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11 July 2002  

Intermittent postings to continue. Your humble author has a very full plate just now and will be on an every-now-and-then posting schedule (rather than a daily one) for some time to come. So check in once in awhile, enjoy the fresh blogging when I can find the time for it…and when I can't, well, there's no shortage of other excellent weblogs out there for you to read, so go give them a try already.

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09 July 2002  


They were sitting together at a restaurant, and loud music with a heavy beat poured out of a nearby speaker as they ate.

"It's a vicious circle," Sabina said. "People are going deaf because music is played louder and louder. But because they're going deaf, it has to be played louder still."

"Don't you like music?" Franz asked.

"No," said Sabina, and then added, "though in a different era…" She was thinking of the days of Johann Sebastian Bach, when music was like a rose blooming on a boundless snow-covered plain of silence.

Noise masked as music had pursued her since early childhood. During her years at the Academy of Fine Arts, students had been required to spend whole summer vacations at a youth camp. They lived in common quarters and worked together on a steelworks construction site. Music roared out of loudspeakers on the site from five in the morning to nine at night. She felt like crying, but the music was cheerful, and there was nowhere to hide, not in the latrine or under the bedclothes: everything was in range of the speakers. The music was like a pack of hounds that had been sicked on her.

At the time, she had thought that only in the Communist world could such musical barbarism reign supreme. Abroad, she discovered that the transformation of music into noise was a planetary process by which mankind was entering the historical phase of total ugliness. The total ugliness to come had made itself felt first as omnipresent acoustical ugliness: cars, motorcycles, electric guitars, drills, loudspeakers, sirens. The omnipresence of visual ugliness would soon follow.

— from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

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08 July 2002  

Thanks again, Blogger! Due to various technical difficulties experienced by everybody's favorite weblog software, the Fourth of July gap in postings was longer and more total than I had anticipated. Sorry about that. I hope you do enjoy what I have finally been able to publish this evening.

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Minority Opinion. I went to see the film Minority Report this past week, and while I found it a pleasant enough diversion, I must disagree with all the critics who gave this film a rapturous reception. Minority Report is simply not a four-star film, and here are a few reasons why. (WARNING: Plot spoilers to follow.)

• Logical flaws: Any modern high-tech movie thriller can be expected to have its share of problems with logic and plausibility, but Minority Report has a plot hole big enough to drive a giant eyeball through. I am speaking of the iris-recognition devices that are everywhere in the movie's world, controlling access and tracking just about everything that people do. When Tom Cruise's character, John Anderton, is accused of a future murder, and the entire Washington D.C. "pre-crime" unit is chasing after him, you might think that a) his access to sensitive installations would be cut off, and b) any attempt of his to gain access to such places would allow the police to instantly locate him (especially since they were able to do just that when Anderton's eyes were scanned at subway check-points). But no. Anderton is able to get into the most sensitive part of pre-crime headquarters using his own eyeballs, because no one has shut off his unlimited access to everything even though he is wanted for murder; and what is more, the men who are hunting him only notice that he has entered the extremely-sensitive area when they spot him through a window.

There are a number of other, less glaring problems as well. For instance, are we supposed to believe that Anderton, a very smart policeman with an illegal drug habit that must be kept secret to prevent his whole life from coming crashing down, would be so stupid as to leave empty drug containers strewn about his apartment in plain view for the Justice Department man to find? And how about when Anderton's eyes are replaced, and the underground surgeon warns repeatedly that if he takes the bandages off in any less than twelve hours he will go blind? The bandages are removed from, and a light is shined right into, at least one of the eyes after only six hours, and the result is…what? Is Anderton left blind in one eye? Was the surgeon wrong? We are never told, and the little plot thread is just left hanging.

• Scenes that just don't work: The end of the movie is full of such scenes (see below), but there is also a standout offender earlier when Anderton pays a call on Dr. Iris Hineman, who developed the pre-crime technology. Quite simply, very little of what Dr. Hineman says or does in this scene makes sense or is believable. (The same goes for the things she would have to have done offscreen in preparation for this scene.) The total effect is just too self-consciously weird.

• Over-elaborate technology: The difference between a believable future world and an unbelievable one often lies in the technology. In a believable future world, the technology may be whiz-bang amazing, but it is also rarely more than is necessary to accomplish the tasks that future people demand of it. In an unbelievable future world, everything is high-tech, and flamboyantly so, often for no better reason than that the movie's art director figured out how to do it and thought it looked cool. In your humble author's opinion, Minority Report was too often the latter sort of film, starting with the strange business of the wooden balls at the very beginning of the picture.

• Under-developed ideas: The thought-provoking potential of Philip K. Dick's original idea of "pre-crime"—that is, that the authorities might someday develop the ability to arrest someone for a crime he has not yet commited—is mostly wasted in Minority Report. An exploration of the subtle contours of intentionality, malice, premeditation, "thoughtcrime", guilt, and fate is forsaken for yet another spin on a familiar plot line: mankind develops a promising new technology and implements it with the best of intentions, but it winds up ruining lives as well as improving them…at which point the technology's creators, who have become corrupted by their Promethean ambition, try desperately to cover up the failures and preserve their invention even at the expense of humanity's well-being. Been there, done that, already have the t-shirt. The "pre-cog" Agatha's exhortations to Anderton that he "can still choose" his future could have been the jumping-off point (or perhaps the culmination) of deeper and much more original lines of inquiry, but instead they stand alone, almost a signpost indicating that Steven Spielberg is willing and able to take his examination of the human character this far but no farther.

• Under-developed characters: John Anderton lost his son and his wife and is therefore a man in great pain. Check. He could have saved his son if "pre-crime" investigation had been active at the time, and therein lies his fervent commitment to his job. Check. Now what? It is possible that if these aspects of Anderton had been more fully and subtly developed, and if a few additional, smaller defining details had been thrown in, Minority Report might have found itself with a compelling and fully-realized main character. Alas, this did not happen. Anderton's history is simply laid out in front of the viewer, as if the bare facts—taken together with a scene where he watches home movies while inhaling the crack cocaine of the 2050s—would be enough to render him a three-dimensional movie hero. Not quite; he only rises to the level of a two-and-a-half-dimensional cipher, and this is not enough to make the viewer deeply sympathetic towards him. I'm not sure I would go so far as to say Tom Cruise was wasted, however—that would unduly flatter Cruise's acting abilities. It is far more certain that the supporting cast was wasted: the role of Lamar Burgess, for instance, compels Max von Sydow to play a stock villain out of a penny-ante white-collar-crime melodrama, and he is one of the lucky ones.

• Far-too-tidy ending: Even many of Minority Report's boosters admitted disappointment at the film's ending. Salon's review by David Edelstein pithily noted that "the last 20 minutes…play more like a third-rate episode of Murder, She Wrote than anything by Philip K. Dick". The final reel steps wrong in more ways than I care to discuss here; I will, however, note one problem that loomed particularly large in my mind. It is this: once Anderton's former wife springs him from suspended animation, everything that he then does is accepted, believed, and taken at face value by everyone in the film's world. When a movie hero has been wrongly convicted of a crime, certainly the viewer expects that the character will find a way to clear his name; but it is also expected that the hero will have to produce some sort of evidence and persuade people that he is innocent. Anderton, by contrast, appears to gain instant absolution of any and all crimes he may have committed through the simple expedient of ruining Burgess. Perhaps such an ending seemed just fine to James Carville, but it did not sit well with me.

posted by The Goliard |  Link  | 


Goliard Movie Glossary. Movie critic Roger Ebert has for years maintained a somewhat tongue-in-cheek "Ebert's Little Movie Glossary". Your humble author would like to suggest a couple of entries (which Ebert would be quite welcome to use if by some miracle he should stumble across this web site):

Collars of the Future Rule: Men of the future can usually be identified with a glance at the necks of their shirts. This is because standard collars are rarely worn in the future; whereas banded collars and mock turtlenecks are strong indications that a character comes from the future, or from somewhere other than Earth, or both.

Mandatory Fisticuffs Rule: Fights between the hero of a movie and one or more bad guys are rarely permitted to consist solely of gunplay (or other employment of lethal force). Armed characters are required, at some point in the fight, to see their weapons dropped, knocked from their grasp, break, or run out of ammunition so that they have a chance at incapacitating each other the old-fashioned way. (Note that this rule is less stringently enforced in some Westerns and space operas.)

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From the wonderfully sarcastic crew at SatireWire:

El Paso, Texas ( — Unwilling to wait for their eventual indictments, the 10,000 remaining CEOs of public U.S. companies made a break for it yesterday, heading for the Mexican border, plundering towns and villages along the way, and writing the entire rampage off as a marketing expense.

"They came into my home, made me pay for my own TV, then double-booked the revenues," said Rachel Sanchez of Las Cruces, just north of El Paso. "Right in front of my daughters."

Calling themselves the CEOnistas, the chief executives were first spotted last night along the Rio Grande River near Quemado, where they bought each of the town's 320 residents by borrowing against pension fund gains. By late this morning, the CEOnistas had arbitrarily inflated Quemado's population to 960, and declared a 200 percent profit for the fiscal second quarter.

This morning, the outlaws bought the city of Waco, transferred its underperforming areas to a private partnership, and sent a bill to California for $4.5 billion.

Read the rest of the story here.

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