Tagged: Minority Report

Emily S. Whitten: Seven Movies for Surviving Snowzilla


This past weekend we here in Washington DC got a lot of snow. Um… “A whole lot of snow”? …Okay, how about, “a metric ton of snow”? Ooh… The fourth heaviest snowstorm dating to 1884.” There. I think that sums it up nicely.

Given this, I (not even kidding) have not left my home in five days (but I’m still sane! No really, I promise! The purple bunnies in my pantry told me so.) And of course, being a very practical person, since I knew the storm was coming I ensured I was well-stocked with all the necessary items beforehand. But then, around the end of Day 1, as the snowdrifts began inching into the two-foot range on my windowsills, I began to wonder what I would do to entertain myself if the power went out (taking with it, one might assume, the Internet).

“Ah-ha!” I said to myself. “I have a fully charged computer with a DVD player, and a backup battery. So even if the power goes out, and Netflix goes out, I could still watch movies if I wanted to” (aren’t modern times great?). But of course, I would be limited to the movies I owned on good old-fashioned DVDs. “So,” I said, turning to my trusty DVD collection, “what have we here…?” And there I found, in my very healthy collection of DVDs (what, I still like owning stuff) seven sci-fi and fantasy movies that I would happily watch during a snowstorm. And given that we might have another crazy snowstorm sometime, I think you should own them too. (Nota bene: I am not looking at series films because my battery would probably die before the end; and I’m not looking at comic book films, because most of them are series films as well as stand-alones, so see point 1.) So here they are:

  1. Spaceballs

Look, Star Wars is awesome. I love Star Wars. But it’s Day 1, and the snow has just started falling, and you don’t want to be tied down to a trilogy. You want a nice glass of wine, a good laugh, and that warm glow of feeling you’re inside watching a silly parody while the first flakes fall, instead of outside on your way home from work in the cold. Spaceballs is just the thing. Funny enough to stand on its own (I know, since I saw Spaceballs before I ever saw Star Wars, thanks to Channel 11 back in the day), it’s got a set of great comedic actors, including Bill Pullman (who can also pull off a serious leader-slash-action hero, à la Independence Day), John Candy, and Rick Moranis. And although I don’t know Daphne Zuniga from a lot of other comedic acting, she does a bang-up job as Princess Leia’s more ridiculous doppelgänger. And, of course, there’s Mel Brooks. You gotta love Mel Brooks, the king of comedic parody and wordplay, who is not above turning an instruction like “comb the desert” into a multi-layered gag . (And shout-out to Rob Paulsen, voicing one of the Spaceballs there.) Man, I love this movie.

  1. Minority Report

Okay, okay, you’ve had a few laughs, and the snow is falling in earnest now, and it’s time to Get Serious. Enter Tom Cruise as noble but wavering action hero John Anderton, in the high-tech world of Pre-Crime. This Philip K. Dick-based movie boasts a creepy set of scientifically-explained psychic mutants predicting the future, computer displays that are second only to those in Iron Man for how jealous they make me, and a car chase scene that is one of the more unique I’ve seen. Add into that a fairly well-constructed plot with some great reveals, focusing on multiple possible future time-paths and the interplay of choice, perception, and pre-determined outcomes, and this is a great watch to keep you occupied instead of staring out the window suddenly wondering if you remembered to buy toilet paper. Plus, it’s got Colin Farrell doing an impressive job as earnest government investigator Danny Witwer. Seriously, he’s really underrated in this.

  1. The Prestige

Well, the snow’s been coming down for some time, and maybe you need a little magic. And a little eye-candy, of both the human and wondrous sort. (And a little Bowie, may he rest in peace.) Snuggle up with The Prestige, a beautifully-done film based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Priest, which takes magic to a whole new level by pitting a pair of rising magician friends-turned-bitter enemies against each other, as each desperately tries to outdo the other in becoming their century’s greatest magician. But there’s more to this movie than meets the eye, as anyone who’s watched a Christopher Nolan film should know. Alongside the lush visuals of a Victorian era gone by and a gorgeous, talented cast (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Piper Perabo, David Bowie…need I go on?), we’ve got intrigue, and plot twists, and science-made-magical (Tesla!) galore. This movie is mesmerizing, and intense, and if you’re trying to stave off the boredom of being several hours into the storm, you couldn’t ask for a better film to surprise you and keep you thinking after the last credits roll.

  1. I, Robot

Okay! So The Prestige kind of left you reeling. I mean, those Christopher Nolan movies are seriously intense, and they do tend to shock the mind. You still want maybe a mystery to occupy you instead of staring at the snow still whirling and building up against the windowpanes; but also maybe a little comedy and over-the-top action to go with it, to give those brain-cells some variety. Enter I, Robot, yet another film based on a short story or novel, this time by Isaac Asimov, one of the “Big Three” science fiction writers of his lifetime, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. Although the movie embraces Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics as integral to the plot, I doubt he ever envisioned Will Smith as Del Spooner, the robot-hating, Converse-wearing, nostalgia-loving, wisecracking detective-with-a-heart-of-gold who sets out to solve the mystery of the death of Dr. Alfred Lanning, founder of US Robotics. Smith adds the action-hero vibe and stellar comedic timing needed to make this movie sparkle, although the visuals, as well as Alan Tudyk’s voice performance as the robot Sonny and Bridget Moynahan as socially awkward Dr. Calvin are also key ingredients. I, Robot is a well-paced film that is one part action, one part introspection, and one part Will Smith (or endearing, slightly rebellious comedy gold. Look, I love that man. You know you do too.) It’ll definitely keep you going in the midst of the storm.

  1. Shaun of the Dead

Argh! It’s like, Day 3 already, and you’re kind of getting stir crazy. Maybe you want to go to the gym and blow off a little steam (and jogging in place or sit-ups just don’t hold the same appeal). Time for Shaun of the Dead! (Okay, yes, loosely part of a trilogy, but very, very loosely, so I’m keeping it. I would also have included Hot Fuzz on this list, but it’s missing the sci-fi/fantasy element). So you can’t go kickboxing right now. Well, at least you can watch unambitious Shaun and slacker Ed, best friends ‘til the end (played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who have been playing best friends in things since the absolutely fabulous Spaced, and I hope will continue doing so until the literal World’s End), as they wallop their way through a world of lurching, moaning, creepy-but-funny zombies and friends-turned-zombies (I hate zombies and I love this movie. Damn you, Edgar Wright & Co.!) It’s hopefully not the end of the world for you in your snow-blanketed neighborhood, but it could be for Shaun and his friends as they try to stay alive and un-moaning by following the epic survival plan of getting to the pub in one piece. For ridiculous British hilarity and snappy, sharp storytelling and visuals, this is the movie to watch. And, of course, we can’t forget the completely unbearable David, played so well by my favorite comedian Dylan Moran, co-creator and lead actor of the fantastically funny Black Books, that even though I adore Dylan as Bernard Black, I absolutely loathed him as David. Oh, David.

  1. Stardust

Wow. That was a lot of blood, gore, and fast-paced humor. But now it’s Day 4, and the snow has stopped, and the snowplows are still slowly making their way through, and the whole world is covered in white and looks a little bit magical. Maybe you need a bit of fantasy to go with it. Time to pick up Stardust, a movie about love, magic, discovering what’s really important in life, and, okay, yes, some action, adventure, and evil witches. Based on the story by Neil Gaiman, Stardust boasts a great all-star cast, including Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Ben Barnes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Henry Cavill, Robert De Niro in what has to be one of my favorite roles of his, and a whole family of talent in the seven brothers played by Mark Strong, Mark Heap, Rupert Everett, Julian Rhind-Tutt, David Walliams, Jason Flemyng, and Adam Buxton. It also has lush visuals and a truly magical tale that has enough twists to keep you guessing. It’s not a syrupy-sweet movie by any means, but it will leave you with that nice, warm, happy feeling that you’re in the mood for by this point.

  1. Inception

Alright! It’s Day 5, and you’re in that happy place where you know enough roads have been cleared that you could go outside if you really, really wanted to, but not enough roads have been cleared to mean you have to make a snowy trek in to work for the day. You’re ready to handle another movie that amps up the intensity and keeps you guessing even after the story’s done. Bring out Inception! There’s a reason two Christopher Nolan movies made this list, and that is: Christopher Nolan movies are awesome (as are Jonathan Nolan creations. Let’s not short-change the co-creator of some of Christopher Nolan’s works, and the creator of the excellent series Person of Interest ). And Inception is no exception (okay, I couldn’t resist). What is real, what’s in a dream, and…what? Who’s that guy walking around in my head trying to steal all my secrets?? Inception is the weirdest, awesomest, most visually stunning action-espionage-romance-reverse heist mindfuck ever, seriously. The crazy scenery-based surreal action sequences make me wonder if Nolan was spending a lot of time chilling with Dominique Appia when he made the movie, and the literal layers-upon-layers of plot and twists make it both hard to keep up with and absolutely fascinating. Add to that an excellent cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, and Joseph Gordon Levitt in a role that really showcased his acting chops, to name a few) and just gorgeous scenes and sounds, and I can’t imagine a better way to finish off being snowbound.

And…look at that! The sun is shining, you’ve made it through Snowzilla without having to boil any shoe leather for nutrients, and…oh. It’s time to be a Real Adult with Responsibilities again? Foo.

Oh well. Until next time! Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: The Minds of Philip K. Dick

Before I get started on this week’s musings, here are a couple of housekeeping items:

1) Have I mentioned lately how great the other writers here at ComicMix are? It’s probably been awhile, so let me take a quick minute to do so (again). If you somehow found ComicMix via me and primarily read my column here on the site, a) Cool, thanks! and b) I highly recommend you give the other folks here a try. Even in just reading through the last few days of columns, from Mindy Newell’s thoughts on Battlestar Galactica to Marc Alan Fishman’s discussion  of guarding one’s creative integrity versus going for a payday and wider success, to Molly Jackson’s rejoicing over the awesomeness that is Agent Carter, I am reminded of how quality the folks who write for this site are, and how lucky I am to be amongst them. Anyone reading this site probably knows that already; but just in case you’ve missed out – check out my fellow columnists. You won’t regret it.

2) Speaking of Agent Carter (and I wholeheartedly agree with your column, Molly), I mentioned previously that I’ve recently taken over the duties of co-hosting (with Cleolinda Jones) a long-running podcast, Made of Fail, which is all about geek culture and properties. It’s taken a little while for us to get our first solo-hosted podcast in the can, but we’ve finally recorded Episode 76 of Made of Fail, and it should be up any time now. We talk about current TV shows, including Agent Carter, along with some movies we’ve seen recently and various and sundry other topics. So please don’t forget to check that out in the next few days if you’re in the market for a fun (we hope) new podcast to listen to!

And now, on to today’s topic, which is the works of Philip K. Dick and the movies we keep making from them. During the 53 years that he lived, Dick wrote 44 published novels and at least 121 short stories, and a remarkable majority of them revolve around the same themes: the sense of a greater intellect or system watching and controlling the small, in comparison, life and actions of a protagonist; actual conspiracies that the protagonist only realizes too late, or perceived conspiracies that are the result of paranoia; a character’s confusion at what is happening and inability to determine reality versus illusion; humanity evolving or devolving in ways that destroy or replace the status quo (often through changes in science or technology); and the examination of free will versus inevitability of future events.

In the same way that Raymond Carver’s stories, different as the plots or characters might be, share the feeling of dirty realism, Dick’s stories, despite great plot variation, feel universally grim or oppressive, with a general sense of something ominous threatening existence, and with a focus on the singular importance to events of one person’s perception and the choices guided by that perception. They do often, however, also contain the flicker of hope that comes from realizing that a struggle against what might feel inevitable can bear the fruit of winning back control of one’s choices, or a greater understanding of one’s place in the universe.

Perhaps that is the reason why, despite the ominous feel of Dick’s works, we keep making them into movies; and pretty popular movies at that. Among the most well-known are Blade Runner (based on Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep); Total Recall (based on the short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”); A Scanner Darkly (based on the novel of the same name), The Adjustment Bureau (based on the short story “Adjustment Team”); and Minority Report (based on the short story “The Minority Report”). As a culture, it seems we find appealing the idea that if there is a greater, if ominous, design behind what happens in our lives, we have the ability to choose to upset that design once we recognize the patterns of it and its effects, and the responsibility to strive towards doing so.

Minority Report is a particular favorite film adaptation of mine, probably in part due to the believable but still fascinatingly futuristic technology shown, which was grounded in and extrapolated from the tech of the time. It also strikes a chord through the major themes of both story and film, which revolve around free will versus determinism, and the idea that our every action is informed by the information we have at the time, which may or may not be “true,” as well as the idea that we can choose what kind of self we want to see or be.

In brief, the story is of a PreCrime unit of law enforcement, which uses three individuals with precognitive abilities to anticipate crimes before they happen and prevent them by arresting the criminals before they commit the predicted crimes (thus before they actually become criminals).

The action kicks off when the chief of the unit, Anderton, intercepts a prediction that he will kill someone he’s never met. He begins trying to unravel how this could happen, and in the process realizes that the predictions reported by the “precogs” sometimes differ, and that even though the computer analyzing their predictions collates data to produce the often-accurate majority report, there remains a possibility of a “minority report” in which the outcome is different. This suggests the idea of multiple future time paths, and the ultimate unpredictability of a world with so many changing variables, including each instance of human choice based on each new bit of information received.

Interestingly, the film differs greatly in its ending from the story, to the extent that (SPOILER ALERT) in the film, Anderton is framed by the antagonist to protect the PreCrime system, but PreCrime is dismantled after Anderton chooses not to commit the predicted murder, and it’s proved that the system is imperfect and an individual’s actions can change depending on the information received.

Conversely, in the story, the villain is trying to discredit PreCrime by showing that Anderton didn’t kill even though it was predicted he would; and once Anderton realizes this he chooses to kill the antagonist in order to save the PreCrime system. Ultimately, however, the theme and effect of the story is the same, in that once the individual is made aware of what he is predicted to do, and has a chance to examine the reasons behind why he may or may not want to, he chooses which path to take based on that, and the prediction turns out to be incorrect.

Of all of Dick’s themes, the examination of free will versus determinism is one of the most interesting to me; but I also have given some thought to which other Dick stories could be the next big screen adaptation; and have come to the conclusion that “The Last of the Masters” would have great potential in that arena. If you haven’t read it, it is an exploration of the conflict between the need for control, lack of empathy, and indifference to the individual that can burden a larger governing system, versus a valuation of individualism, humanity, and the desire for freedom that is so strong it can spur anarchic revolution.

One quote from the story which particularly highlights this theme is from the anarchist Silvia, in talking to the “government integration robot” who controls the local government: “My God,” she said softly. “You have no understanding of us. You run all this, and you’re incapable of empathy. You’re nothing but a mechanical computer.” In this examination of the dangers inherent in establishing a system of control, the story seems almost the next logical step after a movie like Minority Report – moving from the question of an individual’s freedom and the importance of choice there to the question of a society’s need for freedom versus its desire to maintain structure and the benefits and evils that are inherent in asserting control.

I feel that of all themes, this might be the one Dick struggled with the most, for in his stories I repeatedly find both the threads of desiring and recognizing the importance of individual freedom and empathy, and the apprehension that the result of giving individuals choice will inevitably be an attempt to establish or maintain a greater controlling body that will then remove some level of choice.

There’s a question of how to create an ideal balance underlying his writing that, despite his great volume of works, never seems to be fully answered; and perhaps that’s because it can’t be wholly resolved. It’s a conflict that, for all of the surreal or fantastical qualities that surround Dick’s works, is very real, and could make for a damned interesting story to explore on film. I’d like to see that someday.

In the meantime, I’m going to be checking out the newest entry into the on-screen world of Philip K. Dick adaptations, The Man in the High Castle (the new TV series that is available on Amazon Instant Video, yay!).

So until next time, Servo Lectio!