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Minority Report, written by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen from the short story ďThe Minority ReportĒ by Philip K. Dick, directed by Steven Spielberg, 2002, 140 min.

Minority Report is a movie with much promise, based as it is on the work of one of Hollywoodís favourite science fiction writers, Philip K. Dick. It is also directed by Steven Spielberg, one of the most successful directors ever, and quite a contributor to the science fiction genre himself. The movie stars Tom Cruise, a durable box office favourite as well. All the same, I was frankly quite nervous about this movie, and I had low expectations for it. Spielbergís previous movie, AI: Artificial Intelligence, was a washout and a bore of the worst kind, failing at almost everything it tried to do. Cruise is not particularly noted for his acting ability, rather as the centrepiece of a huge action setpieces. And Dick has not been treated too kindly by the movies, apart from the famous example of Blade Runner, which jettisoned huge portions of his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

Despite all this, Iím happy to say that Minority Report is actually a decent movie, a movie that needs at least two viewings. My first viewing, at the theatre, was filled with too many expectations and preconceptions, although I did get a sense that it was reasonably well put together. The movie shines, however, on DVD, with the ability to pause the flow and look at the details, if necessary; it also helped that I knew a little more about what was to come. More on that in a minute.

Minority Report marks a fairly drastic change in Steven Spielbergís career. His previous movie, AI, was trying to reach all of the effects achieved so effortlessly in Minority Report; in some senses, the two movies are flip sides of each other, similar in construction and intent, both a bit too long (a flaw also shared by Spielbergís other 2002 movie, Catch Me If You Can), and both possessed of a sardonic sense of humanity and storytelling. I like the new Spielberg, I like the chances he takes, and I like how he made AI even if all the risks didnít pay off. Minority Report feels like vindication.

Philip K. Dickís short story ďThe Minority ReportĒ was about the top official at a new anti-crime bureau, a policing structure with the ability to predict when crimes will occur and the legal right to arrest people before they commit the crimes. The main character is accused by the system, and after a series of chases and twists and turns, everything is worked out. The screenwriters take the idea of precognition and crime, and jettison just about everything else.

In the movie, Tom Cruise plays a man named Anderton, head of Pre-Crime. The first fifteen minutes of the movie follow Anderton on a case; itís a crime of passion, so thereís not much warning. We learn about the three pre-cogs who power the system and are kept in a tank. We see the way that Anderton tries to match up clues from the visions with whatís available to him in a heavily saturated information society. And we see the police raid when the crime is prevented. Itís an excellent opening.

After that, the main plot of the movie kicks in. Pre-Crime is being investigated by an official named Witwer, in the run-up to launch of the bureau nationally. Itís not long before the pre-cogs accuse Anderton himself of murder, and the name is someone Anderton has never heard of before. So, of course, he tries to evade capture. Spielberg provides us with two amazing action setpieces in a row. First, we have an instant classic of a scene, where Anderton is pursued and escapes by jetpack. And we go directly from the jetpack scene to a fight in an automated car factory thatís quite a jawdropper.

Will Anderton clear his name? What will happen if Witwer catches him? And who is to blame for setting up Anderton, if the system is indeed being manipulated? Youíll have to watch the movie to find out; there are probably too many twists and turns along the way, but there are some great moments.

Some of the plot elements are set up nicely, perhaps even too speedily. Iris Hineman, the woman Anderton goes to visit, is mentioned in passing in Andertonís explanation to Witwer early in the movie. Also, we get the idea of an echo of the crime, and the possible loophole there, in passing. The movie also structures the plot around some neat twists on action clichés. Iím thinking of the typical moment when a hero of a movie is on a subway or other public transit, and someone else is reading a newspaper with a wanted photo on it. In Minority Report, Anderton has been running as fast as he can, but he canít outrun this information society: the newspaper in this society is instantly updated.

Minority Report has some significant flaws, mostly to do with illogical aspects of the future technology that are present only for the needs of the plot. I found it strange that the automated car factory had a complete lack of security; there was nothing preventing entry to the premises, and worse, the robots donít detect humans in the path of their movements. Itís a nice moment when Anderton drives off with a completed car but itís also unbelievable that the car company wouldnít have ways of preventing such easy theft.

The other major flaw in the movie is the way Andertonís old eyeballs continually get him past security, as if an information society like the one presented would not have security states attached to such important access modes. Worse, this happens twice, even when heís in containment.

Now that Iíve mentioned the eyeballs, I can segue into another aspect of the movie. Spielberg has included a number of very odd moments of humour, sometimes outrageous and funny, other times dark and sardonic. Chief among these is the scene of Anderton chasing after his roly-poly old eyeballs as they roll down a corridor. Other sequences of a similar nature include: a Pine and Oats singing cereal box, Anderton landing in a yoga class after a chase, when Andertonís jetpack broils burgers, when Anderton eats a gross sandwich, the spyder invasion played for comedy, and Rufus T. Riley and his place of business, including the adulation man in his chamber. Some of the social or technological developments are also conveyed through the use of humour, and these are probably the most effective parts of the movie. In particular, the sick stick is a good example of how security forces right now are trying to develop non-lethal weapons.

Minority Report speculates extensively about the effects of an information society on privacy, which is probably the strongest aspect of the movie. The answer to privacy concerns seems to be: no such luck! Targeted advertising, retinal scanning, widespread surveillance, and so forth; all the nightmares of those concerned about the lack of privacy are here, and theyíre presented in a credible manner. The system works fine when youíre living in line with what those in power require, but anything else is a terrifying transgression, perhaps not even conceptually possible for most of the people who live in the midst of it. Unprecedented control is on the way and not everyone is an action movie star with the muscles and fighting ability to punch your way out of trouble. At least, thatís the reading I get of the ideological cracks in the movie, of the gap between the movie as satire or warning, and the movie as contributor to the problem, complete with real world brand names and wish-fulfillment single-combat plot resolution.

Minority Report is an excellent movie; flawed, at times disjointed, but always interesting, and building some strange and unique moments onto its skeleton of the typical story of a man falsely accused.

DVD Note: Minority Report comes in a two-DVD set. The movie itself is on disc 1, and itís a gorgeous movie to watch with the ability to freeze frames. I think I liked the movie better the second time, partly because I had the time to examine all of the detail that is crammed into the frame, and also to appreciate that Spielberg keeps the story moving at a brisk pace and doesnít get bogged down in these details. Disc 2 has an extensive set of extras, describing how the ideas behind the movie came about, the making of the movie, and a few other things. I found that the special features were all broken up into little parts which made it seem as if there was less material; I wanted to know more about each subject, and then it would be over. In any case, the DVD set is a nice package and worth checking out.


Last modified: March 11, 2003

Copyright © 2003 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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