“Based on a Philip K. Dick short story, Minority Report is about a cop in the future working in a division of the police department that arrests killers before they commit the crimes, courtesy of some future-viewing technology. John Anderton has the tables turned on him when he is accused of a future crime and must find out what brought it about and stop it before it can happen.” (courtesy IMDB)
More than three decades ago director Ridley Scott brought Philip K. Dick‘s novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? to the screen as Blade Runner (1982), and the darkly moral cybernetic thriller changed the way Hollywood felt about the future. A spate of moody science fiction films – some adapted from Dick stories, others simply inspired by Blade Runner – followed Scott’s landmark production. Then Total Recall (1990) blasted onto cinema screens – adapted from Dick’s story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale – mostly set on Mars and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as an adrenalised version of Dick’s tortured modern man lost in a maze of alternate realities. Vigorous box-office response to that film led screenwriters Gary Goldman and Ronald Shusett to scout potential source material for a sequel, seizing upon The Minority Report, a Dick story first published in 1956. The story concerns John Anderton, a middle-aged chief of a future Washington DC Pre-Crime law enforcement division, accused of murder in a world where precognitive telepaths – Pre-Cogs – predict impending homicides with unerring accuracy.
The premise failed to work as a sequel to Total Recall but, rewritten by Jon Cohen under the title Second Sight, the material eventually attracted the attention of actor-producer Tom Cruise, who presented the screenplay to filmmaker Steven Spielberg. In January 1999, 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks announced the superstar actor and director were joining forces to bring Dick’s story to the screen as a futuristic film noir, rewritten again by Scott Frank under the title Minority Report (2002). Preproduction on Minority Report was initiated before to A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), and marks Spielberg’s first foray into a fully-fledged futuristic world. To help him develop a distinctive yet plausible backdrop for the film, he recruited a think-tank of scientists and futurists to brainstorm potential technological advancements. Scientific dignitaries included Microsoft founder Bill Gates, novelist Douglas Coupland, virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier, and representatives of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Topics of discussion included urban growth, computer interfaces, transportation systems, work and leisure lifestyles.
The resulting story takes place in an Orwellian world where every citizen is catalogued by retina scans, and begins with Pre-Crime Captain John Anderton (Tom Cruise) and his Pre-Cogs preempting a murder in a suburb of Washington DC circa 2054, while a federal inspector named Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell) arrives to breathe down Pre-Crime’s neck. Anderton proves himself to be a hard-boiled company man, defending the system which has infallibly prevented murders for six years. A montage of soupy abstract images emerges as Anderton downloads transmissions from three Pre-Cogs: Agatha (Samantha Morton), Arthur (Michael Dickman) and Dashiell (Matthew Dickman), named after the famous detective novelists Christie, Conan Doyle and Hammett. The first prevision we witness involves suburbanite husband Howard Marks (Arye Gross) stabbing his unfaithful wife and her lover in a jealous rage. As the camera pulls back, the images of the prevision are revealed to be contained within the pupil of Agatha, one of the three ghostly-pale Pre-Cogs with glowing wires attached to their shaved scalps, floating on their backs in a petal-like array of containment tanks filled with ‘photon milk’.
The prevision triggers an alarm that sets machinery into motion at Pre-Crime headquarters. A laser-cutting lathe shaves a small cube of wood into a sphere, encases it in clear plastic, then embosses the names of the victim and perpetrator. Red indicates crimes of passion, brown indicates premeditated crimes. Anderton responds to the redball alert by donning a pair of virtual reality operator gloves and manning his workstation in the Pre-Crime analytical room. Dispatchers feed Anderton data which he then assembles on a wrap-around Plexiglas computer console, manipulating translucent moving images using hand and arm gestures to sift through clues and ferret out guilty parties and intended victims. Pinpointing the location of the impending double homicide, Anderton races to intervene, with only six minutes to spare. Pre-Cops board a hovership through a narrow corridor, Witwer calmly observing as they take to the air from the Pre-Crime roof.
Having successfully averted the crime, Anderton winds down from his workday by jogging through the inner city at night, passing an enormous hologram proclaiming the virtues of Pre-Crime law enforcement. The purpose of Anderton’s run becomes clear when he meets a stranger in an alleyway and exchanges cash for narcotics. Recognising his client’s voice, drug dealer Lycon (David Stifel) leers at Anderton mockingly, revealing two scarred cavernous eye-sockets. Back at his apartment, Anderton is seized by the munchies and begins to feed from a box of breakfast cereal. Annoyingly, the brightly coloured box bursts into life with animated cartoon characters and Anderton, in frustration, throws it across the room. Seated at his desktop home computer, Anderton calls up images of his ex-wife and missing son (a victim of an unsolved kidnapping years before) allowing him to re-experience happy moments with his lost family. Anderton later exits his apartment, leaping into a streamlined bullet-shaped craft nestled incongruously in his apartment wall, which seals him in and drops out of sight. The concept for Anderton’s car sprang from the think-tank discussions of a computer-controlled magnetic-levitation – or mag-lev – transportation system designed to supercede the fossil-fuel internal combustion engine, allowing vehicles to travel in hitherto unimagined configurations.
Anderton returns to work, submitting himself to an eye-dentiscan – a retina identification procedure simulated by a tiny flash of light – then hurries to join Witwer on his inspection of Pre-Crime. During the tour, lead Pre-Cog Agatha makes contact with Anderton’s arm and reveals a flash of a prevision on the temple monitor: a red-haired woman (Jessica Harper) underwater, frozen in a silent scream, offering the first fragment of a sequence containing clues that propel the mystery at the heart of the film. Shaken by his contact with Agatha, Anderton investigates the identity of the drowning woman by visiting the Department of Containment, where previsions are stored along with their intended perpetrators. The facility’s caretaker Gideon (Tim Blake Nelson) locates the drowning woman on a computer screen, then leads the way to a darkened octagonal chamber where he reveals a ‘John Doe’ (Bertell Lawrence) associated with the woman’s death. In a wide shot of the room, Anderton and Gideon ride a motorised arm extending from a central tower as tombstone-like tubes rise from the floor beneath them, revealing a forest of vertical glowing cylinders containing bodies in stasis, stacked five persons high.
The mystery of the drowning woman fails to interest Lamar Burgess (Max Von Sydow) – co-creator of the Pre-Crime system – who urges Anderton to focus his attention on the public image of Pre-Crime, now under investigation by the Attorney General. Back at headquarters, Anderton’s life takes an unexpected twist when a prevision of the murder of a man named Leo Crow (Mike Binder) appears on the analytical chamber screen. Anderton dials into the monochromatic image and focuses on the murderer – a crewcut figure pointing an old-fashioned .45 calibre handgun – and realises at once that he is staring at an image of himself undeniably shooting Crow. This prevision sets into action a chain of events and a final consequence from which Anderton knows he cannot escape. Convinced of his innocence, he sets his stopwatch and decides to run. As he flees in his mag-lev vehicle, Burgess appears on an internal video screen, begging him to return. Anderton is convinced Witwer has set him up but, despite his protests, Pre-Crime takes control of his mag-lev car to bring him back to base. He reacts to his predicament by kicking out the windshield from his car, clambering from the vehicle and leaping across the flow of traffic. Reaching the edge-most mag-lev car, Anderton hurls himself onto a balcony, smashing through a wooden garden trellis.
Continuing on foot through a shopping mall, Anderton is bombarded by more holographic advertising, eye-dentiscans flashing into his retina, triggering glowing projections that spring out at him from storefronts, addressing him by name. Anderton spots Pre-Cops in the mall and ducks into an underground metro rail system. Once aboard the train Anderton tries to evade eye-dentiscanners, but finds himself face-to-face with an image of himself on a ‘smart-newspaper’ copy of USA Today, animated with his mug-shot and the headline, “Breaking News: Pre-Crime Hunts Its Own!” He steps off the train and runs into a squad of hovercops, Pre-Crime officers wearing hoversuits and jetpacks, carrying ‘sick-sticks’ and a restraining device called a ‘halo’. A chase plays out as Anderton runs from the station to an alley, climbs a fire escape and grapples with flying officers as they attempt to apprehend him. Anderton falls and grabs hold of Pre-Crime officer Knott (Patrick Kilpatrick). Narrowly avoiding impact with the ground, Anderton takes control of Knott’s jetpack by grabbing the flying controls and propelling himself and the cop up the face of the building, grazing masonry and smashing window boxes.
The chase continues with Anderton clinging to Knott, piloting the cop’s jetpack through a window into a tenement building, startling a family having dinner. Anderton escapes from the apartment by smashing through the ceiling into the floor above (one of the many stunts performed by Cruise himself, supervised by Brian Smrz) and bursts through the window of the upper apartment, across the alley and into another residence at which point the jetpack finally fizzles out. Running from the apartments, Anderton enters a Lexus car factory, followed by Witwer and his agents. Anderton grabs a concussion gun and turns it on the agents, emitting a sonic blast that blows the men across the factory floor, then disappears from sight as robot arms bolt a car together around him on the factory assembly line. The agents watch the car through its final stages, peering through a window into a bright white room, where robotic paint nozzles spring into action. Anderton pops up inside the now immaculately painted car, calmly starts the engine and drives off with a smug look on his face.
He soon arrives at a rural walled estate, seeking the advice of Iris Hineman (Lois Smith), Pre-Crime’s reclusive co-founder. Scaling the garden wall, Anderton tangles with a predatory vine that springs to life and attacks him. Hineman, who grows genetically engineered flora inside her greenhouse, provides insights to a possible loophole in the Pre-Crime system – an anomaly that appears when one of three Pre-Cogs predicts a contradictory future – through a prevision known as a ‘minority report’. Anderton resolves to seek out his own minority report, stored inside Agatha’s memory at Pre-Crime. To do so, he first attempts to disguise his identity by visiting black market cosmetic surgeon Doctor Solomon Eddie (Peter Stormare), an old nemesis who gleefully suggests an illegal and gruesome eyeball replacement procedure, the only option for desperate fugitives in a world scrutinised by ubiquitous eye-dentiscanners. Anderton wakes from his traumatic operation, blindfolded and bedridden, with doctor’s orders to rest for at least twelve hours. Heavily medicated, he doesn’t notice the Pre-Crime hovership scanning the tenement. The hovership lands in a nearby alley and Pre-Cops disembark, identifying numerous heat signatures inside the building. They initiate a ground-level search using eight small surveillance devices known as spyders, which scuttle from room to room on wiry tripod legs, eye-dentiscanning anyone they encounter.
In one of the most complex camera moves in the film, the spyders climb a flight of stairs and scatter through apartments searching for Anderton. Hearing the commotion caused by the spyder invasion, Anderton blocks the gap under his own door, then leaps into a bathtub of iced water to disguise his heat signature. The spyders, undeterred by the sealed door, gain access through the ‘Healthflow’ system – a glowing sewage drain that lines all the corridors and rooms. Once inside the seedy room, one spyder slips under the door to the bathroom where Anderton is hiding, looks around and is about to depart when a tiny bubble of air escapes Anderton’s nose. Seven other spyders instantly swarm into the room, climb up on top the tub and fire an electrical shock into the water. Anderton erupts from the water and submits to the spyder’s scrutiny. Fortunately, the spyders fail to identify Anderton and quickly make their retreat.
Anderton later exits the apartments wearing dark sunglasses to disguise his cauterised left eye, and heads for Pre-Crime headquarters, where he uses an air syringe supplied by Eddie to injects himself with a paralytic enzyme, causing his face to slough temporarily into an unrecognisably withered version. His facial features are restored by the time he gets inside the Pre-Cog temple, where he frees Agatha by flushing out her tank and escaping with her through a drain. They speed away in his waiting Lexus and pay a visit to Rufus T. Riley’s Dreamweaver Headspa, a cyberparlour where patrons lounge in virtual reality cubicles sampling mental images ranging from extreme sports to less salubrious activities. Seeking the minority report that may prove his innocence, Anderton convinces Riley (Jason Antoon) to hack into Agatha’s subconscious. Riley connects the Pre-Cog to illegal hardware and unleashes a flood of disturbing imagery that appears on a monitor covering one wall. Instead of providing the alternate vision of the Crow murder, Agatha’s prevision reveals a further glimpse of Ann Lively falling prey to a hooded figure in a lakeside setting. Suddenly Pre-Cops burst into the cyberparlour, forcing Anderton and Agatha to exit out a back door and into a shopping mall. In the confusion Anderton collides with a businessman who spills a briefcase containing various animated magazines, one of which displays Anderton’s face with a ticking clock and the headline, “Countdown To Murder: Pre-Crime Cop On The Run!”
Agatha utilises her powers of precognition to help Anderton evade their pursuers with split-second timing, ducking the police amid giant flashing holographic billboards. Nearing zero hour in his rendezvous with Leo Crow, Anderton stops in his tracks as visual clues from the prevision begin to manifest inexorably before him: an advertising billboard points the way to a hotel, and a broken room number takes him to an upper-floor room. Against Agatha’s advice, Anderton confronts the man he is meant to kill and, in pure Philip K. Dick tradition, the paradoxes play out only to result in Anderton shooting Crow point-blank. Anderton then flees with Agatha, seeking refuge at his family’s summer cottage in Chesapeake Bay, now the home of his ex-wife Lara (Kathryn Morris). Moved by omnipresent reminders of Anderton’s son, Agatha experiences an emotional reawakening and begins to reveal her own memories of Ann Lively, her mother. Before she can continue, two hoverships appear and Anderton is soon apprehended, his head shaved with a restraining halo clamped onto his scalp and placed into a tube in the Department of Containment.
Lara begins to suspect Lamar Burgess’ involvement in her husband’s incarceration and takes matters into her own hands. During a gala celebrating Burgess’ appointment as the head of Pre-Crime’s new national law enforcement division, Agatha’s prevision of Ann Lively’s murder begins to play on giant screens around the ballroom. The prevision finally reveals Burgess as Ann Lively’s masked murderer, and he hurries to escape the ballroom. Back at Pre-Crime, Agatha and the other Pre-Cogs trigger a redball alert, identifying Anderton as the victim and Burgess as his murderer. Anderton intercepts Burgess in a standoff on the hotel terrace until a hovership appears, signifying the end of Burgess and the Pre-Crime system he created. In a quiet epilogue, Pre-Crime stands deserted, its Pre-Cog tanks empty, while Anderton relaxes in his apartment, reunited with his wife. Meanwhile Arthur and Dashiell sit reading, with Agatha nearby, staring out of a window, happy to be free, far from their de facto prison and the terrifying visions that have haunted them all their lives. The film closes with a five-and-a-half minute pullback revealing the Pre-Cogs inside a cabin on a secluded island at twilight.
I enjoy many films that star Tom Cruise, but not because Tom Cruise is in them. Legend (1985), Interview With The Vampire (1994), Mission Impossible (1996), Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Vanilla Sky (2001) and Oblivion (2013) are all enjoyable films despite Tom’s presence, who I find rather bland as a leading man. This is a shame as I know he can act – standouts, in my humble yet always accurate opinion, include Magnolia (1999) and Tropic Thunder (2008) – and although Minority Report is a fascinatingly intricate detective thriller set in an extremely believable and well-researched near-future, it doesn’t benefit in any way from Tom’s dull-as-dishwater performance. The real star of the film, I think you’ll find, is director Steven Spielberg himself. On a purely visual level, Minority Report is a superb film and Spielberg demonstrates once again how well he can manipulate an audience. His films may not exactly be art but they represent the peak of craftmanship, perfect machines in which all the parts – story, effects, editing, music, even actors – mesh together into a seamless whole: “Making movies is an illusion, and my job is to take that technique and hide it so well that never once are you taken out of your chair and reminded where you are.”
In these days of multi-million-dollar flops and rumours of the imminent decline and fall of Hollywood, Spielberg is sometimes mentioned as a saviour of the film industry. While others turn out monumental turkeys, almost everything Spielberg touches breaks all previous box office records. He’s had his flops too, and yet he has been hailed as a latter-day Walt Disney, another Irving Thalberg, a Samuel Goldwyn who can talk straight. Actually, he’s more like the Ronald McDonald of the movies, a filmmaker who’s able to take the same old basic ingredients and make them palatable to an enormous number of people. All of Spielberg’s films are made well, extremely so, but there is a coolness and calculation about them. His technical expertise – combined with his seldom-erring instinct for mythologies that keep their power in the secular world – has worked miracles both commercially and aesthetically for half a century now and is still going strong, with at least a dozen new projects currently in pre-production. It would be no surprise at all if his future accomplishments were even greater than those in his past, for he is a thoughtful, extremely talented filmmaker and tries terribly hard to remain true to his vision. It’s with this thought in mind I’ll ask you to please join me again next week to have your innocence violated beyond description while I force you to submit to the horrors of…Horror News! Toodles!