Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise, is one of the most outstanding film adaptations based on source material written by Philip K. Dick. The cast includes Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Peter Stormare, Jessica Capshaw, Lois Smith, Tim Blake Nelson, and Max von Sydow.
Spielberg expands Philip K. Dick’s short story The Minority Report to a feature-length theatrical film (its running time turns out to be 145 minutes). His greatest challenge, though, is to transform the story which was first published in 1956 into a more contemporary setting that satisfies both connoisseurs of Philip K. Dick’s short story and the average audience.
The dystopian story is set in Washington DC and deals with the consequences of a law enforcement system called „PreCrime“ that is authorized to arrest and detain people for murders even before they are committed (or not) – based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics called “Precog”.
Disguised in a captivating mix of film noir, science fiction, thriller and whodunit, Spielberg shares his critical view of current US politics, i.e. the Bush administration’s activities regarding “homeland security“ and Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.
The film’s multilayered themes examine whether free will can exist if the future is set and “known“ in advance, they also scrutinize the role of media when technological advancements make it ubiquitous. According to Spielberg
„The Internet is watching us now. If they want to. They can see what sites you visit. In the future, television will be watching us, and customizing itself to what it knows about us. The thrilling thing is, that will make us feel we’re part of the medium. The scary thing is, we’ll lose our right to privacy. An ad will appear in the air around us, talking directly to us.“
Spielberg’s repeated themes such as media-generated mass paranoia (”Everybody runs”) and dysfunctional families are also present in the film.
Before Spielberg steps in, the project is in „turnaround" for many years. Originally, Ronald Shusett (Alien) plans to adapt Philip K. Dick’s short story for a sequel of Total Recall (1990). In this version, earth’s population has been moved to Mars. Due to poor oxygen supply in the miners’ colonies on Mars, some settlers mutate to the Pre-Cogs from Philip K. Dick’s original. However, the project, with prospective director Jan de Bont attached, is eventually cancelled. Novelist Jon Cohen removes all Total Recall elements from his draft. and submits a rewrite which is set in a retro future, featuring a suburb that looks like straight from the 1950s.
This version comes to Tom Cruise’s attention during the filming of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Since their first meeting on the set of Risky Business (1983), Cruise has tried to work for a Spielberg film. After Spielberg exits Rain Man (1988), he has to wait even longer. Finally, Spielberg “greenlights“ Minority Report, after Cruise has pitched the draft to him. However, Cruise has to finish Mission Impossible 2 (2000), and Spielberg directs A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (2001), so another two years pass.
When Spielberg originally signs on to direct, he plans to have an entirely different supporting cast. He offers the role of Witwer to Matt Damon, Iris Hineman to Meryl Streep, Burgess to Ian McKellen, Agatha to Cate Blanchett, and Lara to Jenna Elfman. However, Streep declines the role, Damon opts out, and the other roles are recast due to the delays.
Spielberg makes the best use of the delays and has Scott Frank revise the draft. He scraps most ideas from Cohen’s drafts but keeps the sequence in the car factory, which is based on a concept by Alfred Hitchcock for North by Northwest (1959) which remained unfilmed due to the high production cost. For Minority Report, the sequence is filmed in a real facility using props such as a welding robot and practical effects.
During pre-production, Spielberg invites 15 experts from various disciplines to a three-days “think tank summit” to learn how daily life might look like in 2054. Production designer Alex McDowell (Fight Club) keeps what is nicknamed the “2054 bible”, an 80-page guide listing all the decided upon aspects of the future world: architectural, socio-economical, political, and technological. Some of the film’s technology designs actually become reality (e.g. Multi-touch interfaces, retina scanners, news on tablets and targeted marketing).
For Minority Report, cinematographer Janusz Kamiński creates a unique visual style, shooting the movie with high-speed film, alternating between handheld and Steadicam shots. He utilizes high contrast to create dark colors and shadows (as in film noir) as well as overlit shots with desaturated colors which are achieved by bleach-bypassing the film’s negative in post-production.
The film’s 14 minute opening sequence, depicting a distorted Precog vision of a murder, is the most complex of any Spielberg film and marks a highlight of Michael Kahn’s work as an editor.
Minority Report is the first film to have an entirely digital production design. „Previz" (a term borrowed from the film’s narrative) allows the crew to use Photoshop and 3-D animation programs to create a simulated set, which can be filled with virtual actors to block out shots in advance. Industrial Light & Magic provides most of the stunning visual effects, with DreamWorks-owned PDI responsible for the Spyder robots.
John Williams composes a gripping „black and white score“ taking inspiration from Bernard Herrmann’s work and including film noir elements such as a female singer in the Anne Lively scenes. Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (commonly known as the Unfinished Symphony) is heard while Anderton “conducts“ his PreCrime investigation, because Anderton is described as a big fan of classical music in the script.
Minority Report is one of the best reviewed films of 2002, being praised for its writing, visuals and themes, but earning some criticism for its „happy end“ which is considered inconsistent (by critics who do not understand the filmmaker’s intention of applying a „false end“ that only exits in the protagonist’s imagination to underline the film’s underlying theme of reality vs. perception).
Roger Ebert calls the film a “masterpiece” and says that when most directors of the period are putting “their trust in technology”, Spielberg has already mastered it, and is emphasizing “story and character” while merely using technology as a “workman uses his tools”.
Produced by Amblin Entertainment and Cruise/Wagner Productions, Minority Report is distributed by 20th Century Fox (North America) and DreamWorks SKG (International) and turns out to be a huge commercial success, earning over $358 million worldwide against an overall budget of $142 million (including advertising).
Minority Report receives an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Editing, but is otherwise ignored by the Academy.