Minority Report Review

by Louis Proyect (lnp3 AT panix DOT com)
July 1st, 2002

Although Stephen Spielberg emerged side-by-side with George Lucas as a purveyor of juvenile film fantasies during the Reagan era, he has evolved into one of the more important social commentators in Hollywood. Whether dealing with racial oppression ("The Color Purple", "Amistad") or the holocaust ("Shindler's Gift), he is aspiring to the sort of reputation enjoyed by liberals like Otto Preminger or Norman Jewison in years past.
More recently he has begun to put forward a somewhat dystopian vision of the future, first with "AI", a film whose context is set by an ecological catastrophe that has left many of the planet's cities underwater. Now with the much-hyped "Minority Report," Spielberg turns to Philip K. Dick for inspiration. In this tale set in 2054, "pre-cogs" can detect murders that have not taken place yet. When pre-crime unit cop John Anderton (Tom Cruise) discovers that the pre-cogs have identified him as a future murderer, he takes it on the lam.

"Minority Report" is the third major film based on Philip K. Dick's fiction. Along with "Bladerunner" and "Total Recall," it incorporates his favorite themes. The future teems with technological advances, but within a capitalist context. In "Bladerunner" and "Minority Report," advertising for the same Fortune 100 corporations that exist today are plastered across buildings and in subway stations. We also find out that the masses rely on vicarious experience mediated through "virtual reality" type devices. In "Total Recall," Arnold Schwarzenegger takes a virtual vacation trip to Mars. In "Minority Report," Tom Cruise consoles himself with the holographic images of his dead son.

Although Dick has a well-deserved reputation for being pessimistic about the future, his message seems softened in Spielberg's treatment. Instead of the grimy and congested urban tableaux of "Bladerunner" (a Los Angeles of the future imagined by Hieronymus Bosch), instead we see a rather smooth-running and spiffy world, only marred by a judicial system that imprisons people even though they might be innocent. This of course has suggested to many of the reviewers of "Minority Report" that Spielberg is implicitly on the side of the angels in light of John Ashcroft's recent police state measures. Alas, this is not quite so.

Before filming, Spielberg convened a bunch of futurists. In an interview given to the Boston Herald on June 16th, Spielberg states that based on discussions with them the future does not look too shabby: "I was just fascinated about how positive some of those views were, notwithstanding the nuclear age we've been in for 50 years and the terrorism we currently have on the homefront."

From Internetnews.com, we learn that advertising plays a key role in their vision of the future. Referring to a scene in which Anderton has assumed the identity of a Mr. Yakamoto, whose eyes he has received in a macabre surgical procedure, the article points to a scene in "Minority Report" that is directed without a hint of irony:

A smiling Gap employee appears on a giant flat-screen monitor just inside the store, greeting customers as they walk in. "Good afternoon, Mr. Yakamoto," she says, loudly and cheerily. "How did you like that three-pack of tank tops you bought last time you were in?"

With the help of contemporary advertisers like Lexus, Reebok, Nokia, Guinness, Bulgari, and Pepsi-Cola's Aquafina, Spielberg and his team paint a fascinating picture of what advertising might look like in the future -- complete with interactivity and personalization. The vision grew out of a "think tank" of MIT futurists that Spielberg asked to imagine what the world would be like in 2054. From that team's work, and from the mind of production designer Alex McDowell, grew a panoply of ads that appear throughout the film.


Oddly enough, the proliferation of ads in "Minority Report" doesn't seem that different from what you see in any Hollywood movie--the result of a cozy relationship between the studios and big corporations looking for the last inch to peddle their wares. It even approaches the chutzpah of novelist Fay Weldon, who wrote the novel "The Bulgari Connection" on consignment from the jewelers. One wonders if they paid off Spielberg as well.
Considering the fact that among the futurists assembled by Spielberg were members of the editorial board of the techno-libertarian Wired Magazine, it is no surprise that the future looks a lot like the present.

Spielberg has been cagey about the film's relationship to the current crackdown. On one hand, he is quoted as saying that Ashcroft would like the film's setup but not the way it concludes. On the other hand, he told the NY Times:

"Right now, people are willing to give away a lot of their freedoms in order to feel safe. They're willing to give the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. far-reaching powers to, as George W. Bush often says, root out those individuals who are a danger to our way of living. I am on the president's side in this instance. I am willing to give up some of my personal freedoms in order to stop 9/11 from ever happening again. But the question is, Where do you draw the line? How much freedom are you willing to give up? That is what this movie is about."

In other words, Spielberg has staked out a liberal position: for civil liberties in the abstract, against them when they are most needed.

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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