such a perfect, iconic name. The confusion is understandable, but for the sake of accuracy I thought I should point that out. And perhaps the Sgt. Fury fans have a different view of it too.
     Very best wishes,

Richard Chwedyk
14 July 2002

[ John Shirley replies: You're right! It was Sgt Fury! And later he became Nick Fury agent of SHIELD! ]


A Contemptuous Attitude

Dear Locus Online,
     Having followed the ongoing debate over Minority Report with some interest, I feel compelled to talk about something that has not been thus far mentioned about the film: specifically, its contemptuous attitude toward the working class and the poor. This may sound like a quibble at first, but please hear me out.
     Throughout the course of the film, the working class and the poor are treated either as convenient victims or as objects of ridicule, often simultaneously.
     Let's begin with the initial chase, where the police strap on their jetpacks and corner Cruise in an alley. Cruise attaches himself to one of the cops, beats him half senseless, then uses the jetpack to rocket his way up the side of the building, the other cops in hot pursuit. All very nicely edited with deafening music to tell us we're supposed to be in suspense. On the way up the side of the building, the cops and Cruise smash through a suspension platform where a handful of workers are standing, doing their jobs, minding their own business. The platform is reduced to kindling and the workers fall off the platform toward the ground, which we are led to believe is quite a ways down. This pointless little ballet of cruelty was put in for no other reason than to elicit chuckles from the audience.
     But it doesn't end there. Soon Cruise and his hostage smash through a window into the building itself — which we have been told is in a poor section of the city. They not only destroy the apartments of two innocent families, but in the process actually seem to hurt these innocent bystanders. Again, this is played for laughs.
     Next we have the spider sequence, wherein we are treated to a faux-Rear Window recreation; one of the spiders scurries across the roof, and we are treated to, 1) A poor couple arguing — their interruption by the spiders played for laughs; 2) A couple making love in a seedy room, whose activities — again played for laughs — are interrupted by the spiders, and, 3) An old man being scanned by a spider as he is sitting on the toilet. And all are put through this humiliation by a group of folks who are supposed to be the good guys.
     Next we have the sequence where Cruise and the precog Agatha are being chased through the shopping mall. They escape into a service corridor where an old homeless man sits, begging for change. The precog tells Cruise to throw down some coins. He does, and the old man, on hands and knees, begins picking them up, only to be smashed to the floor as the cops break into the corridor and fall over him. Funny stuff. Had this been the only instance in the film where a poor person or a member of the working class was humiliated in such a way, it might have been pardoned, but it isn't; there are several examples of this contempt for the poor and the working class scattered through the film, many of them a bit more subtle than those listed here, but just as contemptuous.
     What disturbs me about this is that — with the exception of the homeless man, whose humiliation arguably serves the plot — is that all of these slapstick assaults were not necessary to the story. They were choices made either by the screenwriters or the director (my guess is the latter) to give audiences something to laugh at. Had there been any philosophical arguments about class distinction introduced in the story line (the poor and working class are beneath we, the Protected), it might have been justified and — as distasteful as it might have been — would have served the underlying themes of the story (if it had any, which, as presented here, it does not).
     My sneaking suspicion that these assaults and humiliations were put in the film without a second thought. They're working slobs, or they're homeless, or drug addicts, so who cares? (And by the way, for as pathetic and distasteful as drug addicts are presented to be in this film, isn't it interesting that our supposed hero's severe drug problem simply disappears ninety minutes into the movie, thus making him all the more admirable and his plight that much more compelling?)
     For all the lapses in logic that have been debated in the other letters, I find it interesting that the film's lapse in humanity has gone largely unnoticed.
     Sincerely,

Gary A. Braunbeck
14 July 2002


Category Error

Dear Locus Online,
     I read the previous letters in response to John Shirley's review of Minority Report with a sense of admiration at the intellectual and imaginative effort expended in spotting conceptual errors in the film, and the equal effort spent in explaining those errors away. But I can't help feeling that a major point has been missed here. All the responses are perpetrating, if you'll pardon the pun, a category error. They all assume that the film must be read as if it were a 'realist' text, accurately and consistently representing the 'real' world. It is not a text of this sort. For all the detailed flair of its staging and cinematography, it is SF psycho-myth, trading liberally and I think fruitfully on Oedipal anxieties.
     Take the eyeballs. From a pseudo-realist point of view of course all the business with eyeballs is absurd... they'd rot in his pockets; without blood in the veins the retinas wouldn't fool any retinal scan, and so on. But the very absurdity, surely, compels us to read this material in *non*realist terms: as self-conscious visual play with notions of symbolic castration of the lead character, the clash with the powerful father (Max Von Sydow), anxieties of disempowerment and so on. Maybe you think this doesn't work *as myth*, but it's as myth that it needs to be taken, not as documentary verisimilitude. My sense on seeing the movie was that the scriptwriters had paid close attention during their college classes in Freud 101 and were doing their damndest to work through their concept as thoroughly as possible: what does Freud say about Oedipus's self-willed eyeballectomy? Castration anxiety. What does he say about arachnophobia (those nasty little metallic spiders that try and sniff Tom Cruise out of his seedy hotel)? The same. And so on, through a dozen or more aspects of the film.

Adam Roberts
London UK
10 July 2002


It's entertainment

Dear Locus Online,
     Oh Ted (how are you anyway, Ted? Email me!) and ya'll--
     It's just an entertainment. Get a suspension of disbelief!

John Shirley
7 July 2002


Meretricious piece of skiffy

Dear Locus Online,
     My old friend John Shirley says, "When Cruise is asking to keep his eyes, he means in a container, not in his head. He asks to keep them, the guy lets him keep them, then he uses them. What's the problem?"
     I hate to see John shilling for this meretricious piece of skiffy, especially if he is reduced to asking such foolish questions.
     "What's the problem?" Well, to begin with, Cruise carries his "old" eyeballs around in a Zip-Lok baggie. Unrefrigerated, in his pocket. It would not have been hard for Spielberg to posit a small refrigerated case that runs on 9-volt batteries or somesuch and fits in one's pocket — it would be no greater a leap than those silly "maglev" cars which have wheels but can run sideways — but he doesn't bother. Why should he? He's got to set in motion that absolutely jarring scene in which Cruise drops the eyeballs and chases after them. (It's jarring because it intrudes Three Stooges silliness, turning a tense scene into inappropriate slapstick. Typical of Spielberg, whose 1941 proved he couldn't direct comedy.)
     Does anyone believe retinal ID will work on unrefrigerated irises a day or two after the eyeballs have been removed from their human sockets? Maybe? Okay, how about weeks later — when Cruise's wife uses one of them?
     Then there's the question, why does Cruise save them? The obvious answer is, for the use to which he puts them — to regain entrance into his old offices. But why would he for a single minute expect them to work? And why do they work? Why hasn't the system been programmed to, at a minimum, reject them? Or, more likely, to sound alarms and lock down the area he's in? And why, after he demonstrated his use of his old eye ID, does it still work, much later, when his wife makes use of one of them?
     There are so many other, ancillary, problems. The illicit doctor tells Cruise that as a cop he had the doctor jailed. The doctor seems resentful, and we are set up to expect consequences. But none occur. The doctor says Cruise must keep his new eyes bandaged for 24 hours or he'll go blind (but only until he swaps eyes again, eh?). Cruise has to expose one eye to the blinding light of a "spider" before the 24 hours are up. But he doesn't suffer any ill-effects. Not even a squint or a blink. Spielberg keeps setting up and dropping such plot threads. They exist solely to make the viewer apprehensive — to ratchet up the suspense another notch. This is an old Spielberg trick, one which dates back to Jaws. It is as fraudulent now as it ever was.
     I might just add that in Minority Report Spielberg also proved he can't direct action sequences either. Those in Minority Report were unbelievably silly — a comic-book approach in which one man can escape eight heavily armed men who surround him.
     All best,

Ted White
4 July 2002


Further Points

Dear Locus Online,
     Having just seen Minority Report, I have a some comments to make about the debate over the gaps of logic and consistency in the plot. I won't do a whole numbered list, but will just comment on a few things that actually were mentioned in the film, but that had not been brought up as of yet.
     Regarding the precogs and their civil rights, the ACLU is mentioned as involved in the debate over precrime. It wouldn't be too ridiculous an assumption to suspect that the precogs' own imprisonment is an issue. Additionally, if we recall the scene where the children are touring the precrime facilities, they are being lied to. They are told that the precogs have all sorts of conveniences and benefits and that it is great fun to be a precog. It wouldn't be shocking to think that the adult population is being lied to as well. Indeed, maybe the Al-Queda supporters down in Cuba aren't being treated all that well either!
     Further, it is never said that the precogs can only see murders, just that murders have the most profound impact on their psyches. It would hardly be a stretch to think that the precogs do see a fair number of assaults and rapes, but not all of them or not well enough to justify precriminal mobilization. This makes sense, as there are sometime thin lines between shoving contests and assaults, and consensual sex and sexual crime. Murder, on the other hand, usually lacks that sort of gray area.
     My main complaint was this: why bother framing John (Cruise) for murder? So he discovers missing files, big deal. Why not just transfer him, bust him for the drugs he uses, or even frame him for the long-ago pre-precog murder of his own son, a frame-up that would not require all sorts of loose ends or chances to fail? Dick's original tale isn't so complex, but also didn't have enough plot for a two-hour feature film. Unfortunately, the additional plot points aren't that interesting or well-established.
     A related concern: what's the social evolution of an urban area free from murder? I would have liked to see some difference in the way the city worked, like a more crowded urban center as folks don't fear for their lives and could thus walk the streets at night, or an increase in maiming and torture crimes. Sure, you can't get away with murder, but you can get away with kidnapping someone and cutting their fingers, ears and tongue off, assuming you take reasonable care. Ten seconds on a throwaway scene or even a shot of an interactive newspaper relating a story about these things would have been fine.

Nick Mamatas
1 July 2002


Back to You

Dear Locus Online,
     In response to the responses to our initial response to Minority Report, we would just like to say: (1) We didn't go into the theater wanting to dislike the movie. We went into the movie thinking we would enjoy it — based on all of the good reviews. We've enjoyed Cruise in other movies and we've enjoyed some of Spielberg's films. (2) The reason we could not enjoy the movie is because the logic problems kept jolting us out of the movie. This was not a joint critique while the movie was in progress — which is to say, we didn't share our thoughts until after the movie — but they were identical. As for the point that entertainment should be exempt from being logical or from being based on scripts that do not have obvious logic problems or sloppiness in them... well, that's just making excuses for the film makers. As for the point that we should stand behind SF movies because we need to support the field — when a good one comes along, we'll be happy to support it, as we have in the past. We stand by our original response.

Jeff & Ann VanderMeer
2 July 2002


An Extended Reply

Dear Locus Online,
     With your indulgence, an extended reply to Jeff and Ann VanderMeerís comments on Minority Report.

  1. An interesting point as to whether or not a detached eyeball would satisfy a retinal scan, and I grant the implausibility of the authorities not immediately "changing the locks" once Cruise is on the run. But how does this contradict the eyes not being viable on the black market because they are the eyes of a fugitive? How many people on the street would specifically need an eye that would break them into the precogsí chamber?
  2. "We are never given any explanation for how the precogsí civil rights were violated..." Whatís to explain? The government decided that violating the rights of a small group of individuals was necessary to maintain the security of a larger group. Sound familiar?
  3. We are told in the movie that the precogs are the only survivors of an experiment, and we are not told that taking the precog program national would happen overnight. Itís perfectly reasonable to assume that, if the program went national, these experiments would be resumed with the goal of producing a sufficient number of precogs to cover the whole country.
  4. The people who said the precogs could only see murders are the same people who did not know that the precogs could not file "minority reports." The discovery of what the precogs can and canít really do is a major component of the whole film.
  5. Cruise did not "lay low" to avoid committing the murder because, as his character says more than once, everyone runs; you have to keep running. His compulsion to avoid capture and to try to solve the puzzle outweighs everything, and he does not believe he can do either by standing still. This may not be the most sensible action one might take, but it is completely consistent with Cruiseís character.
  6. Point taken. Agatha would not have been able to walk at all after emerging from the tank. One can only recall John Fordís alleged reply when someone asked him why the Indians didnít just shoot the stagecoach horses: "Then we wouldnít have a chase, now would we?"
  7. Given what I see every time I turn on CNN, I have no trouble at all imagining that a facility such as the Containment for precriminals would be supervised by someone of less than comprehensive intellect. As for why the precriminals were held in stasis rather than imprisoned, well, they're precriminals. They havenít committed any crimes, and the government, which of course has all our best interests at heart, would never imprison people who havenít broken the law, right? Far from being nonsensical, this part of the movie is a brilliant bit of Orwellian parsing that makes explicit one of the key themes of the movie.
  8. I think any sense of a failure to integrate old and new settings may derive not so much from how Spielberg has laid out his future D.C. (how far is that ratty hotel where Cruise gets his new eyes from the shiny downtown?) but how the movie is photographed. As Lisa Schwarzbaum observes in Entertainment Weekly, the director and cinematographer "identify the Ďbestí values with the least futuristic, most traditional, and most warmly lit landscapes of thriving green plants, warm wood architecture, and handsome furniture." Perhaps not a filmmaking choice we agree with, but one that is thematically consistent.
  9. Itís perfectly reasonable to assume that Cruise, as the head of the precog facility, knows the layout of the building well enough to effect his and Agathaís escape from the pool. Point taken about the missing establishing shot; Iíll bet there was one that was removed, unwisely, in the final cut.
  10. How do we know what bottled water companies will be around in fifty years? Displaying contemporary brand names in a future setting is always a calculated risk
  11. As I remember it, the second precog vision which doesnít include the identity of the murderer is extracted from Agatha when she is outside the tank; itís reasonable to assume that her abilities will be functioning differently in a more stressful environment. I will, however, potentially grant the point simply because Iím not sure my own memory is accurate here.
     I do not mean to imply by any of the above that Jeff and Ann are somehow "wrong" to dislike Minority Report. Obviously, the movie didnít work for them for a variety of reasons. Based on my viewing of the movie, however, I do think that many of the problems they find are not problems at all.
     I also think that those of us in within the SF community who have spent years, decades even, having our hopes for SF film and TV constantly undermined by the scientific and logical blunders of careless writers and directors — from the inevitable sound-in-a-vacuum in any given Star Trek episode to the top-to-bottom stupidity of a movie such as Independence Day — all too often approach high-profile SF films with the attitude that the film and its makers are guilty until proven innocent. And I think this attitude is, by now, unproductive. This does not mean that we should buy into the inaccurate and insulting notion that SF films donít have to make sense because, after all, theyíre just science fiction. But we need to remember that movies are what the name says. They are moving pictures, and a major factor in judging their artistic success or failure is, quite simply, how well those pictures move. The fight scenes in Minority Report look choreographed? Well, they are splendidly choreographed. The scene in the auto plant strains credulity? So what? Itís brilliantly staged. Those cops wouldnít be flying around in giant hair dryers (as Anthony Lane described them in his New Yorker review)? Well, they wouldnít be doing any of the things theyíre doing in the movie, because individuals with the kind of precognitive abilities depicted in Minority Report do not exist and never will. Minority Report mixes stock SF devices with just enough plausibility to give us a literalized metaphor for panoptic surveillance and personal invasion. Indeed, the tension between the plausible and the implausible — between the shopping mall and the flying hair dryers — was, for me, one of the movie's chief virtues. That, and the fact that it was — lest we forget — well-acted and superbly edited, photographed, and directed.
     Jeff and Ann conclude, "Films should be critiqued at the level at which they fail. If they fail at a basic level, it becomes pointless to even discuss larger issues of theme, etc." I disagree. Emphatically. If we critique a film only at the level at which it fails, then all films fail. Deferring for now the highly debatable point of whether or not theme is a "basic level," a film, or any other work of art, should be critiqued at every level, where it succeeds as well as where it fails. If it succeeds more than it fails, it's a success.
     This is not to say that there are not greater and lesser degrees of success, and this is certainly not to say that Spielberg's film is a total success. There are minor problems here and there, and, like many, I was uncertain about the ending. But Minority Report succeeds far more than it fails, and when it succeeds, it succeeds brilliantly.
     Best,

F. Brett Cox
30 June 2002


Major on Minor on Minor

Dear Locus Online,
     A major report on the minority report on Minority Report:
     I certainly sympathize with Jeff & Ann VanderMeer. Hollywood never quite does Phil Dick justice, though Bladerunner came close, and with the outrageous prices charged for tickets, now, one feels cheated by many Hollywood entertainments. But that last word, entertainment, should not be forgotten. I believe that one needs to have a sense of perspective about big-money Hollywood films. They should be better than the theme park rides many of them resemble — the Bruckheimer films mostly arenít better — and many films reek of a certain contempt for the audience. I applaud the VanderMeers' standing up and shaking their fists, together. Thatís a worthwhile thing. More people should demand higher quality.
     It seems to me, though, the VanderMeers went to the movie with an ax to grind, and not only ground it but swung it wildly. Tom Cruise being in the title role has a way of making people hostile to a film. (I thought he was surprisingly good in Interview with the Vampire — perhaps Scientologists have an innate affinity with vampires). Spielberg has symbolized overblown Hollywood pretension and false emotion and button-pushing to many people, though I think this is mostly unfair. This view of him is more a critical trend than an insight. Heís no Kubrick or Fellini, but heís a strong, sometimes gifted, director, who has mastered the form within his limitations. And I think despite some script problems, he carried this film off masterfully.
     But letís go right to the VanderMeerís point by point axings re Minority Report (see above). Here are my responses (not entirely in disagreement):

  1. When Cruise is asking to keep his eyes, he means in a container, not in his head. He asks to keep them, the guy lets him keep them, then he uses them. Whatís the problem?
  2. Itís true up to a point about the scripters neglecting the apparent violation of the civil rights of the precogs — I too thought they ought to have mentioned that issue, though it didnít seem important enough for the review, as their condition is founded in the basic premise of the story (rather outrageous in the first place). And youíre assuming the precogs are there against their will — this is never established — and that theyíre unhappy. Thatís not established either. Some legalistic arrangement can be assumed, probably relating to the legislation that established the PreCrime outfit in the first place. As for the precog retreat to the cabin thing, this is not unreasonable to me. (I myself have often yearned to retreat in just that way). First, the precogs have not had much experience of the ordinary human world. They would have a hard time with it. Second, people worshipped them, made them a cult object, that would be something dangerous theyíd want to escape from. Third, they might still be troubled by visions of murderers — but in this retreat murders would usually be out of their effective range. So they donít have to be tormented by seeing murders there.
  3. We may presume they will find other precogs or create them; after all, it was suggested that the process of creating them had to do with genetic engineering. It could be done again.
  4. Special conditions prevail when this is happening. The precog is pulled from their womb and into the world of people. Also we presume that they are in some sense attuned to murders while working at PreCrime. But that doesnít mean she doesnít have other precognitive abilities. Also she can have such abilities they didnít know about till then. All this is not unreasonable to assume.
  5. They treated this. He wanted to KNOW without delay. He felt compelled to know the truth. So he had to go find that truth. Itís a heavy thing to be saddled with, without resolution for a long time. I donít blame him. Secondly, he had to be always on the move anyway — they have so many ways to find you, as the spider robots demonstrated, going to ground was dangerous. He barely made it through in that surgeonís tenement. Thirdly, he might anyway have concluded that hiding somewhere would not have prevented the murder, since he didnít know what caused it. Perhaps he would be murdering someone where he was hiding to wait out the murder time. The victim might stumble onto him there. Hiding might bring the murder about!
  6. They did show Agatha having trouble moving about, but she would have some muscle tone, which would have been electrically induced. It would be unhealthy — and it wouldíve been bad PR — to let her body waste away. With various chemical and probably electrical means they would have give her some muscle tone. Her keeper could well have exercised her, too, in place, like a physical therapist. Certainly would have.
  7. "Gomer Pyle" is there because the system is remarkably automated. He is actually redundant and itís probably a sinecure; heís probably some officialís nephew who needed a job. He doesnít have to do anything but sit there. This is in line with things in the real world. Oh, the dopes who are found Ďin controlí at some technical things. As for this system — no penal system is very workable. They all suck. But we canít seem to do without them. People inevitably try new methods, such as this one. Since in this case these people are going to commit crimes, rehabilitating them may seem doomed from the start. This is the only way to make sure they donít commit the crimes, even after apparent rehab. In one sense this system is quite humane as the prisoners donít suffer. So far as we know.
  8. Real life often doesnít Ďintegrate settingsí. If I go from downtown San Francisco to the Mission District, as sometimes I do, I can tell you that they look radically different. Almost no old buildings in downtown now. Almost no new ones in the Mission. There is a stark contrast in the real world between the haves and the have-nots, and thatís what he was showing; he was contrasting social classes, re those tenements; heís saying that the class issue does not go away. And if youíre talking about country bungalows in the story, there were modern touches that showed up there, but I doubt if they, overall, are very different in 50 years. They only differ now from 50 years ago by the presence of a PC and maybe a DVD player, or satellite dish. But apart from that, thereís no radical difference. He could have put a little more in though. Kubrick did, itís true, in A Clockwork Orange.
  9. I partly agree: I have no problem with Cruiseís character knowing the schematics of the building, since itís so high security and they must protect the precogs I think he would know it. My problem with this escape is that it is ridiculous. Why should the drain be so dangerously big? And yes, where does it go? It was cartoonish, literally like something youíd see in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I regard it as a flaw in the story. I forgot it when writing my review, but it is silly.
  10. So what? There are products now that were around fifty years and more ago, e.g. Coca Cola. And there probably will be that kind of advertising and youíve got to put something there and bottled water will be very common in the future. Product placement is a bit of an embarrassment, in my opinion, but itís not easy to pay for one of these big movies. Itís a lotta damn dough.
  11. I seem to recall that the precog knows the killer but is interfered with before she can express who it is. Thereís some technical issue having to do with seeing the event backwards for some reason and having to show it again forward too... All this couldíve been a little clearer in the film but I think itís all there.
     What worked for me in the film was the world depicted. The overall plot, which worked well enough — despite that annoying drain business and the action — was just a framework for that vision. The lady scientist (you mightíve complained about the rather too convenient info dump she provided, telling Anderton things he should already have known) was a great character and her relationship to her genetically engineered intelligent plants was good science fiction. The scenes in the tenement were great. Some of the car scenes. I had no problem with the eyeball-lock-opening trick. It seems to me it could work and thatís what matters.
     Ultimately my feeling is that one has to suspend oneís disbelief a fair amount for most SF films, and you also have to allow for the impossibility of getting across every last explanation for every detail of a fantasized future world; youíd spend the entire movie in info dumpings otherwise. Much has to be assumed, and most of the film was well constructed so that we could assume those things... if we didnít go into the movie angry at it even before the credits.

John Shirley
28 June 2002



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