Throwback Thursday examines films from the past—typically “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important in some aspect.
As mentioned in my previous columns, with CONvergence coming up in July and running with their theme of dystopian visions, I’m delving into the film adaptations of Philip K. Dick. I will try to stay away from comparisons to his novels and short stories as much as possible and aim to focus specifically on the films themselves.
This week, let’s talk Minority Report (2002)—Steven Spielberg (dir.)
Arguably one of the greatest living directors, Steven Spielberg is no stranger to science fiction, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report were his one-two punch into dystopian world building. Since I’m focusing on Philip K. Dick adaptations, I will steer clear of my thoughts on A.I. at this time, but there is definitely a similar feel to both of these films. Both are set in the future, and both rely heavily on cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s camera work.
Delving into the running Philip K. Dick theme of free will versus fate, Minority Report focuses on John Anderton (Tom Cruise), chief of the Precrime police force, whose job is to receive and decode images from three precognitives and prevent murders from happening. Another “man on the run” film protagonist, Anderton is framed for a precrime murder and must work to clear his name. There are a lot of subplots in this film, dealing with the abduction of Anderton’s son many years ago; his subsequent determination to prevent future deaths, which drives him into the precrime unit; drug addiction; a rival Department of Justice employee (Colin Farrell) who’s after his job; and the precogs themselves, who are trapped in a state of no-life.
This could almost be a pseudo-sequel to the Nicolas Cage film Next. In that film (which I covered in a previous column), Cage’s character is worried that his power to see the future will force him into government hands to be used at their whim. In Minority Report, this is exactly what has happened to the precogs. They are trapped and drugged, forced to report the murders that they see. It’s for the greater good, yes, but their liberty has been taken away.
The film’s title is taken from the idea that the three precogs don’t always agree on a specific murder—sometimes one of them will see the future differently. This is labelled a “minority report” and hidden from the Precrime force. In Anderton’s quest to prove himself innocent of the future murder of which he’s been accused, he finds out about these minority reports and determines that the best way to clear his name is to find the one relating to his case. Does Anderton knowing about his future allow him to prevent that future from happening, or is it all inevitable? This theme of fate versus free will is an incredibly strong theme, and the film excels at following this topic to a fitting conclusion.
The action set pieces are well done (it’s a Spielberg film—do I need to say more?) and come about naturally in the flow of the plot. The look of the film is very washed out; Spielberg and Kaminski purposefully bleached out the visuals and gave them a blue tint so that when color does happen, it pops and stands out more, the prime example being when in a flashback we see Anderton’s son disappear from a public pool. The film also relies on random lens flares, which I didn’t necessarily enjoy but could ignore when they happened. At least they aren’t as gratuitous as they are in a J. J. Abrams film.
There is a bit of an oddity when Anderton meets with an underground doctor to have his eyes replaced (it’s a whole thing to sneak past eye scanners). Right before the surgery, the doctor (Peter Stormare) admits that Anderton arrested him years earlier and he wants revenge. This seems like an un-needed backstory if they’re not going to capitalize on it; I understand wanting the doctor to be creepy and therefore needing to have a sense of danger, but to not give the audience any kind of closure with this feels pretty jarring.
Minor quibbles aside, however, this is a fun, fast-paced film by one of our greatest directors. Definitely worth seeing if you haven’t and fun to revisit if you have. Still, not my favorite Philip K. Dick adaptation . . . that’s coming.
Feel free to discuss the film further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.
Check out the previous installments of Dystopian Dick: