In Hollywood, you can barely wave a clapperboard without hitting a Steven Spielberg movie, a movie made by one of his protégés, or a movie that was influenced by his themes or his style. He has countless classics, beloved all over the world. He could have rested on his laurels, but he continues to innovate new filmmaking techniques and to tell new stories.
Most great directors would already have their canon set forty years into their career, but the early 2000s saw a restless Spielberg working tirelessly on a triptych of ambitious stories: Kubrick’s unfinished A.I.; the Frank Abagnale, Jr. biopic, Catch Me If You Can; and an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, Minority Report. Catch Me If You Can was the most conventional of the three, and A.I. the biggest undertaking. But it’s Minority Report that resonates the most now, and not just because it was so prescient about coming technological advances.
Much was made at the time and has been made since of Spielberg’s decision to form a think tank of futurists for pre-production brainstorming about what the movie’s 2054 world would look like. And what they came up with was certainly predictive: driverless cars, virtual reality, touch screens with poor interfaces, personal targeting in advertising, facial recognition, etc. Minority Report doesn’t feel like science fiction as much as an impressive look into our near future.
But more impressive was what the filmmakers got right about how these technologies would be used. The world of Minority Report is a world consumed by its technological advances. Not only is technology ubiquitous (a fact that probably feels true no matter what era it is), but it is the battleground for all power struggles. In the wake of the Russian hacks on our country’s election and Anthony Weiner’s laptop being confiscated by the FBI, nothing feels more real in Minority Report than the power struggle over who gets to control the pre-crime technology. Under the pretense of making the world a better place, the pre-crime technology is instead used to seize or to maintain power.
The effectiveness of the quality of the technology in Minority Report is echoed in the effortlessness of everything else. We’ve seen Steven Spielberg make sci-fi epics that don’t quite work all the way through (A.I., for example, or, in keeping with the Tom Cruise theme, War of the Worlds). But in the case of Minority Report, everything is flawless, from the presentation of the exposition (the opening scene that sets up the concept of pre-crime is awesome) to the meticulously choreographed action sequences (you’ll never find a more clever action scene than when Cruise’s John Anderton ends up in a ready-made getaway car at a factory).
While the legacy of Minority Report has largely been a reputation as the most realistic science fiction movie of our time, it is this overall quality that makes it a classic now and that will help it endure in the long run. Even the performances are superlative. Tom Cruise, following his run at being a serious actor from Jerry Maguire to Vanilla Sky, gives his best starring performance. He’s matched by a creepy and beautiful turn from Samantha Morton, a strong villain in Max von Sydow, and Colin Farrell’s breakout role as Anderton’s would-be rival.
At the time, Minority Report probably felt like a change of pace for Spielberg, following the heaviness of Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, and A.I. But in hindsight, Minority Report fits right in with Spielberg classics like Close Encounters, E.T., and even Raiders of the Lost Ark. He’s always had a knack for breathtaking action set pieces swirling around a core of humanity. In the end, Minority Report is just another great Spielberg movie.