Dir: Steven Spielberg. US. 2002. 145 mins
The work of the late Philip K Dick has been a fertile source for films since Ridley Scott's Blade Runner in 1982. The latest gloomy futuristic vision, from a 1956 Dick short story, is Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, which takes themes from Blade Runner, Total Recall and especially the little seen Gary Fleder-directed Impostor and stirs them up into an absorbing thriller. The end result manages to be mainstream-friendly enough - just - to guarantee blockbuster status this summer in North America, the UK and Asian territories and throughout the rest of the world in the autumn. Unlike AI: Artificial Intelligence from Spielberg last year, Minority Report pushes all the right buttons as a crowd-pleasing entertainment, while allowing the director to imagine a future in Washington DC 2054 which is decidedly despondent. Reviews in North America have been excellent, and an opening weekend take of $36m is as strong as can be expected from a new film by Spielberg - especially one starring Tom Cruise.
Will Minority Report go down as one of Spielberg's greats, however' The answer to that question is probably no. Unlike Ridley Scott, who broke so many rules in Blade Runner and foretold a future so bleak as to provoke indifference with audiences at the time, the warm-and-fuzzy Spielberg can't quite go all the way. As in AI, he refuses to end on a sour note or be shaken from the belief that family life is the core component of a healthy society. It's not sentimentality as much as optimism - a virtue to be sure, but one which doesn't sit well in this dark conceptualisation of the near future, nor with Dick's visions of an Orwellian society in which privacy is unavailable and individual happiness is cheap. Even the drug-addicted lead character is unambiguously a hero.
Those positive values will be rewarded with box office glory but are unlikely to give Minority Report the legendary status of more daring films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Blade Runner. What's more, despite the superb quality of the film-making, the film doesn't feel particularly fresh. Dimension's Impostor, which had a brief US run in January this year, features a strikingly similar set-up, plot structure and vision of the future - right down to the retinal scans which give law enforcement the location of their citizens at all times. When a pursued Cruise breaks back into the facility where he used to work, the comparison with a pursued Gary Sinise doing exactly the same thing in Impostor is inevitable.
The film spends a good third of its running time on exposition. Three psychics - called "pre-cogs" - are able to see future murders in their minds and the images of those murders are then downloaded to be analysed by an elite pre-crime unit led by Chief John Anderton (Cruise). Anderton and his team subsequently race against the clock to prevent the impending crimes and capture the hypothetical murderers. The unit's track record is impeccable and the system, currently only operational in Washington DC, is about to be employed nationwide.
Anderton is a perfect leader for the organisation. He was recruited by the creator of pre-crime Lamarr Burgess (Max Von Sydow) after the disappearance of his five year-old son, a loss from which he is unable to recover and which fuels his desire to fight crime. Less well-known is Anderton's addiction to drugs, although a Justice Department agent Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell) is determined to expose Anderton's addiction and take his job for himself.
In fact it is Witwer whom Anderton blames when, one day, he sees visions from the pre-cogs which predict that he will murder an unknown man in 36 hours time. Desperate to prove that Witwer has set him up by planting files in the minds of the pre-cogs, Anderton goes on the run. He visits Iris Heneman (Lois Smith), the researcher who stumbled across the pre-cogs in the first place, in a greenhouse straight out of The Big Sleep (there are many allusions to film noir in the picture). From her he discovers that, in some instances, the three pre-cogs disagree and an alternate future exists for some of the perpetrators. Convinced that he has one of these alternate futures (known in the film as a "minority report"), Anderton decides to return to the pre-crime headquarters and kidnap Agatha (Samantha Morton), the most powerful of the pre-cogs who holds the key to his future.
Along the way, he stops off at black-market eye doctor Dr Solomon Eddie (Peter Stormare) to have his eyes removed and new ones inserted so that he can move around without being identified by the city's retinal scan network - a system which not only helps to identify a citizen's geographical location but also enables companies like The Gap, Bulgari, Burger King, Pepsi et al to market their products on a personal basis. In one of the film's many visual treats, Anderton is personally identified by a host of talking billboards.
Cruise is commanding as always, although the character itself is inconsistent, the level of his dependency of drugs never clearly elucidated. Standouts in the supporting cast are Morton, mesmerising as the haunted Agatha, and Smith, a hoot as the crotchety old Iris.
Spielberg's command of narrative and pacing is as assured and sophisticated as we have come to expect from him. This is despite intrusive work from two regular collaborators - Janusz Kaminski's ostentatious cinematography, all flashy desaturated colours and bleached film; and John Williams' inappropriate orchestral score. Would that the film-maker dare to change his composer for a film like this. It would be refreshing not to be told how to react courtesy of Williams' Indiana Jones-style musical bombast. But then again, maybe more sparing use of music, such as in the classic Blade Runner score by Vangelis, is another non-commercial line Spielberg is unwilling to cross.
Prod cos: 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks Pictures, Cruise/Wagner Productions, Blue Tulip Productions
Exec prods: Gary Goldman, Ronald Shusett
Prods: Gerald R Molen, Bonnie Curtis, Walter F Parkes, Jan De Bont
Scr: Scott Frank, Jon Cohen, from a short story by Philip K Dick
Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski
Prod des: Alex McDowell
Ed: Michael Kahn
Music: John Williams
Main cast: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max Von Sydow, Kathryn Morris, Tim Blake Nelson, Peter Stormare, Lois Smith