|Man Without Qualities|
Saturday, June 22, 2002
Alone among the reviews I have seem of the new Spielberg movie Minority Report, Joe Morgenstern is savage [link requires paid subscription]- all the worse for Mr. Spielberg that Mr. Morgenstern's savaging obviously comes with great reluctance.
Some choice Morgenstern anti-blurbs:
Has Mr. Spielberg, one of the greatest entertainers in movie history, given up on entertainment? Though his movie wraps challenging ideas and ingenious visual conceits in a futurist film-noir style, it's pretentious, didactic and intentionally but mercilessly bleak in ways that classic noir never was.
"Minority Report " punishes our need for pleasure.
But what a sour and oppressive vision it turns out to be, notwithstanding a few exciting chases, some elaborate (though occasionally tacky) special effects, a haunting performance by Samantha Morton as one of the Pre-Cogs, and the sentimentality of a tacked-on coda.
Why does a Spielberg film that is a Spielberg film revel in such repugnant, assaultive images as a slovenly doctor performing eye surgery in a pigsty apartment?
The trouble with "Minority Report " is a conflict between medium and content, between an old impulse to entertain and a new desire to scarify.
On the long journey from "1941" to 2054, more has been lost than gained.
How many people would go to a movie with "it's pretentious, didactic and intentionally but mercilessly bleak!" on the poster? This review seems to expand on the old publisher's rejection letter: "Your manuscript is good and original, unfortunately ..." Does the existence of one such high-profile condemnation qualify this movie as opening to "mixed reviews?" Maybe that's just "generally positive reviews."
I am still withholding judgment on the film (I mean the movie). For one thing, I disagree with some things in this review, especially Mr. Morgenstern's statement that: "The story is so timely that the director and his colleagues might pass for Pre-Cogs themselves. It raises questions both momentous and of the moment, when we're struggling to reconcile civil rights with pressure for pre-emptive action against potential terrorists."
For reasons discussed previously, in all meaningful respects this assertion is dead wrong in my view.
And, more generally, I question if Mr. Spielberg, whose work seems to reveal a remorseless drive to extirpate all subtlety and nuance, can really be called "one of the greatest entertainers in movie history?" I don't question the wisdom of studios that hire Mr. Spielberg and rely on his judgment. And I'm not saying that high box-office receipts and high-gain cartoon-like effects don't have their place - but complete reliance on them also puts the director in his place.
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