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If you’re the type of person who worries about all the CCTV cameras gleefully taking your picture every day, well then there’s some really bad news for your future. It won’t just be lots of sharp-eyed, long-focus lenses spotting you doing those naughty things you like to do when you think no one is looking, it’s going to be three people floating on their backs in a pool of icky goo who’ll see you and send hunky cops to chase you down ahead of anything you do bad because these little wonders can see the future and make it their business to put the kibosh to nefarious deeds long before you’ve even thought of it.
That’s the premise to Minority Report, another film based on the work of author Philip K. Dick, whose books have been the source for a number of very successful films in the genre. The story takes place in Washington D.C. and follows a PreCrime cop named Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise), a highly-respected officer who uses a three-person team of “precog” seers able to see visions of the future to locate and arrest people before they even commit a crime. It’s an experimental program that has its detractors of course, but is proving successful. So successful in fact that the government is very nearly ready to put the system online countrywide. Problem is, one of the precogs has begun to have her own vision separate of the others, providing a “minority report” that suggests an alternate future that could mean these visions are not correct. It’s a secret those in charge don’t want the government to learn.
Meanwhile, Anderton is hiding a drug addiction from his depression in the disappearance of his son and also his estrangement with wife. There’s also Danny Witwer (Colin Ferrell) from the Department of Justice, who has come in to audit the program and basically find ways to shut it down. And just when things look like he might, the “precogs” determine that in 36 hours, it is Anderton who will commit the next murder and so must be arrested. And if you think Anderton going to just stand there and let it happen, well then you must not have ever seen a Tom Cruise movie.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, who at this point was at the very height of his game in terms of mixing visual effects and action, Minority Report is a fast-paced, innovate film that excels not because the screen is filled with imaginative effects and meaningful action, which it is, but because our investment in the characters is so gripping, right from the start, we truly care what happens. A technical masterpiece by any standard, it is the screenplay, by Scott Frank, and Spielberg’s direction that propel this at such invigorating speeds.
Of the many fascinating and creative set pieces, there is one that is often thought of most when discussing the film. On the run, John Anderton, who understands the police procedurals in hunting down pre-criminals, has taken a number of steps to slow that process. The most important of which is to swap out his eyeballs. I know, yuck, right? It seems extreme, but in this world, everything is tracked by the eyes, including ads that are tailored directly to you when you walk in a store. The thing this, it’s not like he can just go to any hospital and get that done. Like The Joker in Tim Burton‘s Batman, it falls to a black market operation that looks really unsafe. When it’s over, Anderton hides out in a seedy back alley hotel waiting for his sight to restore.
And here’s where his real trouble begins. Anderton’s former pals at the Pre-Crime unit have sent some thermo-reading, retina-scanning creepy-crawling robotic spiders to find him at this hotel. Hoping to mask his body heat and avoid getting scanned, he takes a dip in an ice-filled tub that does the trick for about a minute until he blows a bubble out his nose that pops the surface and those pesky android arachnids, well, they come a running. All of them. And so we come to this iconic image:
There’s a lot to unpack about the brilliance of this moment, but let’s start right away with the spiders. For most of us, we have an inherent fear of them that leave many squirming with apprehension or worse at the mere sight of them. Stretching just beyond that is the tech itself, a world where robotics shift the control from subservient to authority leads many to fear advancements that would program them with such power. Lastly is blindness, a physical limitation that creates its own layer of anxiety.
The tripod spiders, a look Spielberg will return to again three years later with his remake of War of the Worlds (also starring Cruise) in the design of the aliens land walkers is done better here as the small creatures have a sleek yet organic feel to them. Notice how the film answers unasked questions as well, such as why doesn’t Anderton simply start fighting them off? The little electric pulses that drive him out of the water remind us that in numbers, these devices could easily subdue him.
If you haven’t seen the film then I won’t spoil the outcome of this encounter, but suffice to say, the entire scene is one of the film’s highlights. Minority Report is an exception to the rule of action thrillers, a movie that tells a story using effects rather than the other way around. A triumph in design and of casting and vision, this is a film of uncommon entertainment that clichéd to say or not, truly gets better with time.