Minority Report  (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

It is the world of 2054. Tom Cruise heads up a special unit of D.C. crime fighters whose job is to prevent future crimes. They use the predictions of psychics to see the future, then they prevent those incidents from happening by arresting and incapacitating the future criminals. Many people protest the project at first, especially because the arrested people have committed no crimes, but when the murder rate in D.C. drops to zero, the Federal government decides to take the project over and expand it.

I suppose I'm not going to tell you much about this film that you haven't already read elsewhere. It's a futuristic film directed by Steven Spielberg, based on yet another story by the same guy whose stories inspired Blade Runner and Total Recall (Philip K Dick). In the simplest terms, it uses the future as a backdrop for one of those stories where the accused cop has to prove his own innocence. It's a true film noir in both tone and palette, except that it takes place in 2054, and is also a rollicking action picture, ala Mission Impossible. The most spectacular thing about the film is the detailed thought that went into envisioning the future world. Every room is filled with objects yet uninvented. The world is filled with new plants, new gizmos, and new technology, and all of that is depicted in detail. Spielberg convoked a symposium of futurologists to help him design what the world might look like in 50 years.

You'll notice that I avoided using the term "science fiction" in those paragraphs. That's because this film is not science fiction, although it has a sci-fi backdrop. Science fiction, by definition, is the genre in which people imagine what the future might be like. Again, by definition, it must either be a plausible version of the future or at the very least a possible version. Minority Report is not science fiction, but fantasy fiction. If you think it has anything to do with science, call up a physicist and ask him the likelihood that a time will come when psychics will be able to picture specific, detailed future incidents. He will tell you that not only is it unlikely, but impossible. Minority Report not only fails to show a likely future scenario, but in contrast shows a future that will never be, because it could not be. Calling them "precogs" instead of "psychics" gussies up the ugly truth, but doesn't change the fact that they are tomorrow's Miss Cleos. Will such a thing ever transpire? Let me put it this way. It is far more likely that Santa Claus will turn out to be real.

Many reviewers found problems inherent in the entire concept, feeling that many elements in the script make absolutely no sense. Yes, that is true, because it isn't based on plausible scientific concepts, but rather on religious and fantastic concepts. You must accept when you watch a time-travel film that it will generate all the usual time-travel paradoxes. If you don't like time-travel films, don't watch them. If you do like them, don't complain when they don't make sense. They can't ever make sense. They come from the world of imagination. They are based on something we wish we could do but cannot, as opposed to something that may someday be possible. Or, to remove my thin veneer of euphemism, they are based on pretty lies.

In addition to the usual time-travel problems, there are far more loopholes in the storyline. The filmmakers never really thought through any of the details of the crime prevention program. They were too busy with the detective plot, the gadgetry, the action, and the characterization, as well they should have been. After all, there is no way to make impossible stuff make sense, so why worry about it? Worry instead about the stuff that you can control. I applaud their priorities, but just for the sake of illustration, here are some examples of what I mean:

Example 1:

1. We are told that the project cannot work without psychic Agatha. Therefore, if the project is to be expanded from D.C. to a wider area, Agatha will have to be part of it. The future expansion will not be done with additional psychics, but with Agatha and her two associates.

2. But - if Agatha now sees all the murders committed everywhere in the world, then how do the techs go through all that recorded footage and figure out which ones occur in the D.C. area? The D.C. area has only about one of every three thousand people in the world. The amount of data would be staggering.

3.  Or - if Agatha can only see murders committed in D.C., then why is the Federal Government interested in expanding the program?

Example 2:

If this program is so good at preventing murder, why can't the psychics see other crimes? Why not prevent rape and torture, for example?

"Because murder is special."

Whoa, that was a bit too technical for me. Yup, that's a pretty detailed scientific explanation right there. The ol' "special" rule of science. Excuse me, Galileo, but why did you drop two different sized stones from the Leaning Tower instead of a stone and a feather? "Because stones are special". Good enough.



Now that I've gone through all that verbiage about how the film makes no sense, let me add that Minority Report

  • is an excellent popcorn film
  • and it is also far more than an excellent popcorn film.

Although the details of our current dilemma are not precisely comparable to the action in the film, mankind is facing in reality, and will someday have to face even more directly, a very similar problem. If you forget about the psychics, the film's moral issues are very real. For example, the current U.S. administration is trying to prevent future crimes by predicting the future behavior of individuals in scientific or pseudo-scientific ways. The feds identify certain types of high risk people, let's say male Arabs of the Islamic religion, under the age of 35, with no specific professional education. It monitors, or proposes to monitor, the behavior of these people much more closely than it would monitor the behavior of 80 year old Swedish women. The INS is far less likely to admit high risk people into the country than it would be to admit a white Norwegian M.D. The high risk people are far more likely to be strip searched at an airport than a white businesswoman from The Netherlands. There are no psychics involved in real life, but the government is nonetheless basing its actions on its best assumptions about the likely future behavior of members of certain groups of people. That is precisely the issue faced in the film, albeit disguised by the writers and director in a fantastic metaphor.

The intellectual essence of the film is this - to what degree should we sacrifice individual rights for the greater order of society? This may be the most important and most controversial question facing the developed world today, and Minority Report attacks it head on. In the film, the murder rate in D.C. drops to zero, but the futuristic prisons are filled with people who never committed an illegal act. In real life, there are people who believe that the society would be safer if all young males of Middle Eastern descent were deported, because of the high likelihood that they will disrupt society. There is plenty of precedent for group profiling in our society. If you are a teenage male with a perfect driving record, your insurance rates are probably far higher than your mom's, even though she's had some tickets. That's because you are being assessed by the likely behavior of your group, not by your own record. That's a long way from deportation, but in between higher auto insurance rates (which almost everybody feels should be based on group probability) and deportation (which almost nobody feels should be based on group probability), there are plenty of discriminatory practices which are controversial and will probably be debated heatedly until the time when Minority Report takes place.

It is a film that causes people to think, and to debate about important concepts, all wrapped in a solid entertainment package. This film may not be true S/F, but for me science fiction is all about thinking through human problems in unusual, imaginative, entertaining settings. In fact, when you get right down do it, "interesting and entertaining ways to stimulate thought" is pretty much the essence of all literature, science fiction or not, filmed or otherwise, so give Spielberg a big thumb up for making filmed literature that's fun to discuss over dinner.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • "Minority Report: From Story to Screen": Steven Spielberg recounts his approach to the film's characters and storyline

  • "Deconstructing Minority Report": learn how Spielberg brought together a think tank of some of the world's most renowned minds and how this elite group conceived the near-future world of the film

  • "The Stunts of Minority Report": how the thrilling action sequences and stunts were created

  • "The Digital World of Minority Report": ILM explains the visual effects

  • "Final Report": a discussion with Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise

  • Minority Report Archives: production concepts, storyboard sequences, production photographs, production notes, and bios

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 2.39:1

  • Number of discs: 2

Interesting trivia: In a nod to the complicated, serpentine classics of the detective genre, to which Minority Report owes its plotline, the three psychics in the film are named Arthur, Agatha, and Dashiell, after three great authors of detective fiction: Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Conan Doyle.


There is another nod to the conventions of the detective noir genre. In the typical noir, the audience hates the hard-ass cop who gives the hero/detective a hard time. We want to think that the cop is corrupt, or even that he is the one who set our hero up for a fall. In the end, he turns out to be an honest cop who doesn't like arrogant detectives making up their own legal and moral codes as they go along. Invariably, the detective will find out that the irascible cop is an ally, and that he has actually been betrayed by the one person he trusts the most, perhaps even by a person he loves. Spielberg got it exactly right in all the details.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert: 4/4, Berardinelli: 4/4, Entertainment Weekly: B, BBC: 5/5.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. Voting results: IMDb voters score it a robust 8.1/10 (top #150 of all time), Yahoo voters appraise it at 3.9/5, and Metacritic users average 7.5/10
  • Box Office Mojo.  Domestic gross $132 million on 3000 screens. They hoped for about double that. The production budget was $102 million, marketing costs were another $40 million.
  • Exit interviews: Cinema Score. B+ from older audiences, A- with the youngest group.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, it is a B. Excellent movie that was accepted beyond a hard-core science-fiction audience. I believe that people will still be watching it, enjoying it, and discussing it for generations.

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