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MINORITY REPORT – John Williams

minorityreportOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Is it sacrilege to say that a new John Williams score is a slight disappointment? The 70-year old composer has been at the top of his game for over 25 years now, and the list of near-legendary scores he has written is almost incomprehensible. His collaboration with director Steven Spielberg is also the stuff of fable – how can two men come up with so much brilliance and genius between them? Minority Report, as a movie, is a marvelous amalgam of science fiction and morality gone wrong. But whereas Spielberg seems to still be at the height of creative talents, Williams seems to be flagging just a tad. A.I., his last Spielberg film, was enjoyable but failed to tread any new ground. Minority Report, which covers similar thematic ground by tackling deep intellectual issues in a science fiction setting, seems to have had the a similar effect on Williams – without wanting to sound unkind, its almost as though “thinking” films don’t provide him with the same seeds of musical inspirational as the popcorn adventure flicks that seem to be more and more his forte.

Minority Report, based on the short story by Philip K Dick, is set in a not-too-distant future where the most serious crimes are dealt with by the Pre-Crime Unit, and stopped before the felon has even had the chance to commit his crime. Pre-Crime works through the thought processes of three mutant psychics – the PreCogs – who foresee the murders, and provide the names of both victim and perpetrator. It is then up to Pre-Crime’s team of crack officers, led by Detective John Anderton (Tom Cruise) to find the location of the crime, and beat the clock to stop the crime from happening. The system seems foolproof – until Anderton himself is accused of murdering someone he has never met. Convinced he has been set up, Anderton takes flight, chased by his own men and the dogged Detective Witwer (Colin Farrell), to find the truth before time runs out.

It’s actually quite interesting to note how John Williams’s science fiction style has developed since the time of Star Wars. There are no grand marches, or spectacular theme-led set pieces any more. In Minority Report, as was the case in A.I., Williams instead adopts a markedly more dissonant tone, allowing his orchestra to revel in large-scale disharmony, concentrating more on rhythms and speed of performance than melodic development. Spielberg specifically asked Williams to dispense with his familiar warm tones and write a “black and white” score to act as a dark portrait of America in 2054. It’s a Williams we don’t see very often, having previously flirted with such ideas briefly in parts of his Jurassic Park scores, and the darker sections of Born on the Fourth of July.

There’s a lot of A.I., and quite a bit of Attack of the Clones in Minority Report, especially in the action music which, instead of bounding thematically across the speakers, instead tends to growl rather menacingly. In some ways, Williams has treated Minority Report like a film noir than a conventional sci-fi fare; the score opens with a lonely brass call that could have easily come from Chinatown, before launching down the action road, all Herrmannesque slashing strings, skittery trumpet scales and vibrant dissonance. Many of the action tracks are built around an ascending motif that thrashes around different sections of the orchestra. Cues such as ‘Can You See?’, the showstopping ‘Spyders’ with its brash horn trills and percussive middle-section, and ‘Eye-Dentiscan’ with its jumpy, dancing violins expertly highlight this technique. Others, such as the frenetic ‘Everybody Runs!”, and the thunderous, Tan Dun-inspired ‘Anderton’s Great Escape’ recall the heavier parts of Attack of the Clones, drawing heavily on their percussive power and complex, technically dazzling brass performances, while parts of ‘Psychic Truth and Finale’ recall some of the more disquieting sections from Williams’s classic sci-fi score E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, especially in the use of low, blatting brass.

In contrast, the score’s one recurring theme is a lovely one, first appearing in the second half of the opening track. Close in tone to the likes of Stanley & Iris, Stepmom, or “Anakin’s Theme” from The Phantom Menace, and led by soft strings and woodwind, it’s a floaty, delicate piece, designed specifically to counterbalance the tumult of the action sequences and highlight the innocence and purity of the central relationship – that of Anderton and his missing son Sean. Recapitulations in ‘Sean and Lara’, the lush ‘Sean’s Theme’ and the beautiful finale ‘A New Beginning’ further develop the mood of quiet loneliness and reflection. The addition of female vocalist Deborah Dietrich to later tracks provides a softer, human touch to the futuristic coldness of the rest of the score, while the Arabesque wailing calls add a sense of mysticism and ethnicity to ‘Visions of Anne Lively’ and others.

The one single problem with Minority Report is that, for all its moments of excellence, there is far too much “nothingness” music to make it a truly rewarding, continually listenable album. Several cues, such as ‘Pre-Crime to the Rescue’, ‘The Greenhouse Effect’, ‘Dr. Eddie and Miss Van Eych’ and ‘”Sean” By Agatha’ merely amble along with nothing more than a few shifting tones and a bit of tick-tock percussion to their name. It’s rare for there to be so much apparent filler music in a Williams score, who more often than not develops good ideas for the most throwaway of cues. Here, however, it’s as though Spielberg and Williams made a conscious effort not to be overly flamboyant in musical terms in the quieter, more atmospheric scenes. Dramatically sound in terms of the film itself, but detrimental to the album as a whole.

In summary, Williams has crafted an unusual hybrid score of hits and misses – one second it simmers and throbs with power, teeming with exciting, energetic moments, the next it crawls along languidly with nothing to say. Minority Report has more than its fair share of highlights. It’s just a bit of a drag sifting through the slower parts waiting for them to come.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Minority Report (6:29)
  • “Can You See?” (2:12)
  • Pre-Crime to the Rescue (5:48)
  • Sean and Lara (4:46)
  • Spyders (4:33)
  • The Greenhouse Effect (5:09)
  • Eye-Dentiscan (4:48)
  • Everybody Runs (3:10)
  • Sean’s Theme (1:57)
  • Anderton’s Great Escape (6:47)
  • Dr. Eddie and Miss Van Eych (3:08)
  • Visions of Anne Lively (3:27)
  • Leo Crow… The Confrontation (5:55)
  • “Sean” by Agatha (4:59)
  • Psychic Truth and Finale (7:10)
  • A New Beginning (3:29)

Running Time: 73 minutes 47 seconds

Dreamworks 0044-50385-2 (2002)

Music composed and conducted by John Williams. Orchestrations by John Neufeld. Special vocal performances by Deborah Dietrich. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Ken Wannberg. Mastered by Patricia Sullivan. Album produced by John Williams.

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