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Minority Report

Entry updated 2 February 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2002). Twentieth Century Fox and DreamWorks Pictures present a Cruise/Wagner/Blue Tulip/Ronald Shusett/Gary Oldman production. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Scott Frank, Jon Cohen, based on "The Minority Report" (January 1956 Fantastic Universe) by Philip K Dick. Cast includes Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Kathryn Morris, Samantha Morton and Max von Sydow. 145 minutes. Colour.

Bizarrely, given his far from mainstream style, Philip K Dick has become one of the most profitable science fiction authors for Hollywood to adapt. Minority Report is similar to Total Recall (1990) in that both movies take a Dick short story as their core plot and then expand hugely on it to create a big-budget action thriller.

Keeping within cinema convention, Minority Report turns its protagonist John Anderton (Cruise) from a "bald, fat and old" man into a handsome thirty-something. The setup remains the same, John Anderton runs the Pre-Crime unit in Washington which uses three psychics (described – from Precognition – as precogs) to predict killings before they happen. The police then intervene and arrest the suspect for future murder. Anderton's belief in the system is sorely shaken when his own name comes up: he is apparently only days away from killing a man he has never met. Here the film diverges from Dick as Anderton runs from one chase scene to the next, seeking to understand his future. Anderton is a damaged investigator in the film noir style. (His nine-year-old son has earlier been abducted and presumed killed, and he has subsequently become a drug addict.)

When after much confusion it becomes apparent that Anderton is being set up by his superior (von Sydow), who is covering up a murder of his own committed some years earlier to keep Pre-Crime running, Anderton is cleared and Pre-Crime is shut down. The title refers to the occurrence of a psychic vision from one precog that doesn't match the other two. In the Dick story this is central: because of Anderton's access to the reports, each precog factors in his reaction to the previous reports into their own. Thus all three become minority reports, where the third supersedes the other two. The film jettisons this as too complex, and thus the minority report becomes something of a McGuffin: Anderton doesn't even have one.

A striking feature of the film is that it reverses the moral of Dick's story. Dick's Anderton understands that the system is fallible only in the extremely rare case of it identifying a killer who has access to the reports. Thus, Anderton commits the crime as has been foretold so that Pre-Crime will not be discredited. The man is less important than Pre-Crime. The film Minority Report has its own murderous policeman, who is not the protagonist but the villain of the piece. Spielberg's movie shows the organization as irredeemably tainted by his actions, and so it is shut down. However, the film remains well made, and most changes to the original story are arguably improvements. Spielberg is especially good on a technical level, and he gets excellent performances out of his cast.

Most interesting are the background details, Minority Report presents a vision unusually dark for Spielberg; it is set in a sterile and soulless future (well conveyed by the washed out cinematography) whose rootless inhabitants lead lives often addicted to commercially provided fantasy. Citizens are bombarded with personalized Advertising; product placement is everywhere (including of course the film, thus exploiting it and seeing it ironically at the same time). Owing as much to George Orwell as to Dick, the film also has its citizens under constant surveillance: its central metaphor is eyes. [JN/PN]


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