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Outtakes: On Movies

Minority Report and The Fast Runner

Minority Report begins with some promise: an imaginative plot, decent acting, inventive year 2054 technology, and a tense countdown to the prevention of a murder. At the beginning there is hope that maybe this time Steven Spielberg is not going to sink into sugary or quasi-deep thoughts; maybe he’ll keep the sci-fi thriller pulsing along at a smart clip, throwing in his tech inventions for a half-century hence.

Spielberg does this for about 20 minutes. Then the pace begins to flag (we have two more hours to go) and substitute sugar begins to dissolve into its fissures. But there are three moments that give us Spielberg at his most inventive.

The first involves delicate heat and sound seeking robot spiders set to search out Tom Cruise, who is submerged in a bath holding his breath. He almost escapes, but a single bubble rises to the surface just as the last spider scampers out of the bathroom. The spider hears its soft pop and they descend on Cruise. Spielberg’s timing is exquisite.

The second moment comes when Cruise enters a Gap store with his newly implanted eyes (all ID in 2054 is done through eye scans). The holographic sales person chirps, “Welcome, Mr. Yakomoto. How did those sports shirts you bought fit?” (Tom now has Japanese eyes). This presents us with the chilling thought that 50 years from now, or much sooner, we will be bombarded by personalized ads.

The third is almost a throwaway gag but is clever nonetheless. Cruise has taken the chief “pre-cog” (a wasted Samantha Morton) from her watery Delphic oracle into a department store. Pre-cogs, in Philip K. Dick’s imagination (the movie is based on his short story) are kinds of genetic mutations who never die, foresee murders, and alert the “pre-Crime” squad, which then prevents the predicted murder. As they cross the department store floor, Agatha whispers to a woman we’ve never seen before nor will ever see again: “Don’t go home. He knows!” It is swift yet subtle and Spielberg spikes in these moments.

But the movie as a whole sags and its tone derails. The chases and fights (all too long) are diluted by totally unnecessary sentimental touches, such as the pre-cog’s discovery of a closet full of toys belonging to Cruise’s kidnapped son (the kidnap happened six years earlier and too much is made of holograms of the adorable little six-year-old). “This house is so full of love,” Agatha meltingly sighs.

Into the mix also goes a botched attempt at parody with an eye surgeon and his blond foreign assistant who immediately grabs Cruise’s butt. The doctor’s office is filthy and he blows snot from his nose before replacing Tom’s eyes: typical touches of this heavy-handed scene.

In addition, there’s a strange scene with Lois Smith, the “mother” of the pre-cogs who experimented with human genetic mutations and, having lost many hundreds, stumbled into Agatha and the boy twins who foresee together as a “hive.” If one of them disagrees about a future vision, its dissent is called a “minority report.”

The Lois Smith scene is larded with philosophic musings on the nature of Fate, the fates, etc. (perhaps there is a political subtext here about genetic manipulation). The scene takes place in a blindingly backlit giant greenhouse filled with all kinds of flowers from delphiniums to serpenty venus flytrap types, but nothing comes of this aside.

Maybe the flowers were recycled to use on the last saccharine scenes: Cruise and his rather-suddenly-introduced-long-separated-but-now-pregnant wife are gazing dreamily out the window of their love-filled-lakeside house and Agatha and the twins are ensconced in a Hobbit cottage in a Devonshire-style hill and dale.

How did your inventive hi-tech super-highway going-up-and-down-the-side-of-a-skyscraper movie end up here, Mr. Spielberg?

* * *

Just a quick note on a must-see classic, even if it is gone from the theaters by now: The Fast Runner, a three-hour film that speeds by. It is the first Inuit film ever made, taking 10 years in its struggle. The plot is distilled from Unit oral legends, involving clan rivalries, murders, incest, and fights over a woman—lots of juice and ultimate justice.

The crew learned the old crafts from the Inuit elders, such as how to make igloos, fur clothing, dog sled runners, and some of the ancient hunting, fishing and fighting techniques . The most extraordinary scene in the chase of a stark naked man belonging to one clan by three men with dog sleds of the rival clan. The naked man runs for hours and hours over the ice and tundra until he miraculously escapes, though his feet have become bloody shards of flesh hanging from bone. The camera work is superlative, catching the nuances of the many shades of white and the scale of the tiny men against the Arctic vastness. The acting, mostly by non-professionals, is strong, fresh, and elemental.

The film, winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes and directed by Zacharias Kunuk, will be around for epochs. Minority Report, in spite of its future visions, has no staying power.

Star chart (out of 5)

Minority Report *

The Fast Runner *****


Galen Williams

GALEN WILLIAMS ran the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in the 1960s.


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