Should I Watch..? 'Minority Report' (2002)
What's the big deal?
Minority Report is a science fiction mystery film released in 2002 and based upon the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, the writer behind other films such as A Scanner Darkly and Blade Runner. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and features Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton and Max Von Sydow. The film follows multiple themes including free will vs. determinism and the role of a preventative government in protecting its citizens. Despite the fancy visuals, it is an intriguing cross between a futuristic film noir and mystery thriller. Audiences and critics were similarly intrigued as it earned over $350 million globally and won a string of awards. Many critics, including Roger Ebert, declared Minority Report the best film of that year.
What's it about?
In 2054, Washington DC has a unique weapon in the war on crime - three precognitive individuals who can predict the future and witness murders before they happen. As a result, the PreCrime division, headed up by Captain John Anderton, arrests people before they have the chance to commit the murder. This brings the murder rate in DC down to zero although the general population understandably finds the scheme controversial. As a result of its success, the US Government is looking at launching PreCrime nationwide and sends Department of Justice representative Danny Witwer to audit the system.
As they are doing this, a new prediction comes in from the PreCogs - a man named Leo Crow will be murdered in 36 hours and the killer is none other than John Anderton. John is understandably shocked as he doesn't even know who Leo Crow is. Before his colleagues have a chance to react, Anderton goes on the run, believing that Witwer is somehow manipulating the system. But are the PreCogs, who so far have never been wrong, correct this time and can Anderton get to the bottom of the case before he himself is incarcerated?
What's to like?
A great deal, in fact. The story is an absolute belter, a very strong skeleton in which Spielberg hangs the pretty visuals and thematic elements. Ever since George Lucas first thought of a light-sabre, science fiction has been screaming for a return to the days when the story was important and more than just an excuse for whatever visuals had been dreamed up. It feels like classic sci-fi, a film that makes you ask questions. Another, less obvious, element is the setting. Spielberg has put a lot of effort into making this vision of the future as real as possible - indeed, we are already seeing touchscreen devices becoming everyday items. At long last, this is a film that puts the science back into science-fiction.
The film has quite a unique look to it, drained of most of the colour and reminiscent of earlier film noirs. And for most of the movie, you start to forget that this is a Spielberg film. There's little of the spark or excitement he usually brings - this future is a dark and depressing place, over-run by corporations that invade our everyday lives and is busy to help those citizens who fall by the wayside. Amazing, isn't it - this is all from a story written in 1956 and it is as relevant today as its ever been.
- The three PreCogs are all named after famous mystery writers: Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett.
- In the original novel by Philip K Dick, John Anderton (Cruise's character) was short, fat and balding. At least Cruise is short so one outta three ain't bad!
- According to witnesses on set, Colin Farrell had difficulty delivering the line "I'm sure you all understand the legalistic drawback to Pre-Crime methodology."
What's not to like?
There are times when Minority Report does feel like a technical showpiece for companies like IBM and Apple. It's easy to get distracted by the toys of the future (in fact, a lot of companies have admitted that this film got them thinking about delivering these products for real), especially the futuristic gloves Cruise uses to interact with the computer back at PreCrime. I appreciate that Spielberg must have figured that these gadgets would look good on screen but did so much of it have to appear? Take the cars descending the vertical highway - was there any point to this sequence other than to give Cruise a chance to indulge in his usual stunt-work? I'm not so sure.
But the biggest issue is with the ending, which I won't discuss too much as I hate spoilers! Considering the gloom that went before it, it feels as though Spielberg suddenly woke up in the directors chair and tagged on his usual sunny outlook. It is a stark betrayal of what went before it and I didn't like it at all. I wouldn't say it ruined the film because the rest of it is so good but it probably resulted in that elusive fifth star disappearing from my rating.
Should I watch it?
If you like your sci-fi then Minority Report is an underrated classic. It's far smarter and more enjoyable than action-based sci-fi like I, Robot which tries to maintain the illusion of brains but to no avail. Cruise is on fine form as Anderton while Morton's haunting portrayal of the PreCog Agatha is one that stays firmly in the memory. If you can forgive the excessively sugary ending then prepare to enjoy one of the best proper sci-fi films of recent years. This is much closer to the likes of Blade Runner than The Terminator which has about as much science in it as a shampoo commercial.
Great For: proper sci-fi fans, futurists, Apple's design department
Not So Great For: action junkies, reality TV fans, George Lucas
What else should I watch?
I, Robot, as I mentioned above, is also a recent sci-fi thriller with impressive credentials (based loosely on the work of Isaac Asimov) but concentrates more on the action side of things than presenting a scary vision of the future. It's OK but needed a bit more thought behind it. And then, there's The Matrix which substitutes intelligence for fortune-cookie philosophy. But then again, it does have that wonderful lobby shoot-out and dojo fight scene - for my money, two of the best action scenes ever filmed.
Of course, there are also other adaptations of Philip K Dick's work. Blade Runner is arguably the greatest of the lot and it puts up a good fight for being considered the best science-fiction film of all time. The original Total Recall is also a good film although any subtle themes and ideas are dispensed as soon as Arnold Schwarzenegger picks up a gun. Meanwhile, A Scanner Darkly is like a goth child in the corner of the room, being dark and full of brooding despite its almost unique look. It's a very different kettle of fish indeed.
Capt. John Anderton
Max Von Sydow
Director Lamar Burgess
Scott Frank, John Cohen *
Release Date (UK)
4th July, 2002
Sci-Fi, Mystery, Thriller
Academy Award Nomination
Best Sound Editing
© 2015 Benjamin Cox