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Minority Report
A new film by Steven Spielberg starring Tom Cruise, Max Van Sydow, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton
‘It was a great idea when Dick wrote it 44 years ago and Spielberg has been pretty faithful to the concept’.

Review by Sam North

Capt Anderton and Agatha
go on the run

OK I know the critics raved and everyone is happy Tom Cruise has got a good movie out again.
After the debacle of ‘AI’ I was very cautious about approaching ‘Minority Report’ the new film by Steven Spielberg based on a short novella by Philip K Dick. We all know that Spielberg can handle action, tension, drama and that the dialogue will be mature, fluid and thoughtful and the overall design will be fully realised, but can he tell the future?
The answer is an emphatic 'no'.

This Spielberg film contains scenes that could have come from ‘Dynasty’ the movie and but the setting and people in it are just not compatible with the words 2054 that pop up in the beginning of the film.

The story concerns pre-cognitive semi-sentient humans who work in the Department of PreCrime – a successful Washington DC based police operation that successfully predicts a murder is about to happen and then sends out a crack team (lead by Tom Cruise) to prevent it. It has cut the murder rate to zero and the unlucky would-be murderers spend the rest of their days in suspended animation. It was a great idea when Dick wrote it in 1956 and Spielberg has been pretty faithful to the concept. Philip K Dick actually conceived the future we now live in and films made from his work such as ‘Bladerunner’, ‘Screamers’ are bleak and reflect the author’s paranoid obsessions. (It is worth restating that the ‘Terminator’ movies are a series of films ‘inspired’ by Philip K Dick and ‘AI’ itself borrows a great deal. Terminator 1 captured the necessary dark vision to make it compelling and become a sci-fi icon. We await Terminator 3 with trepidation however.)

Minority Report has a paranoid basis and the pre-cogs are the result of babies born to parents experimenting with a new drug more addictive and disturbing than crack. The kids go crazy, born with the vision of other peoples’ upcoming murders all the time. Three babies are rescued and later put to work in the new Department of Precrime and the system is ‘perfect’. There are no innocents put away by accident. Everyone is guilty as found and Tom Cruise is brilliant at pinpointing the time and place of the would be killing (spurred on by the fact that his own child was snatched by a paedophile seven years before.)

But as Precrime is about to go Nationwide, the Attorney General’s office is staging a coup. They want control of the whole operation and send in one of their own to ‘observe’. Coincidentally Tom Cruise finds himself the suspect for the next precrime murder and he has to go on the run. As they often remind us, ‘Everyone runs’ even if there is no escape. His only chance is to find the 'minority report' which may give him an alternative future. When Tom runs he has to go to extremes, so if you are squeamish about eyes, like me, there is a long toilet break about half way through when he has his eyes removed and swopped for another. This is a gross and deeply unhygenic moment in the film with filfthy, supposedly Russian emigres and possible the best sequences, topped off with the scary robotic spiders that are searching the building for him. This is Spielberg at his best and it all works very well.

Spielberg goes to all the trouble of employing Industrial Light and Magic to orchestrate the brilliant special FX such as the transparent computers, the 3-D homes movies, the futuristic cars and roads, as well as the police rocket packs and their very ‘Alien’ jet powered police craft and the creepy robotic spiders. However, one look at the actual people populating Spielbergs films about the future (in AI as well as this) and you actually know he understands nothing about the future at all.

There is just one black guy in the movie (and of course plays Tom Cruise’s ‘buddy at work). Exactly where are all the Asians? One look at contemporary USA, Washington DC and all of the West Coast and you will know it is full of Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese and Hispanics. Population projections place the ‘Caucasians’ in the minority by 2050; so why is DC almost all 'white' in Spielberg’s movie? Not only that, but mostly Swedish. Does he only party in very exclusive circles in Hollywood ( much like the party in the film) and hasn’t noticed the change? There is something of an irony here in calling the film Minority Report. Not only are the other races missing but also the rich look like ‘Dynasty – the Movie’ extras. Fashion and decor don't seem to interest him much.

Even if you got rid of all the murders in D.C., would all crime cease? Would Georgetown still be as civilised in 2054, would the kids really be safe, the air so clean, the newspapers still be delivered by paperboys (even though the papers are electronic and as such would update themselves if you had a subscription - as actually shown on a subway ride.) Would kids still be buying balloons in the Mall? We still have Malls full of Ben and Jerry’s and Gap stores. Look back fifty years now and virtually none of the things we take for granted even existed, never mind still be sold by the same people.

Spielberg has envisioned (just as Philip K Dick did) a road system that envelopes the city skyscrapers vertically and horizontally and the fantastic cars are guiding along electronically. The flaw is that they would have to be built and one just cannot see zoning and planning laws allowing such a disfigurement of the cityscape. (Except in Seattle which desperately needs some kind of solution. The Lexus 'boutique' factory where new Lexus or Lexi are made without human involvement was a nice touch however.

In short, either you ignore the future when making a science fiction movie (as in 'Alphaville', Jean Luc Goddard in the 1960’s) or you go the whole hog, a la Bladerunner and do it right. Bladerunner succeeded because it imagined a totally new way of life that was at once fascinating and repellent and what we all recognised as being our most likely future.
Minority Report is a good idea flawed by a lack of complete vision of a distant future –one where it is likely, given modern medical science and longevity of the rich, Spielberg may live to see how wrong he was.

*If you are wondering how Tom Cruise was, he was great. Of course Max Von Sydow always plays the baddie, so I am not sure that was great casting but we were successfully thrown off scent of a long time and that takes directorial skill. The pre-cog 'Agatha' was played brilliantly by Samantha Morton whilst Colin Farrel overacted terribly throughout, however, casting overall produced a good balance. The tone could have been much darker however, above all there was a lack of menace that would have transformed this film into something worthwhile and could have been a good comment of where we all might be going.

A lack of vision, a touch of arrogance and with a probable racial blindspot his ‘Minority Report’ shows a narrow mind and a director who needs to get out more.
Minority Report gets a C+

© Sam North 2002

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