Minority Report (2002) – A blockbuster with beauty and brains from Spielberg

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Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report is something of a rarity in today’s blockbuster age: a film that manages to be both a thrilling action spectacle as well as provide an intellectually stimulating storyline that is worthy of endless discussions. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick , this science fiction film manages to keep the viewer hooked throughout it’s 140 minutes runtime and there is not a single dull or wasted moment. This film is very different from the slew of recent blockbusters that comes with wafer-thin storylines and overused CGI. Spielberg has used visual effects here very efficiently.

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The setting is Washington, D.C. in the year 2054. The murder rate here has seen a considerable drop due to a seemingly effective futuristic crime fighting system called Precrime. The police officers are aided in their job by three individuals called Precogs. They have the ability to foresee a murder before it even takes place. Tom Cruise plays the Chief of Precrime, John Anderton. When a proposal is made to implement this system on a national level, a Federal agent named Danny Witwer (played by Colin Farrell) is sent in to evaluate the system’s strengths and weaknesses. No sooner had he arrived than a glitch appears in the system that shows Anderton as the next perpetrator. The Precogs witness a murder that is about to take place in the near future – very soon, apparently – that would be committed by him. Anderton has no clue of who his victim is and what his motivation for murdering him is.

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Spielberg takes this intriguing premise and runs with it. The incredible world-building in the film brings to mind Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (again, another adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story). This is a vivid depiction of a time when technology has advanced far beyond our wildest imagination. There are multi-touch interfaces, retina scanners, driver-less cars, insect-like robots, personalized advertising and above all, a software that can predict crime. So these technologies have already been developed and are currently in use, whereas some others are being currently under-development and there is also something called E-paper that was being developed even before the release of the film. The Washington Post has dubbed it “the Minority Report newspaper”. I’m sure we’ll get to see them all fully functioning in the near future.

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But despite all the advanced technology shown in the story, there still exist the Third World problems like poverty, hunger and drug abuse. Anderton has a drug abuse problem himself. We see him as a man who is being constantly tormented by the guilt of the death of his young son and we learn that this is the reason for his drug abuse. But this guilt also exists to inform us that Anderton is not a man capable of committing a murder and that he is someone with a conscience. The police officers working under Precrime look at themselves as priests and this is brought up by one of Anderton’s assistants who says: “The way we work, changing destiny and all, we’re more like clergy than cops.” But Witwer reminds them (and us), that they, as well as the Precogs, are humans and there is a possibility of the appearance of a flaw.

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Minority Report explores the philosophical concepts of free will and predestination like no other film. The Precogs always see a specific future and there is one for Anderton as well, but he is informed by one of these Precogs that he still has a choice and that he doesn’t have to follow what the Precogs’ vision has dictated. It also tells us that the value of human life is more important and that we should not allow technology to imprison us but rather use it to improve our lives. The film also makes a statement about capital punishment. It subtly makes the suggestion that it is better to do away with it and that it is better to free the guilty than unfairly punishing one innocent individual.

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It also asks some thought-provoking questions on the issue of privacy. In the future that is depicted in the film, people have no right to privacy. The insect-like robots I mentioned earlier has the ability to go wherever they want: crawl under your bed, get into your bathtub and even intrude while you are making love with your wife and take a scan of your retinas. People are being watched wherever they go. Not only are you being watched but you are also constantly being bombarded with advertisements. Our present looks no different from the future depicted in the film and we are not even close to 2054. It’s already here and it’s quite scary.

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