Thursday, June 05, 2008

Stop Right There

I started watching Minority Report last night. I’m really not sure why. I mean I certainly wasn’t going to see it through to the end. Not because it finished way past my bedtime for a school night, but simply because it was a thoroughly stoopid movie that I never much cared for.

Prior to the theatrical release back in 2002, some PR woman had pushed tickets my way for a special screening down at the National Film Theatre. If I remember rightly there was also a special on-stage discussion afterwards involving various scientists and futurists. Obviously they had been roped in to yack about the viability of the future world depicted in the movie.

After all, shouldn’t we be suitably forewarned that, in years to come, cars will run down the sides of buildings on special tracks and breakfast cereals will have their own utterly annoying animated packs. Of course there was also the really important stuff to be clued up on, like it’s best not to carry your original eyeballs around with you after a transplant.

The fact that the emphasis of the event seemed to be on the look of the film rather than the narrative sent up early warning signals that we hoped would be dispelled. Except once the film began it was clear Minority Report was stuffed with more then enough of the usual science fiction tropes even before being infused with the typical blend of Phil Dick paranoia and mentalness.

As for the talk, we didn’t stick around. By then we didn’t care. As soon as the credits arrived we were up out of our seats and hightailing it for the exit. The friend I took along wasn’t impressed with the film. The following year I dragged him along to an early morning critics screening of The Matrix Reloaded in IMAX. That time he wasn’t impressed with me. When I called regarding The Matrix Revolutions IMAX screening I think he pretended he was his own answerphone message.

Straight after the Minority Report screening we zeroed in on the nearest restaurant. Over the meal we came to the conclusion that the film would have been a better, at least as far as we were concerned, if it had finished earlier. It’s obvious that over the past few years most films are too long. Did, for instance, Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End really need to be over two-and-a-half hours long?

When people say a film could lose twenty minutes, they’re probably right but I always want to ask then which twenty minutes in particular. Our opinion of Minority Report was that there were specific instances in the narrative where, if the screen went black and the credits began to roll, it would been have a better film.

The first instance was when Cruise’s John Anderton is caught, tried for the murders he didn’t commit and placed in the suspended-animation pokey. I suppose that would be the end of the film’s second act, right? It would be a real downer, but by then the real killer had been revealed, the story had pretty much all been explained, and if it hadn’t, there’s nothing wrong with a little ambiguity hanging over everyone. Sure, the bad guy gets away with it but so what? At least it would be something different.

If the downer ending wasn’t to everyone’s taste we figured the next ending would be the “European” or “1970s” ending. That would occur when the government official who turns out to be the killer takes his own life rather than shoot Anderton. There was a pretty good reason for his action, but I didn’t get this far last night to be reminded of it. Wasn’t it that the pre-crime officers would have to continue their work knowing that it was fallible?

We certainly could have lived with that. But damn it, it had to keep going until it reached the big, syrupy Hollywood ending where the pre-cogs were taken out of the tub, unplugged, dressed in their Gap clothing and left to bathe in the glorious afternoon sunshine. Frankly, it made us want to vomit ourselves inside out.

Carrying on eating, we tried to think of other films that should have stopped a reel or two earlier so that things were left a little more ambiguous and left to the audience to decide what happened rather than wrapping everything up with a neat bow. The only one I could come up with was The Abyss.

That’s great movie about blue-collar underwater roughnecks finding themselves in extreme and unexplained situations. Especially when Michael Biehn’s character starts wigging out from the pressure once he’s in possession of a nuclear warhead. It’s fine up until Ed Harris has to go deep into the abyss and encounters the floaty aliens in their tie-dyed spaceship. Whether it’s the longer, extended special edition or the straight theatrical release, right about that time the whole film goes to hell.

You could say, let’s ditch the whole alien premise but then that’s what causes the sub to crash right at the beginning. So... I figured it should end with the first floaty alien watch Ed Harris’ Bud Brigman gradually run out of air after he’s deactivated the bomb. Meanwhile, in the damaged Deepcore the handful of survivors haven’t got a clue what’s going to happen with them or up topside.

At least then there would be none of the frozen tidal wave shit, or having to set eyes on the horrible scale models used when the space ship rises to the surface. Or, worse than anything else, watch a conclusion based on the idea that love will win through and solve everything. In fact love means never having to decompress. I mean, for fuck’s sake! What was THAT all about?

Sure an ending that leaves everyone in the dark, literally, is going to bum some people out but maybe it’s what the characters and situation deserve. Sometimes, when the audience wants to be treated like adults, it’s what they deserve. Anyway, there has to be films that you’d prefer to have seen chopped back. Say your piece while I grab a bite to eat and check out the latest pornography.


At 7:45 am, Blogger Tom said...

I've just finished reading a book called "The Third Act" which looks at films with great endings but also considers films with not so great endings - Minority Report is amongst them. His (he being Drew Yanno, a screenwriter and lecturer) observations are that the third act is redundant because all of the questions that were raised in the first act were answered when Anderton confronted the bloke he's meant to kill. So you might be on to something.

At 2:25 pm, Blogger World of Miggins said...

Long time reader, first time commenter.

I recently sat through AI again (my other half had some yearning to watch it again) and I once again felt that it should be left with David sitting at the bottom of the sea looking at the Blue Fairy until his batteries ran out. The next 30 minutes or so where he's found by aliens and they resurrect his memories of his "mother" felt like an exercise in making a long film even longer.

At 4:59 pm, Blogger wcdixon said...

Great post, sir. I'd actually be interested in hearing the writer/filmmakers rationale for some of those third acts...what were they thinking?

At 8:02 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Tom, thanks for the heads up there, I’ll look out for Yanno’s book. For me, I think as long as most of the main questions thrown up during the movie are answered, that’s good enough for me. A while back I was talking about missing the great films from the 1970s, like Arthur Penn’s Night Moves or Hickey & Boggs which had no tidy resolutions. Back then you could get away with an unhappy ending, and that was great.

Funnily enough, writing the post got me thinking about the original Star Trek series. The episodes, like a lot of American drama series, would end with the characters back together, usually having a laugh once the status quo had been restored. This carried on for ages, simply because most episodes were self contained stories.

Then came Miami Vice, around the time I was starting my degree. Other US TV shows might have already started to change their ways – certainly Hill Street Blues had already brought in long, ongoing, overlapping storylines, but even then each episode would start with the Roll Call and end with Furillo and Joyce Davenport so there was still a format. With Miami Vice, Michael Mann brought a filmmaking sensibility to the TV cop show. Yes there would be musical interludes, which is what most people flagged up, along with the style and cinematography, what did it for me was the editing in terms of storytelling. Episodes would reach their denouement and then they were over. The credits burst in and that was that.

It really was a case of come in late and leave early and it worked for that genre. Films that have a lot of money poured into them seem to want to make the audience very comfortable as well as be entertained. Outside in the real world there’s madness and goodness knows what going on, but here in the cinema everything is safe and fluffy! Pathetic!

WoM, good to know you’re out there. I watched AI just the once when it came out. I know you can now pick the two-disc DVD up for three quid, or something daft like that, but I just don’t want it on my shelves. I love Stanley Kubrick’s films and Supertoys Last All Summer Long is a great short story, but if Stanley couldn’t crack it in all the years he worked on the script, what on earth made Spielberg think he could?

That film for me ended when the mother takes David out for a drive and ditches him in the woods, which is... about half and hour into the film? That would have done it for me. After that I pretty much watched it with my head in my hands. By the time the aliens finally turn up I think I might have been on my knees weeping.

Will, good to hear from you fella. Boy, that would make a great series of talks, getting the filmmakers to explain what they thought they were doing. Immediately blaming the studio would not be allowed. In fact that excuse would probably incur electric shock penalties. I hope you’re already writing the pitch.

At 7:42 pm, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

One of the two great mysteries of our time is how a studio can commit to spending maybe $200m on a movie without first having sight of a coherent screenplay.

The calculation seems to be that once the 'bankable elements' are in place, who gives a fuck about the story.

On the subject of stuff that should have ended sooner, I thought the conclusion of Mr Moffat's Doctor Who two-parter would have worked better without all the happiness and hugging at the end. But I'm a grumpy bastard who likes to see characters die occasionally.

Overall, though, it was a brilliant piece of writing.

The second great mystery of our time - in case you were wondering - is how Stephen Moffat finds himself taking script notes from Russell T Davies.


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