ENGL 616: Studies in Film/Narrative: Film Noir

Blow Out and Nightcrawler: Technology as Text for Cynical America

Blow Out is a 1981 film written and directed by Brian De Palma and starring John Travolta, Nancy Allen, and John Lithgow. The film centers around a sound effects artist, Jack Terri (Travolta), who captures the sound of a car careening into a river during a night while recording sounds for a B-movie. The driver of the vehicle, a presidential candidate, is dead, but he manages to rescue the other passenger, Sally (Allen). Examining his sound recording, Jack learns that he may have evidence of no accident, but an assassination. He becomes obsessed with the case, the players involved, and the conspiratorial implications behind it, as he drags Sally into the investigation.

Nightcrawler is a 2014 film written and directed by Dan Gilroy and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, and Riz Ahmed. The film centers around a Los Angeles grifter, Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), who is drawn into the world of local television news, working as a stringer, filming various crimes and violent events and selling them to news stations. It turns out Lou’s nihilistic lifestyle matches quite well with the local media.

These two films belong to a genre revival of the film noir, known as the neo-noir. As classic noirs comment on American themes in the shadow of World War II, neo-noirs reflect the American mindset in the shadow of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. The Watergate parallels in Blow Out are undeniable. An extensive cover-up plot, carried out by Burke (Lithghow), a mercenary hired by a rival candidate to the killed Governor McRyan, leads to the murder of numerous blonde women to disguise the murder of Sally. Noirs examine the dark underbelly of American society. The characters are immoral, its ideas are cynical, and happy endings are nowhere to be found. 

Visually, neo-noirs are more advanced than classic noirs. Sheer technological advancement is a big reason why, as the former is blessed with the privilege of color. Classic noirs were nonetheless effective visually, with the darkness and subdued backlighting in rooms creating the proper mood of the film. Darkness works to the effect of that “if the lights were all suddenly flipped on the characters would shriek and shrink from the scene like Count Dracula at sunrise” (Schrader 57) The use of juxtaposed lighting is a savvy technique in neo-noirs, and is very much so present in Nightcrawler. Scenes shot in the day are sunbaked, lending itself to pulpy fare. The business of the day matched with the emptiness of the night serves as a perfect contrast for noir narratives. The warmer lighting in the diner, where Lou first meets with Rick (Ahmed) to inquire about work opportunities, versus the cold fluorescent lighting of the grocery market and Chinese restaurant are the two sides of downtown Los Angeles. At nightime, the lights of shop signs and traffic lights are blurred in the background. Blow Out features a look that is familiar among numerous films of the New Hollywood movement: grainy and worn in. It complements the trash underbelly of the city.

Noirs use its specific location as a character. Dan Gilroy liked the appeal of Los Angeles, with its “raw, wild, sort of untamed spirit,” (Ward 3) fitting match to the coyote-like behavior of Lou Bloom. Nightcrawler is also packed with film noir history. The Griffith Observatory, which is shown in the opening credits of the film, is the same one used in a famous scene in Rebel Without a Cause. It is also the same spot where Bill Paxton’s character in The Terminator is confronted by the Schwarzenegger cyborg. The site where the thrilling climax begins inside a restaurant called the “Chinatown Express”, a nod to the 1974 classic, Chinatown, and the noir staple of chinese restaurants. The story of Blow Out is located in Philadelphia, the home of Brian De Palma and the United States. The film invokes the US historical implications of Philadelphia in its story. In the thrilling climax, Jack “rams smack into images of a storybook America: July 4 fireworks, Norman Rockwell majorettes, and even a figure of Nathan Hale behind a department store window displaying…”Give me liberty or give me death.” (Sragow 9) The characters and their circumstances are in such despair that the contrast with the imagery of liberty and triumph is only more tragic. Sally’s final shot is of her screaming for help in front of a giant American flag. The meta text of the two films also applies to the casting of the two leads.

The aspect where Blow Out and Nightcrawler intersect the most is their respective protagonist’s use of a technological medium. Jack Terri uses sound recording, mixing, and editing to uncover a conspiracy, and Lou Bloom uses a video camera and editor to capture crimes on the streets for commercial airing. Their devices are a source of manipulation, against the protagonist in one instance and the American public in another. Jack has good intentions as a protagonist, while Lou is a sociopath, preying upon victims of bloody crimes and letting his own companions fall to their own demise. 

Blow Out can be supplemented with two other films, one prior and one after it, in the conspiracy thriller sub-genre: All the President’s Men and JFK. In contrast to the respective protagonists of idealized journalists and attorneys, De Palma championed the “trash” of the American story and hero. In an essay written by Michael Sragow for the film’s release on the Criterion Collection, De Palma “rejected the bland conventions of prestigious topical suspense films like, say, All the President’s Men. His protagonist was not a crusading journalist but a toiler in porno-horror exploitation films.” (Sragow 7) Paul Schrader details the effect of non-glamorized occupations in noir protagonist roles, as they tend to break their tightly-wound archetypes traditionally found in classic American cinema. For example, the change in state includes the “frontiersman has turned to paranoia and claustrophobia, the young heroine is taking others for a ride” (Schrader 58) It speaks to a collective despair amongst the American public that a B-movie Foley artist is our only hope at discovering the truth. Even with his advanced sound technology, Jack Terri “bets that technology of his own design can help him solve a terrible political crime and save the woman he loves. He loses.” (Sragow 7)

While sociopathic protagonists have existed long before Nightcrawler, it’s not common to watch someone as deranged as Lou Bloom a part of a trusted establishment: local news. Where the film stands out is that “the antagonism turns with a new viciousness toward the American society itself.” (Schrader 55) If Jack Terri is trying to rebel against the immorality of his society, then Lou Bloom is the product of his immoral society. He fails to find work opportunities, even through theft, so all he is left with is preying upon the misery of others. Gilroy doubled down on the antagonism of Lou, stating “I never wanted to punish Lou. I wanted to reward him in the way I feel people like Lou are being rewarded right now.” (Ward 3) Rather than the coda of the classic gangster film of the lead anti-hero requiring to meet their demise and punishment for their sins, Lou only grows his independent journalism business the more villainous he becomes. Those who enable Lou, such as Nina, are rewarded for their immorality, while those who are along for the ride out of sheer desperation, but have a good heart, such as Rick, are punished. With the film’s commentary on television news in America and the scathing critique of our innate desire for senseless violence in familiar neighborhoods, audiences are left to question whether or not Lou is the true villain in this situation.

The femme fatale is as synonmous with film noir as the hard boiled detective or shadowy lighting. They are mysterious, behavioral with coded sexuality, and seductive to the male protagonist. The issues and downfall of the lead are believed to be tied to the femme fatale, but many times it is just the perception of the character. This character archetype “becomes the subject of an inquiry which leads back to her youthful experience with destructive forces that continue to haunt her” (Boozer 24) 

Blow Out and Nightcrawler take a similar approach to the femme fatale. While Sally and Nina are not visual mirrors to fatales of the past, such as Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, but they do push their respective male protagonists to reach a certain goal. Both take interest in the profession of Jack and Lou. After being rescued from drowning after the asassination by Jack, Sally takes great interest in his sound equipment while they spend the night in a motel room. She expressed a romanticized excitement when she learns that he captures sound for movies, even with Jack’s reduction of his work as working on low-grade B-pictures. Their relationship is not so much born from sexual attraction, but more from a respect for the sound craft on Sally’s end and a heroic white knighting on Jack’s end. As a tragic result of Sally’s interest, she becomes Jack’s unofficial right-hand woman in his investigation, hardly even thinking twice about putting her in harm’s way with her own assassin.

 In Nightcrawler, the corporate structure leans towards Nina taking on Lou as a student of the craft, but the dynamic of Lou as the inverse, the homme fatale, flips the relationship. This character archetype “crystallizes contemporary social anxieties around material and ideological threats to a traditional gendered division of labor.” (Cohen 114) For Lou, it’s only inevitable that Nina will submit to his demands, despite the fact that she is above him in the corporate ladder. There is an implicit parallel between Lou’s dominating sexual prowess and his desire for power and recognition for his news reel footage. Nina is not a complete victim in this relationship, however, as she can’t help but pay Lou his high-priced footage, and offers him advice early on in his career, such as what equipment to purchase and camera techniques for maximum quality.

Another staple of film noir is the supermarket or shopping venue. The recurring appearance of them ties into their ethos within American culture. Our relationship with consumerism can be attributed to Dussere’s essay, where “the urban and criminal underworld may also be an en-counter with the presence and immediacy that we feel ourselves to have lost when confronted with the apparent artificiality of consumer culture.” (Dussere 17) Noir narratives thrive off escapism, and supermarkets signify the extent of suburban American thrills, narrowing the opportunities of life down to a choice of name brand products. A large shopping market in Blow Out is captured with an extended steadicam shot of John Lithgow’s assassin character. Here, we see him obtain a blade from a deli that will be used to murder his first victim, who’s led on to be Sally. The supermarket has an “ emphasis on consumption made available to a mass market (signifying a kind of democracy) and its enormous range of choices (which carries the symbolic promise of freedom and independence)”. (Dussere 19) We see a shopping market in Nightcrawler with the notable fluorescent lighting that evokes noir sentiments. While not featured prominently, Lou and Rick using the parking lot of a local market to stake out new crimes via police scanner connects to the everlasting sense of opportunity.

The unique element of recording artistry and technology in Blow Out and Nightcrawler is perhaps the most fascinating noir storytelling device. A staple mantra of the genre is that “the city will outlast and negate even his best efforts,” regarding any justice or salvation on the part of the protagonist. (Schrader 57) The world surrounding Jack Terri and Lou Bloom is dark and harrowing, and their only shield for protection is their devices. In fact, their only method of dissecting how much in despair the world really is through what’s on Jack’s audio playback machine and Lou’s digital video camera. 

More than just a plot point or character attribute, what makes film noir different is that “the theme is hidden in the style, and bogus themes are often flaunted (‘middle-class values are best’)” (Schrader 63) What first catches the eye of the viewer is the eerie black and white photography, the ghost-like mystique of the femme fatale, and the suspenseful moments of looming violence, not what this films are about. American film noir broke out in the 1940s, when the country was in the midst of World War II. While mainstream cinema and culture embraced the good American spirit in supporting the war effort, film noir tapped into the suppressed cynicism of the country at that time. The unpacking of American customs and values is why these films have an everlasting legacy. The film criticism body, on the other hand, often plays catch-up, as “American film critics have always been sociologists first.” (Schrader 63) They are humans just like everyone else. In those times, they wanted films to comment on the perceived truth rather than the reality.

In order to fully grasp the harsh reality of Governor McRyan’s death, Jack Terri must relisten to his recording of the tire blow out, and again, and again, and again until it takes over his life. He cuts out photos of the crash that were taken by a photographer complicit in the shooting, Manny Karp (Dennis Franz), from a magazine and aligns them with decimals of sound. De Palma’s usual voyeuristic camera movements and split screen complement the state of Jack in the moment. These procedural scenes also operate as sly commentary to the art of filmmaking, along with the perverse relationship an actress has with her director, modeled by Jack and Sally (a notable homage to Hitchcock’s theme in Vertigo). As always, alternate meanings preside in every narrative throughout noirs.

Lou Bloom struggles to find any work, especially anything of legitimate means. It isn’t until he sees a nightcrawler at work, capturing a fatal car accident on the highway. His solution to obtaining work is giving the people, that is local TV news consumers, want they want: violent crime. As the old news saying goes, if it bleeds, it leads. Los Angeles is a more or less an empty vista in the viewers eyes, but once Lou becomes more and more of a professional cameraman, the audience understands everything wrong with the city and its inhabitants. As it goes with filmmaking, a camera, solely based on who or where it is pointed towards, can tell a narrative. In a suburban household homicide that he captures from trespassing into the crime scene, Lou manipulates objects, such as moving photographs of the victims on the refrigerator to show the innocence of a promising life that is now dead. While local LA news craves feeding its viewers constant senseless violence lacking nuanced value, they are selective with it. Lou’s news station disregards urban crime between non-white people. Only gang violence affecting a peaceful suburbia state is seen as newsworthy. Lou’s camera tells a very misleading story about crime in America, but since he is a powerful enough storyteller, his camera is the story.

One of the most sinister instances of cruel irony in film, and perhaps one of the finest endings ever put on screen, is the final shot of Blow Out. The film begins with Jack receiving pushback from his director about the lack of a quality scream meant for a college girl about to be fatally slashed in the shower. Throughout Jack’s investigation of the assassination, he is being badgered about the scream for this cheap Psycho knockoff (which on its own is a metatextual comment on De Palma’s slasher/Final Girl films of the past). This coveted scream is finally released from Sally, right before she is murdered by her assassin. Since she had a recording device attached to her, the scream is captured, and is used in the film Jack is hired for as the sound artist. The director shouts “now that’s a scream!” As a somber jazz score plays and the camera spins around to Jack’s face of anguish, he abides with “it’s a good scream”. The scream is played on a loop and drives him mad. The technology that we use is an expression of our own demons. Jack is being punished for caring enough about a political assassination bigger than him and allowing Sally to be involved in his dangerous expeditions. Blow Out and Nightcrawler are cautionary tales with aspirational stakes. Jack Terri looks to expose the corrupt underbelly of the United States government in De Palma’s film, and is permanently psychologically tortured for his efforts. Lou Bloom goes on a seemingly benevolent quest to climb up the capitalist ladder, but doing so puts the world around him in a more sinister environment. That is film noir: proverbially speaking, everything goes to hell.

ENGL 616: Studies in Film: Sci-Fi

Alien and Minority Report: Style as Commentary

Alien is a 1979 science-fiction horror thriller directed by Ridley Scott. The story follows a crew for a commercial starship (Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, Sigourney Weaver) who answer a distress call from an alien vessel. A mysterious egg nest is found inside the alien ship and latches on to a crew member. Once that egg hatches inside the crew’s ship, Nostromo, and wreaks havoc, each member must survive for themselves against this alien creature.

Minority Report is a 2002 science-fiction crime thriller directed by Steven Spielberg. The story follows a police unit in futuristic Washington D.C set in 2054, Precrime, that uses pyshic technology to arrest and convict murderers before they commit the crime. John Anderton (Tom Cruise), the head of the unit, faces the ultimate dilemma that this unit proposes: what if you were suspected of committing murder yourself, and you didn’t have the chance to reform yourself?

The unique world-building is essential to telling the story in science fiction. So much so that they garner sequels and franchises, as was the case for Alien. Every minute detail about the film’s environment and mise-en-scene: wardrobe, vehicles, behavior, language, and culture tells the story as much as the plot itself. The world is quite foreign to our current world, but it doesn’t appear totally fantastical and inaccessible. A staple of the sci-fi genre, these worlds are designed to comment on the contemporary world. The Nostromo crew resembles everyday blue-collar workers such as truck drivers. The characters inhabiting this world are not adventurous astronauts seeking out uncharted territories. The story is ultimately about humans. Scott cited the scene in which the crew talks about stocks, noting that “it seemed to me a very natural, very human kind of character painting.” (Houston 20) The first shot of the crew sitting around the table is a perfect illustration of how low-key and grounded these people are. Being equally a horror film as well, the characters need to be relatable in order for the stakes to feel terrifying for the audience additionally. They are everyday blue collar workers needing a wage, and space travel is monotonous labor. The oversaturation of commercialism now seeping into space travel is plausible, if not prophetic.

The setting of Minority Report in particular was commenting on its political and social climate. In 2002, still in a post-traumatic state in wake of September 11th, viewers might have been strongly in favor of Precrime. Thinking about it on an emotional level, it is a breakthrough in the criminal justice system. Those in opposition see the Precrime unit as a dystopian reality if the overreaching form of law enforcement in this moment goes unchecked, starting with the Patriot Act which was signed after the terrorist attack. Regardless of one’s subjective opinions, this overly-aggressive attitude surrounding criminal justice is certainly plausible in the near future. This applies to all sci-fi, but it should be noted that the fictional system “resembles certain contemporary policies because fiction and policy share a common intellectual and social.” (Cooper 25)

The production design of Alien complements the film’s method of visual storytelling, as well as comments on the state of the world in the context of space travel. The days of glamorous minimalism, as seen in the Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, are gone by the 1970s. Scott noted that the original designs of the titular alien, in his mind “were a bit too NASA-oriented, not far enough into the future, too 2001-ish.” (Houston 21) The director shows how run-down planets and spaceships are due to global mass production and consumerism. “The backgrounds and wall surfaces would look like electronic circuitry if they weren’t made of bones and sinews and tendons”, and that at a surface level gives the film an eerie vibe to perfectly set the tone for viewers. (Houston 29) The industrial nature of the ship sticks out. The shape and size of Nostromo as it hovers over the vessel shows how junky it is and its lack of elegance. Scott gives the audience a tour of the entire ship to set the tone from the beginning, with slow and patient camera movements that spotlight every little detail. American cinema in the 70s were determined to expose the corroding American lifestyle. The wonder of space travel in the aftermath of the Apollo 11 voyage is nowhere to be seen based on the run-down, deteriorating interior of Nostromo. 

Minority Report takes on perhaps the polar opposite approach with its production design. This world is slick and polished, keeping in tradition with the bleached visual look of Spielberg’s longtime director of photography, Janusz Kaminski. Considering that this world has fully adapted to digital technology, eye scanners, flying self-driving automobiles, and personalized advertisements, everything on screen does not look a day old. The artificially is so slick that it’s often amorphous. Screens and videos can be displayed and swiped away with the movement of a hand. By the time of the film’s release, we were merely five years away from the launch of the iPhone. Because the film, adapted from a Philip K. Dick novella from 1956, “refuses to acknowledge any connection between the hard and soft faces of social control”, this world is inseparable from our technology, with much of the tech being present in 2002, including retinal scanners and holographic billboards. (Jarvis 249) In other words, Precrime is just a natural progression of society.

The design of the titular alien creature from Scott’s film became so iconic that it can be argued that it alone is responsible for the spawning of sequels and a franchise. Scott outsourced the design of the alien to H.R Giger, a famous Swiss artist. The exotic look of the alien once again deconstructs science fiction minimalism and reinforces industrialism. Every detail of the alien is purposeful, down to the creature’s lack of eyes, as Giger stated, “even without eyes he always knows exactly where his victims are, and he attacks directly, suddenly, unerringly. Like a striking snake.” (Houston 30) The alien is a truly foreign life form that is solely envisioned in our nightmares. Despite its unknowability quality, the xenomorph is accessible to its audiences. You are able to see its functions and its purposes one step at a time without a full reveal, and is never explained through clunky exposition. Furthermore, it demonstrates why the fear of the killer creature is more frightening than the creature itself. Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon pitched Alien to Hollywood executives as “Jaws in space”, and the spirit of that storytelling device remains true here. 

While dominantly digital and lacking any property, the physical apparatus of the Precrime system is an essential piece to the film’s narrative. The criminal justice system is within arms reach of Anderton at all times. The use of the touch screen where he observes the evidence is expertly constructed, along with Tom Cruise’s ability to execute the action. This lends to some audience accessibility to grasp this shortened criminal justice system. In this room, he can see the Precogs in a pool of water, serving as this world’s detectives, cleverly named after famous detective novel authors: Agatha, Arthur, and Dash. Their human nature represents the inevitability of this penal system: ultimately we’re only human. The one aspect of this system that is concrete and devoid of advanced technology is the wooden cube that reads the name of the expected murderer. While seemingly a directorial flourish, it represents a sense to uphold a long-standing reverence of the law, and new technology will never adopt itself on to it.

Along with the general framework of the present day, science fiction dials in on a specific subject or institution to comment on. It is often one that is a fabric of our culture and/or a trusted component of our well-being. The criticism of a particular party is intended to comment on the present day by either reexamining how we perceive the past and/or what dire future it has in store. Alien shows the cosmic consequences of mass commercialism, as well as the uninspiring outcomes of it, once again playing against the elegance of something like 2001. Nostromo is transporting tons of minerals. The more savvy undertones that the film comments on are the reproductive system and gender dynamics, and the subconscious horrors we hold inside. In the film’s second half, as the alien mutates into a giant killing monster, slashing crew members one by one, there is a slight examination of the human body. The xenomorph is without a soul or mind, and the abject nature of its corpse “signifies one of the most basic forms of pollution – the body without a soul.” (Creed 70) This is one of the greater effects of Giger’s design: it represents nothing. The sensation of the body being an external and internal shield for an individual’s own body explains why the body is central to horror. The outer shield of the body representative of “the skin on the top of milk, which is offered to her by her father and mother, is a ‘sign of their desire’” (Creed 69) Soul and mind protect us from the excrement inside our body is emblematic of a cathartic sense of fear, where “the body protects itself from bodily wastes such as shit, blood, urine and pus by ejecting these substances just as it expels food that, for whatever reason, the subject finds loathsome.” (Creed 70) The acid released from the alien burns a hole through the ship, and the crew is forced to evacuate based on where it drops. 

In Minority Report, eyes are used as a motif in arguing the precise problem of this criminal justice system. Anderton is forced to perform a physical eye swap in order to change his identity, as robotic eye scanners mimicking insects are used to apprehend him. In fact, the apparatus of the eye is used to indirectly exploit a weakness of Precrime. If a suspected killer buys a phony eye on the black market and swaps it in for themselves, the Precogs will be incapable of determining their identity. The text is indirectly reminding the audience to use their naturally created eyes to see justice, which was a compromised concept at the time due to the post-9/11 anxieties. 

A signifier of the reproductive system is important in Alien right from the top, as crew members awaken from their pods, with scarce amounts of clothing, like babies. They even refer to the ship as “mother.” There is plenty of iconography made up of holes and openings which mirror vaginas. The ship protects them from the dangers of the outside world. After his demise, Ash is in awe of the xenomorph’s capabilities, as “the ultimate technological fantasy is creation without the mother” (Pimley 3). The events that transpire in Alien give the consequence of attempting to omit motherhood. As a result of allowing an infected Kane back on the ship, the crew “must leave behind our primitive biological inheritance and become just as cool and efficient as the technology that drives us into that future”(Pimley 3) without the ship that is “mother.” 

The iconic chest burster scene is the most showy indicator of this text interpretation. The scene, mimicking child birth, became a cultural touchstone for its shock and awe, but it transcends to another level with its gender reversal, which of course is rounded out by Ripley gradually commanding of the attack/survival against the alien on board as each member is picked off one by one. What makes the gender dynamics distinctive from other genre films is that Ripley does not exercise any femme fatale or “final girl” characteristics that are most associated with a slasher film. Alien deconstructs gender identities so much that all the characters feel like the same entity. Even Ash, a robot, is human-like.

Minority Report is clearly speaking to a particular and forever unique moment in American history. This was the beginning of a spiritual trilogy of films from Spielberg relating to anxieties and uncertainties about America in the wake of 9/11, followed up by War of the Worlds and Munich. Together, they evoke a loss of fatherhood of the American system, seek out retribution through vengeance, and investigate if there is any hope left to be found. Specifically, in the case of Minority Report, the text grapples with the retribution against Iraq for the terrorist attacks and the invasion of domestic privacy. Precrime is an enabler to the American psyche at the time and the George W. Bush administration, where it offers a seemingly clean and easy solution to violent crimes. Enacting hyper-security for America was the rationale for the Patriot Act. The only plausible way to force the viewer to reconsider the ethics of Precrime is to have it be turned against the film’s lead, Anderton. The power of the movie star, Tom Cruise in this instance, thickens the drama. The film also makes a statement about the ever-growing high-powered presence of police authority. Precrime officers are in a militarized uniform, carrying heavy artillery and advanced gadgets. The opening murder prevention sequence demonstrates this world’s dystopian law enforcement, as they arrive in full force in a matter of seconds and emerge in plain sight. 

Where Alien and Minority Report differ is from their directing style and tone. Scott, who started out directing commercials and music videos, is an expert at putting a populist light on something initially inaccessible. He especially pulls this trick off with Blade Runner. While Spielberg is the master of coverage in action scenes, never allowing the viewer to be unaware of the location, Scott perfectly covers Nostromo in his own way. He uses the simple but engaging premise to lay the groundwork early. The viewer gets a tour of the ship and circular shot of the crew eating breakfast to establish the setting. From there on out, the viewer is along for the ride. Scott, along with cinematographer Derek Vanlint, keep the camera steady to create the perfect chilling ambience.

The process of filmmaking itself is ingrained in the text of Minority Report. The viewer can sense Spielberg’s craft of the story within the narrative itself. The opening setpiece shows the prowess of the Pre-Crime judicial system in “an ‘eye-opener’ in which the spectator watches Anderton scrutinising the video evidence of an imminent murder seen from multiple perspectives by the Pre-Cogs.” (Jarvis 248) By showing the system work in good practice at first, it tempts the audience to perhaps consider Pre-Crime as something good-natured. The opening sequence demonstrates “the depiction of a race to the rescue” that is a classical editing style in movies. When Anderton is “assembling the clues that allow us to perceive that they might just arrive in the nick of time”, it parallels the effect of editing. Without the process, films would just be a sequence of images that are altogether incoherent, so in this instance, the film gives viewers a peek behind the curtains into the filmmaking process. (Cooper 36) In fact, the way in which Max von Sydow’s government overlord character, Lamar Burgess, manipulates the evidence of the Leo Crowe murder, pinning it on Anderton, speaks to the constant magic trick of making something real behind the scenes. The connotations we put on the outside world is captured through film as well, as the film comments on the medium “redefining the relationship between home and outside world as a non-antagonistic one.” (Cooper 37) Spielberg moves the camera and manipulates the frame completely reversed from Scott. The action sequences  are visceral and imaginative, exploiting a new function of this world with each new set piece.

Even more so than direction, tone is what most separates the two films and Scott and Spielberg as filmmakers. Alien is icy to its core, unrelenting in depicting its own decay and sense of impending doom at all times. This tone is consistent through the second half, especially compared to most sci-fi films where the tone lightens up as the action takes center focus. Catching and killing the alien on the ship is depicted as grunt work. Each device, from weapons to the process of blowing up the ship, is mechanical.

On the opposite spectrum, despite its dystopian spin on real-world issues, Minority Report is a product of the often-argued Achilles Heel of Spielberg: his attachment to sentimentality. The dissection of Orwelian law enforcement and criminal justice is “dissolved repeatedly by Spielberg’s sentimental preoccupation with spiritual redemption and tears.” (Jarvis 249) Still, in the most dire circumstances, Anderton manages to find a happy ending, and the rest of the conflict in the film resolves itself cleanly in its third act. When contrasted with other Philip K. Dick adaptations, such as Blade Runner or Total Recall, which conclude with moral decay, this appears to be a failed reading. Ultimately, Spielberg stays in his lane and vows to craft a redemption arc for someone who’s odds are stacked against them.

Alien and Minority Report are representative of film as a melting pot of entertainment, art, and social commentary.