Minority Report

Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow, Lois Smith, Peter Stormare, Tim Blake Nelson. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround 2.0. Two discs. 146 minutes. 2002. DreamWorks Home Entertainment 89989. PG-13. $29.99.

It's 50 years from now, and a technology that identifies murderers before they strike has eliminated that crime in Washington, DC. The experimental Precrime unit uses the unique precognition talents of three human "precogs" to predict and preempt (lots of "pre"s here) homicide, and has proven so successful that it's about to go national. But when the chief of the unit himself stands accused, he must solve the mystery. Has he been set up, has the system failed, or is he, indeed, about to kill a man he's never even heard of?

Director Steven Spielberg calls Minority Report his first film noir. It's a dark film in more ways than one. Director of photography Janusz Kaminski's normally grainy photographic style has been carried to an extreme here by a post-production process that bleaches much of the color from the images, creating a cold, bluish cast far more stark in its effect than even the contrasty black-and-white images normally associated with classic films noirs. This look, and John Williams' patently unpretty score (there's nothing here from his bottomless bag of memorable motifs), permeate the entire mood of the film. All of this was clearly deliberate.

So was the lack of any underlying sense of emotional uplift—an unusual and, for some critics (though not this one), refreshing departure from the usual Spielberg formula. There aren't any really likable characters. It's also a pretty bleak look at the future, with the Bill of Rights clearly having been amended: No trials are apparent—how would you try someone for a crime they haven't yet committed?—and unreasonable searches and seizures are routine.

But Minority Report is an entertaining 2½ hours that move rapidly enough that you don't stop to ask about a few yawning plot holes until after they're over. How, for example, are the three precogs supposed to predict crimes for 300 million Americans when the unit goes national? Or are there hundreds more precogs waiting in the wings? The film suggests otherwise—a few lines here and there strongly indicate that the precogs are three of a kind. And how, exactly, are the precogs being held as virtual prisoners, tapped for their psychic information much as the human race in The Matrix was tapped for its electrical output? Again, that sticky aborted-Constitution thingy. And last, a rare lazy-script moment unmasks the villain in one of the hoariest plot clichés in existence.

That none of this reduces the film's potency is a tribute to the filmmakers and the concept itself, based on a short story by science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Dick's fertile but pessimistic imagination has turned up in other memorable film adaptations, including Blade Runner and Total Recall. Perhaps what's important in Minority Report is not the plot holes or the unlikelihood of it all, but the cautionary note it brings about the shapes into which human society can morph, for good or bad. It certainly makes you think.

The picture is excellent, in its own peculiar way. If I'd seen this DVD without having seen the film in the theater, or knowing why it looks the way it does, I'd rate it very low on the scale of quality (or, at least, eye-candy). But the look is deliberate, and there's no visible edge enhancement or other distracting artifacts to bring down the grade; thus the top rating. (The film is also available in a separate pan&scan version, which was not reviewed.)

The soundtrack, too, is excellent, whether in DTS or Dolby Digital. If it's a shade less impressive than the best soundtracks I've heard recently, it's no less impressive for its detail and clarity, from the "footsteps" of the mechanical spiders (the film's creepiest sequence) to the loudest crescendos.

I didn't find the extras particularly gripping. The special effects and stunts are covered well. There's no commentary track—no surprise to fans of Spielberg films—but the director provides some interesting details in the other features. Unfortunately, these lean toward the usual "great actor to work with" and "fantastic director" chatter.

But Minority Report itself is well worth a spin in your DVD player.—TJN