When Minority Report was released, it was a massive success. Not only was it a huge critical and commercial smash at the time (Roger Ebert didn’t hesitate when naming it the best film of the year), but it is still fondly remembered as one of Steven Spielberg’s best sci-fi films. And yet, even after hearing about all of that, I still went into it with fairly mediocre expectations, expecting it to be just another cheesy Spielberg thriller. Perhaps this was because I knew virtually nothing about it, or perhaps it was because it had Top Gun’s Tom Cruise in the leading role. Either way, though, to say that I was proven wrong would be a very, very big understatement—and I mean very big.
Using the Phillip K. Dick short story of the same name as a launching pad, the film’s premise is Bluebloods by way of Blade Runner, with a bit of 1984-ish satire thrown in for good measure. In the year 2054, Washington D.C’s PreCrime department is able to stop all murders before they actually happen, thanks to specially mutated humans named “Precogs” that can see into the future.
They may be forced to remain semi-conscious in a private water pool in order to do this, but hey, the ends justify the means, right? Sure—at least, until PreCrime Captain John Anderton (Cruise) is predicted to be a murderer himself, forcing him to go on the run. Or is this just an error caused by one of the PreCogs having a different vision than the other two—in other words, the “minority report” of the title?
Seeing how complicated the plot gets from there, I’m hesitant to reveal much more about it. And perhaps the story’s slightly (and, at times, confusingly) convoluted nature drags it down a little bit, but its biggest flaw lies in the rather forced ending, which wraps things up way too neatly to be effective.
However, some have interpreted the film’s climactic events very differently, claiming that Spielberg wrote it that way to fool the audience and communicate something much bleaker, even going so far as to dub it a much subtler version of Brazil’s shocking conclusion. [NOTE: LINK CONTAINS HEAVY SPOILERS FOR BOTH FILMS.]
As much as I love the idea of Spielberg slyly subverting his traditional “happy ending”, given the story’s general direction up until that point, a jolting deviation like that just seems too unlikely. I’m sure Spielberg himself would agree.
Besides that, however, Minority Report is easily ranks among the best sci-fi films I’ve seen in a long while. With a few exceptions (I really couldn’t help but laugh at the prospect of cars being able to drive both directly forward and straight downwards—on gravity-defying roads, no less!—with zero effort), the dystopian future-shock world it creates is surprisingly believable, effectively delivering a healthy dose of post-9/11 social commentary to everybody watching. Looking at the technology surrounding us today, the prospect of AI scanning our eyes in department stores so holograms can specifically call us by name doesn’t seem too far off at all.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Minority Report, however, is just how dark and—let’s be real here—disturbing it really gets. With so many PG-13 blockbusters today aiming to be as clean and safe as possible, the amount of raw, realistically gory violence (and just gore in general—never did I think I’d see a guy chasing after his own severed eyeballs in a non-R-rated film) in this one is a real breath of fresh air. Excepting one ridiculously over-the-top sequence towards the beginning, most of the action is refreshingly grounded in reality, with most character deaths being genuinely startling rather than unintentionally cartoonish.
So now I am forced to do something I never thought I’d do: admit that Spielberg can craft genuinely great films for older audiences, not just sentimental children’s fare.* Don’t get me wrong here: E.T. is a great movie and all, but if you really want to see Spielberg at his most unusually dazzling, then this is the way to go.
*Yes, I am fully aware that Spielberg made the celebrated Holocaust drama Schindler’s List nearly 10 years before Minority Report was released. No, I have not seen it yet.