Spielberg: Minority Report

I love a great Philip K Dick film adaptation. We have had some that are great (Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly) some that are good (The Adjustment Bureau) and some that need, er, work (Screamers, Imposter, Paycheck, Next). Each of these films tend to have their own little maguffin; whether it is an envelope of clues, being able to see two minutes into the future, the entire human race having their paths chosen for them, or having your memory replaced by that of a fake identity. Identity and humanity and free will are recurring themes in Dick’s work. The best films explore these themes, as opposed to using them as mere devices to propel the story forward, but they also take time to invent the world around them as well.

Minority Report centres around the Pre-Crime unit of the future. Basically they have three “Pre-Cogs” who float in a pool and can predict future crime – namely murder. With this evidence the pre-crime team can work the evidence and locate the intended murderer before they commit the crime as we see by the film’s opening section. It’s a great sequence as we are introduced to Spielberg’s choice of shooting style. It seems he’s coming down to earth with a bit of shaky camera work and a very bleached and grainy feel to the stock used.

The technology used is explored – we get the office network system, the touch screen pads they use, and the lottery machine they pinched that delivers the names of perps and victims. It’s all information to store for the entire world. So by the time we are introduced to jet packs, sick sticks and the cars of the future – not to mention the advertising methods of the future – we are not so surprised and can see it as a possibility for the future – but undeniably has set up the logic and physics of the world we are currently inhabiting in the narrative.

The idea of Pre-crime itself is also discussed when we are introduced to Colin Farrell’s character Danny Witwer. It’s a fast discussion he has with John Anderton (Tom Cruise) and his team, but is no less fascinating. The scene passes by very quickly and on first viewing can be seen simply to set up Witwer as antagonistic towards Anderton. On revisit the dialogue sparkles and the actors really bring it to life. Even Anderton’s cronies start to nod along to Witwer’s observations. You can take such talk to the pub after seeing the film and discuss the potential of the idea.

After this we are quickly then shown the chink in Anderton’s armour. He has lost a child, and as a result is now estranged from his wife. He’s also using drugs to fill that gap late at night when he goes home to watch the old home movies (although I will say this moment reminded me very much of a similar scene from Timecop where van Damme talks to his home movies).

And then we are off. Back at the office a crime is predicted and this time it’s Anderton who appears to be the intended Killer. Having taken this call and stunned by the revelation that he will shot a man named Leo Crow, Anderton has no choice but to run (another persistent theme in Dick’s work). And run he does.

This takes us to probably the dumbest of all the action scenes – the jet-pack fight. Fun though it is; you know you are in retro Spielberg territory when an entire family are blasted out from their own dinner table when the two men in midair fight burst through their floor. Oh and look the jet stream from the pack sets the burgers on the burner alight cooking them. Yeah that’s cute.

Thankfully after that we end up in the car factory where Anderton is taken on by Farrell and his agents. We get the use of another magnificent invention. It’s like a shown of shotgun that blast almost like a pulse of energy or, disrupts the air so much that it blasts people away. With this and the Sick Sticks, it seems the future is in favour of non-lethal type of weaponry. But guns do still exist.

Anyway, Farrell and Cruise get to get down and dirty and have a bit of a punch up. But it ends with Cruise trapped in a car that is being put together by all the robotics. And we watch right through to the end of the assembly like when the car comes out finished. It’s a bit unbelievable that you could just start it up and drive off – but I’ll give them creative license to do so. The only thing that makes me frown is the Indiana Jones type of escape music that then plays as he drives off and Farrell runs up to the camera to watch him escape. You could literally insert the short of Jones in the plane at the start of Raiders at this moment and it would probably match the tone.

After a stop off with the creator of Pre-Crime, Anderton ends up in one of the most interesting scenes of the film. Meeting with a former eye doctor who is going to give him a new set of eyes. It’s a beautifully decorated scene in a real shabby apartment, with a giant screen in the background playing TCM type of old school entertainment. The doctor himself (Peter Storemare) has one of those love him or hate him type of performances. Storemare is well known for his crazy characters, but I think this one in particular is truly amazing. And it’s a real call out to Blade Runner with all the “eye” one-liners. True I think they maybe had one or two too many in this scene alone, But i’d be hard pressed to select which ones I would remove. They are all fairly strong and full of EYE-rony (ok I won’t do that again), there is just simply too many of them. But I think Cruise actually gets the best one when the doctor asks why he wants to retain his own eyes after the operation “Because my mother gave them to me.”

It is scenes like this that make me revel in the film. It’s scenes with this amound of character background, confrontation and tension (whether danger existed in the end at all or not) that makes this such a well written film. It’s also quite a disgusting extended scene as the doctor enters the scene with one of cinemas most disgusting nose sneezes. His assistant is fist scene in silhouette pulling her trousers up after a toilet flushes, and then is scene sporting a rather unpleasant beauty boil on her face. Even later when Anderton goes to seek food he grabs the world’s moldiest sandwich. It’s all deliciously gross.

The scene is made more interesting by the fact that the man is also former convict that Anderton put away – placing him in real immediate danger. The doctor real tells his tale and then conviction to Anderton – but by the end you have to wonder was he really being threatening and sarcastic in his tone, or was he actually being honest about the outcome of it all.

One of the more tense scenes follows when the little robotic spiders are sent into the apartment to find Anderton. The scene is shot very much like how Brian DePalma might approach his own work with an elongated overhead shot of the apartments, panning from room to room as each occupant is forced to endure a retina scan from the spider scouts. Anderton has to hide in a bathtub of ice, and yet still has a retina scan forced upon him which looks quite painful considering the operation he has just had.

More eye humour comes in the fact that as he tries to break into Pre-Crime he has to chase his own eye balls down a corridor after he drops them by accident.

Once he has Agatha and they are on the run he tries to solve the mystery of why it is he is due to kill this man Leo Crow in a few hours time. But then the mystery of Agatha comes out as well – which will be key to everything. The film cleverly makes very little reference to it all throughout. But another key thing about this is that Agatha showed this vision to Anderton (who then took it to his boss) not long before he himself was up for being a murderer. All of this makes it very easy to figure out just who the culprit will be in the end. But more on that later.

A scene in a shopping mall shows us just how good Agatha is at manipulating the future to their benefit. We eventually reach pre-destined destination and Cruise comes face to face with his real life brother as the clerk (William Mapother) that geeks out there can take pleasure in. Once we are in the room, possibly the best scene in the film happens. It heightens the tension to bursting point as we all realise that Anderton does indeed have a very good reason for killing this man. And when Crow enters the room what happens is nothing short of startling. Anderton gives this man a kicking and a beating he will not forget in a hurry, culminating with Crow and Anderton in the predetermined postion with gun at the ready. I never knew a background billboard rising in the sky (seen through the windows behind the characters) would create so much tension in me (and I swore to god it was a picture of Matt Damon at the time – who was once mooted for the Farrell role).

Now what happens next is quite brilliant. Anderton beats the clock and starts to read the man his rights, holding back the tears as he does. But then what was predetermined happens anyway – It’s merely an alternative version of it. But the exact same dialogue “Goodbye Crow,” “Anderton Wait” is still used. And Crow goes out the window to his death.

Now this in my opinion (one way or another) this is where they should have tied the film up and ended it – with this downer ending (again common to the best of Dick’s work) with Anderton having fallen into what was predicted for him would have been great.

Instead we get another 20 minutes of Anderton on the run, being caught, the real bad guy coming to the fore and then Anderton’s wife coming to the rescue – so Anderton can go chase the bad guy, who kills himself anyway. Pre-Crime is torn down and a whole host of potential murderers are unleashed upon the world. Hurray! Yeah OK if they ended it my way there would be the lose end of Agatha’s recurring vision. But the film simply peaked in place that made sense.

Minority Report I think is easily in with the best of the Dick adaptations, it just has a few uneven tonal moments and a poor last 20 minutes. Otherwise I can return to this film on a regular basis. I also rate this is my second all time favourite ‘Berg movie after Raiders. This is purely because he took on the type of story that I get excited about and he was highly inventive with it. On re-watch you can spend time exploring the world further for all the extra detail. We just need a phantom cut that trims the over abundance of dumb humour. Then the future will just be perfect.

Steven Hurst

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