Minority Report Review

by Mark R. Leeper (markrleeper AT yahoo DOT com)
July 3rd, 2002

    (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: Steven Spielberg adapts a story by Philip
    K. Dick to create a marvelously faceted and incredibly dark vision of the future. Murder has been eliminated by use of mutants' psychic powers. MINORITY REPORT is fast-paced, yet still full of ideas. This is probably a better science fiction film in a more complex society than was BLADERUNNER (also based on a story by Philip
    K. Dick). Rating: 9 (0 to 10), +3 (-4 to +4)

When most science fiction films are set in the future the approach is simple. You have funny suits for the men, revealing fashions for the women, throw in a funny-looking car here and there, and show as little of the world as possible. That last part is desperately important. Think how much explanation phrases like "dot-com failure" would require to make it understandable to a 1950 audience. Seeing an accurate view of the world fifty-two years from now would be confusing and demanding. Steven Spielberg shows us a world just that far in the future and is not afraid to make the view confusing and demanding.

Spielberg has been accused of making manipulative and heavy-handed films that are just a bit simplistic and spell things out for the viewer. Certainly nobody can accuse MINORITY REPORT of being simple. In it Spielberg has told a story more than half a century in the future that is every bit as complicated and demanding as being dropped into the future would be. This film is a genuine piece of future extrapolation. Even written science fiction set in the future does not require this degree of thought about the future. Written science fiction does not allow the reader to put his head into a scene and look around at the world the way a wide- screen movie does. While some of Spielberg's future seems altogether impossible (e.g. psychic elimination of crime), and some seem more than fifty-two years away (cars adapted to highways that that are vertical for long stretches), Spielberg had taken head-on questions of where computing is going. What will advertising be like in fifty-two years? What will language be like?

The year is 2054. It has been six years since a murder has been successfully committed in the Washington DC area. Why? Because three mutant psychics, "pre-cogs" they are called, are kept in a state of constant sleep as their minds are probed see all potential murders before they happen. The police get this information in time to avert the killings. But apart from the constitutional issue of prior restraint, there is always the question of how one knows for sure the averted crime really would have happened. Tom Cruise plays John Alderton in the police Department of Precrime and a firm believer in the system he enforces. He will soon have reason to doubt the system.

Philip K. Dick raised these issues in his novelette "Minority Report." The point of Dick's story was that knowledge of the future changes the future so that multiple pre-cogs might see multiple alternate futures. Apparently even Spielberg thought that would be a tough notion to transfer to the screen so he simplified the concept and the importance of the "minority report" from which the film takes its name.

MINORITY REPORT is not just a summer fluff film. It is hard work to follow everything that is going on and to pick up all the interesting details in a world where the cartoon characters on a cereal box actually dance and sing and store ads recognize customers and know their purchase record on sight. MINORITY REPORT is the most detailed creation of a future society since BLADERUNNER, which incidentally was also based on the writings of Dick. Here Spielberg uses the ideas of Dick, the pacing of an Alfred Bester story, and the cynicism of Frederic Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth. The intelligence flags only near the end with Dick's ideas being replaced by a more cliched plotline. The payoff is not the end of the film but a shank that is so dense with ideas.
Spielberg greatly controls the images on the screen. Scenes are intentionally too complex to be understood on one viewing. To create a distancing effect he turns way down the color values so the visuals are halfway between color and monochrome. It is a mood device and works to reasonable effect.

This is a long film that that is hard work for the viewer. It makes few concessions to explanations. At one point a character says "I'm tired of the future." The casual viewer may feel the same way. Or he may just ignore the details and see this as an action film. But action films are many and extrapolations like this one few. I rate MINORITY REPORT a 9 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Minor spoiler....Minor spoiler....
Dick assumes that psychic powers are not perfectly precise and as a result three psychics are used and what at least two see is assumed to be true. By saying that there is a lead psychic and by assuming she is right even when the other two disagree Spielberg is saying it is really unimportant to have the other two. It is a betrayal of the original concept.

Another problem, with all the effort put into detail in this film, one very simple check was not done. There is a reference to a poll on Tuesday, April 22, 2054. That will be a Wednesday.
    Mark R. Leeper
    [email protected] Copyright 2002 Mark R. Leeper

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