My Favourite…Sci-fi

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Motion controls never look this cool IRL: Twentieth Century Fox/Dreamworks

My favourite science fiction film is MINORITY REPORT. Far more than Tom Cruise running and jumping (though he does plenty of both) it’s at once a big ideas sci-fi, an exhilarating action-thriller and twisty mystery.

Washington DC, 2054. The PreCrime Initiative which predicts crimes of passion and apprehends perpetrators before they can cause harm, is a daily reality. Using a trio of psychic “Precogs” the DC Police force have virtually eradicated violent crime and are preparing to roll out the programme across the country. The system works, every time. Or does it? Everything changes when Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is named as a future murderer…

The rules of this world are quickly and elegantly established, with nary an exposition dump (well there’s a little to fill in the gaps when Colin Farrell’s character first arrives at Precrime) but it’s all for the purpose of being manipulated, bent and broken as the plot thickens.

The Precog vision is a really effective visual; cold, distant and eerie. It’s also intentionally limited, focussed enough that the viewer’s mind as well as the psychic dreamer’s tends to focus only on the details the storyteller (whether Spielberg or the film’s big bad) wants you to see, allowing for the rug to be pulled out from  under us, and Anderton, multiple times.

It’s amazing how close this film got with predicting near-future technological developments. A lot of these ideas may have been well on their way in the early 2000s, but it would be amusing to find out how many concept/development meetings at the big tech firms ended with “good, but make it more like Minority Report”. Motion controls, VR, HUDs, personalised advertising, widespread retina and facial recognition software – it’s all here!

I perhaps unfairly said in my READY PLAYER ONE review that Spielberg can’t, or won’t, do satire. This film is the exception, adapting the premise of Philip K Dick’s short story and expanding on it to create a grotesque mirror of the American Justice System. It packs an even bigger punch now, because you know some people would vote for preemptively incarcerating potential murderers if it was an option. “The fact that you prevented it happening doesn’t change the fact that it was going to happen”.

It’s among Spielberg’s most philosophical films as well, being all about fate or lack thereof. It plays with this concept throughout, from the horrific implications of the flaw in the “perfect” system and the fact that, in theory, nobody can act spontaneously (“Put the gun down John, I don’t hear a red ball!”. Anderson’s son Sean’s disappearance is never solved, which grounds his experiences and his life without meaning to a huge extent; the only closure he ever gets is hearing a “what if?” story from Precog Agatha (Samantha Morton).

Of course there’s a grieving, broken father stuck in the past; it’s a Spielberg movie! The film also has one of the best jump-scares since the head popping out in JAWS. He has a lot to answer for in how a lot of modern sci-fi looks. You can spot a lot of the same assembly line gags as seen in ATTACK OF THE CLONES (filmmaker friends will talk…) and JJ Abrams’ shiny, lens-flarey STAR TREK could never have happened without the same aesthetic being used in Minority Report. The sick-stick and the sonic gun, despite only being used once apiece make their mark as some of the coolest ever future weapons. The police spiders are such a creepy idea,  and the birds-eye-view of their apartment search offers the wonderful site of a couple stopping their domestic mid-flow to be scanned before immidiately resuming. I also love that Spielberg just blew these metal critters up several hundred times to create his WAR OF THE WORLDS tripods.

Everyone has a streaming cold, which is probably significant(?). Unless it’s just a genre-appropriate CHINATOWN reference. Peter Stormare’s mucussy sinister appearance as a backstreet surgeon (“Nothing quite like taking a shower with this large fella with an attitude you can’t even knock down with a hammer”) feels like a he’s playing a part in a Polanski picture. Spielberg rarely goes this dark in a genre piece.

Did we need the sentient vines attacking Cruise? Not really. Should they have thought about how stupid it is that Anderton can get back into Precrime using his old eyes in a baggy without setting off any kind of alarm? Probably. But these are nitpicks and don’t effect my view that Minority Report, among mind-expanding sci-fi and mind-bending mystery is a particularly satisfying package. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Taika Waititi and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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