During the summer movie season of 2002, all the conversation was on Spider-Man and Attack of the Clones , which saddens me a bit because in all the conversation over those two films Spielberg’s adaptation of Minority Report kind of got overlooked. Sure, it made money at the box office, and came out to massive critical acclaim (Roger Ebert named it the best film of the year) but it had a cool reception from the public and now, 14 years later, it seems to have been all but forgotten. Even the recent follow-up TV series fell by the wayside.
That’s too bad because, revisiting the film the other night; I found that it was Steven Spielberg working at the top of his form. Just one year after the faulty misfire of A.I. he’s back on track here with another science fiction adaptation, this one with a much easier story to get your head around.
Based on the short story by Philip K. Dick, the story takes place in 2054 Washington D.C. at time in which a technology has been developed that allows the police to see crimes before they happen. Mutated telepaths, called pre-cogs, are employed to show murders in advance and allow the police to move in and capture the criminal before he can commit his or her crime. The Pre-Crime division is run by Captain John Anderton who deems the Pre-Cog program to be flawless. Then the pre-cogs reveal that the next suspect is Anderton himself.
What follows is a futuristic version of The Fugitive with Anderton attempting to outrun the cops while at the same time trying to figure out his own future and whether or not the program is flawed. What is exciting about this movie is that it’s about ideas; it’s about the elements of futuristic technology versus the human element. If a person can see their own future, might they not also be able to change it? Are we too dependent on technology in believing that it’s flawless?
These are the questions that I looked for a missed in A.I. I complained yesterday that I was never able to get a foothold in that movie because I was always aware of the limitations of the machine. Here I’m also aware of the limitations but it is in a story that is not asking me to lend my empathy to lights and wires. The human element came first, and that’s always a constant in Spielberg’s science fiction films. The characters are out front with the action and visual effects behind them. Though the visuals are haunting and the basic element of Minority Report is to ask basic questions about the nature of technology and humanity. If a new technology can wipe out murders before they happen what is the payoff? How far can we pull back the curtain on what someone might do? Might we also end up punishing future murders in utero? At a time when movies focus on hardware and visual effects, it is rare and exciting for a movie in the 21st century to even be asking these questions.