Original US release date: June 21, 2002
Production budget: $102,000,000
Worldwide gross: $358,372,926
I actually wasn’t excited about the release of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report in the summer of 2002. I liked Spielberg. I liked Cruise. But the trailer didn’t appeal to me. And, even worse, it felt like I was forced to watch said trailer before every . . . single . . . movie . . . that I went to see in the months leading up to it. I was tired of the film before it had even hit theaters. Funnily enough, the only reason I even went to see it in the theater was because of another movie trailer. Fox announced that the trailer for 2003’s Daredevil would be attached to every print of Minority Report. You see, kids . . . back then, you had to actually go to the movies to see movie trailers. There was no such thing as online marketing. No high-speed downloads. No streaming. And, being the lifelong Marvel Zombie that I was, I was willing to fork out the money to see a movie I had no interest in just to catch the first glimpse at the trailer for the next upcoming Marvel Comics adaptation.
I’m so glad I did. Minority Report ended up being one of my favorite movies of the year, to say the very least. Whenever I recall thoroughly enjoying a film that I haven’t seen in a while, I wonder to myself if I’ll enjoy it as much when I next view it as I did before. I am very relieved to say that, upon my re-watch for this column, Minority Report easily lived up to the reputation that had been crafted for it in my memory.
If you haven’t seen the film, based on the short story by Philip K. Dick, here’s the idea: it’s the year 2054. Certain individuals have developed the ability to precognitively witness murders before they are supposed to happen. In response, law enforcement officials in Washington D.C. have secured the use of three of these individuals (appropriately dubbed “precogs”) in order to stop murders before they occur. And it has apparently worked, as there hasn’t been a single murder in the city in six years. Naturally, this raises ethical questions. Should someone be arrested for a crime they haven’t committed? What if the precogs are wrong? How would we ever know? And should we even argue if the results seemingly speak for themselves?
No one outside of those who have been arrested due to this system seems to be interested in challenging the process. At least, no one is willing to challenge the system until top cop John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is named by the precogs as the perpetrator of the murder of a complete stranger, due to take place in approximately 36 hours. Anderton immediately makes a break for it (“Everybody runs.”), setting out to solve the mystery of the very crime he is supposed to commit and prove his own innocence.
Minority Report is a story unlike any other that has been translated to the big screen before or since. And, being the master of his craft, Spielberg nails it on the first try. On the surface, the film is a fast-paced, nonstop science-fiction thriller that takes its characters and its audience on an exhilarating ride comprised of snappy dialogue, clever uses of technology, unpredictable (yet entirely believable) plot twists, and perfectly staged action sequences. The film never slows, never slums, and always entertains. Anderton is thoroughly developed – his every word and action supported by clear motivation. These characters are all supposed to be intelligent, and they are. Many viewers want every character in every film to be a supergenius. They want the fifteen-year-old babysitter being chased by the killer with the hatchet to handle herself the way Amy Adams’s scientist in Arrival would in the same situation. That’s silly. But Spielberg knows who should be smart and who shouldn’t and he puts that knowledge to perfect use in this film.
Beyond those obvious characteristics, the film is also an exquisitely crafted mystery. I actually see some influence from The Ring, which just adds more credibility to the legacy of that film (as if it needs it). But the way that the detectives analyze the different images from the precogs’ visions and then try to determine from where they originate is very reminiscent of Naomi Watts’s Rachel doing the same with Samara’s cursed video tape. While I love everything about Minority Report, what I love the most is that when I first saw the film, I never knew what was going to happen next. Just when one thinks that Spielberg and Dick are all out of surprises, there are two more right around the corner. And, I’ll repeat: they all make sense. Not a single one is there without character motivation and storyline justification.
Spielberg also understands the importance of restraint. Too often, storytellers ask for too much suspension of disbelief, requiring audiences to buy into ideas such as moon colonization occurring just six years in the future or possibly fully realized human cloning by next March, with everyone simply adapting to it, instantaneously. While Minority Report takes place far enough in the future to accept some significant technological advancement, the people are still people. They still drink Aquafina, they still shop at the Gap, and they still watch COPS on Fox (complete with “Bad Boys” theme song). More importantly than all of that, the people in 2054 all still have the same priority that people have always had: self-preservation. Minority Report isn’t a film about futuristic people; it’s a film about regular people struggling to adapt to and cope with futuristic technology.
Technically, if one wishes to nitpick, I suppose Minority Report isn’t perfect. There’s one scene where Cruise’s Anderton pulls himself up from a near-fatal fall without truly having anything with which to gain purchase. And at another point, he uses a disguise that just looks like poor movie makeup rather than a convincing concealment. But that’s pretty much it. That’s all I have as far as criticisms go. And that’s about as benign as flaws get. The truth is that Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report is a modern science-fiction classic that deserves much more recognition than it gets in today’s film circles. I’ll even go so far as to declare it an outright masterpiece. It’s one of Spielberg’s best films (take that in for a moment), it’s one of Cruise’s best films (maybe his very best), and it’s one of the greatest science-fiction films of all-time. The brilliant story and script, Spielberg’s flawless execution, Cruise’s charisma and presence, the ethical implications behind the law-enforcement methods, and the always-fun philosophical and logistical conundrums that surround the fate-versus-free-will discussion all combine to deliver a mind-blowing viewing experience that still excites and resonates over fifteen years later.
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