Thursday, January 21, 2016

Watch This: Minority Report

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

Minority Report (2002)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg is probably the most celebrated American film director working today, an undeniably talented and influential director who is responsible for some of the most iconic American films ever made, including Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler's List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998).  And yet, despite his popularity with audiences and critics alike, he often gets a bad rap, and his work is sometimes dismissed by cinephiles as being too populist or overly sentimental.  His output over the past decade or so, ever since the release of what is arguably his last masterpiece, 2005's Munich, is certainly not as good as his earlier films, and the subpar Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) has somewhat tainted one of the most beloved film franchises in cinematic history.  However, there is no denying his skill at combining dazzling spectacle, technical precision, and deeply empathetic and humanistic storytelling.  This combination of elements is present in many of his films, but it is worth singling out one of his oft-forgotten masterworks, the 2002 sci-fi/action/mystery film Minority Report, as an example of Spielberg working at the height of his talents.

Based on a short story by acclaimed science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (whose work was also the basis for films like Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), and The Adjustment Bureau (2011), as well as the recent hit Amazon series The Man in the High Castle), Minority Report is set in Washington, D. C. in the year 2054, when an experimental police unit known as PreCrime has virtually eliminated murder in the metropolitan area over the previous six years.  The PreCrime unit, led by Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) and overseen by co-founder and director Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow), uses data generated by "PreCogs," three genetically-mutated humans who can see the future, to stop murders before they happen.  The program's success has led to an upcoming nationwide vote on whether to expand the program to the rest of the country, and shrewd Justice Department investigator Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell) is on hand to evaluate the process before the vote.  As the film opens, Witwer is present as Anderton and his team analyze the information from the PreCogs' visions of a murder that is set to occur in less than thirty minutes (premeditated murders can be predicted four days in advance, but crimes of passion committed in the heat of the moment, like this one, are harder to predict), and they rush to decipher clues from the visions in order to identify the location of the murder and fly there in time to arrest the perpetrator before he can commit the homicidal act.

Witwer raises ethical concerns about the process, pointing out the paradox inherent in the PreCrime process: it's not the future anymore if you stop it, so they are arresting people who have not actually broken any laws.  Anderton maintains his faith in the system, contending that the PreCogs only see what the killer will do, not what he/she intends to do.  However, Anderton is bothered by images of a past murder that come from the PreCog Agatha (Samantha Morton), and begins to investigate the crime, learning that the file containing Agatha's recorded vision of the crime is missing.  Returning to his office, Anderton is alerted to a new murder that will occur in three days' time, and is shocked to see that he is identified as the perpetrator.  He does not recognize the name of the victim, Leo Crow, and becomes convinced that he is being set up, despite his earlier contentions about the tamperproof nature of the process.  Anderton escapes from police headquarters and tracks down the eccentric Dr. Iris Hineman, whose research formed the basis for the PreCrime program, and learns that the PreCogs don't always agree in their visions.  Agatha, the most "talented" of the three PreCogs, will sometimes deviate from the other two, but her "minority reports" of the future crime are ignored, in order to maintain the notion of the process's infallibility.  Anderton is determined to find out who set him up, and plans to return to PreCrime headquarters to kidnap Agatha, who he believes holds the key to finding the minority report for his own predicted crime, and the truth behind the murder of Leo Crow.

There is a lot going on in Minority Report in terms of plot, characterization, and genre elements, but Spielberg, working from an excellent script by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, balances everything perfectly, and the result is a superb, intelligent blend of breathtaking action, heady science fiction spectacle, engaging mystery, and thought-provoking ethical analysis.  The film contains numerous memorable set pieces, such as Anderton's initial escape through an automotive assembly plant, and the scene in which a team of robotic "spyders" make their way through a rundown apartment building, scanning the residents' eyeballs in order to locate Anderton, whose recent eye transplant at the hands of an unsavory former surgeon manages to fool the robots.  The film is also gorgeous to look at, thanks to exemplary work by Spielberg's frequent collaborator, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, whose regular preference for muted color palettes, back- and side-lighting, wide-angle camera lenses, and a mobile camera have helped solidify the visual aesthetic that has come to be associated with Spielberg's films over the past two decades.

Spielberg has always excelled at eliciting great performances from his casts, and Minority Report is no exception.  The supporting work is uniformly commendable, especially the scene-stealing turns by Lois Smith as Dr. Hineman, and Tim Blake Nelson as the prison guard in charge of all the inmates arrested by the PreCrime unit.  Tom Cruise's work as the haunted, determined Anderton is a welcome reminder as to why he has remained one of the most popular movie stars on the planet.  He imbues Anderton with the perfect mix of steadfast professionalism and vulnerability, and his usual on-screen charisma never wavers.  It is of note that, even in a big-budget, plot-driven genre film like Minority Report, Spielberg's talent for building an emotional connection between the film and its audience is on display, due in no small part to Cruise's lead performance.  It is this sentiment that is often the target of Spielberg's critics, but there is no denying that it is what makes films like A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) and War of the Worlds (2005) work so well.

The film's central paradox, the legality and ethicality of punishing people for crimes they have not yet committed, raises questions about crime prevention efforts that are relevant even in our current society.  The film also feels somewhat prescient in its depiction of tracking and identification technologies and their uses for law enforcement and commercial purposes.  In the film, eye scanners are used for identification purposes all over the city, and automated, talking advertisements are personalized for each individual.  This brings to mind the targeted advertisements that we see while using search engines and social media sites, where products are suggested to us based upon things like our search histories and Facebook likes.

Even a decade and a half after its release, Minority Report remains one of Spielberg's most entertaining and intellectually engaging films, a seamless melding of genres that manages to tell a complex story with clarity, breeziness and style.  The film is a reminder that, despite his comparatively lackluster filmography over the last ten years, Steven Spielberg remains one of the most talented directors working today, and hopefully one whose upcoming projects will be a return to form.

Monday, January 11, 2016

New Streaming Video Trial

Now through the end of March, the library is offering trial access to the streaming video resource Ambrose Digital.  With so many students and faculty on our campus equipped with laptops and mobile devices, we're always looking for new web-based resources to connect our users with the content they need for teaching and learning.  We think Ambrose Digital fits this need perfectly, and we hope you'll give it a test drive and let us know what you think.

With videos covering a wide range of topics in the humanities, natural and health sciences, fine arts, and social sciences, Ambrose Digital offers something for everyone, and its many user-friendly features will appeal to students and faculty alike.

Videos are viewable on all devices, and all videos include synchronized closed captions that are fully searchable.  You can even begin playing a program at the segment in which your search term first appears in the captions.  Students using Ambrose Digital for research will love the citation tool, which provides citation information for a given video in eight different citation styles.  Faculty will appreciate the ease with which both full programs and shorter clips can be integrated into Seton Hill's online course management system.

The entire catalog of Ambrose videos are available during the trial period at the following link:

Give Ambrose Digital a try and let us know if you like it.  We think you will!

Monday, January 4, 2016

January Term Hours

Hours for January 4 - January 20, 2016

Sunday                    CLOSED
Monday - Friday     8:00 a.m. - 4:50 p.m.
Saturday                  9:00 a.m. - 4:50 p.m.

We will be CLOSED on Monday, January 18th for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

January 21 & 22     8:00 - 5:50 p.m.
January 23              8:00 a.m. - 4:50 p.m.

Regular spring hours will begin on January 24th.