June 20, 2002 | In the brave new world of 2054 depicted in Minority Report, breaking news downloads onto magazine covers and newspaper pages. Retinal-scanning surveillance systems facilitate police dragnets and personalized sales pitches.
And murder is virtually obsolete in Washington, D.C., thanks to the innovative Department of Pre-Crime, which employs precognitive mutants – known as PreCogs – to identify killers before they kill. Pre-Crime cops can arrest perpetrators before they perpetrate anything. And the pre-empted perps can be imprisoned indefinitely.
Based on a novella by Philip K. Dick, the same author who inspired Blade Runner and Total Recall, Minority Report has generated deafening advance buzz as the first collaboration of two glittering superstars: Tom Cruise, who plays a Pre-Crime cop accused of a future homicide, and director Steven Spielberg, who was drawn to the project by Cruise's boundless enthusiasm and his own fascination with the source material.
But the movie is certain to unsettle anyone who expects a standard-issue summertime blockbuster from these two Hollywood heavyweights. A visually stunning and thematically disturbing sci-fi noir thriller, Minority Report vividly and persuasively imagines a tomorrow that rings terribly true as an extension of today. And while it certainly doesn't stint on eye-popping spectacle or state-of-the-art special effects, it's much darker and edgier than most other mainstream megaplex fare.
Indeed, in terms of defying expectations and challenging audiences, it's as risky a venture as A.I., Spielberg's widely misunderstood fable based on the late Stanley Kubrick's scenario, and Vanilla Sky, the audaciously twisty fantasy Cruise proudly describes as the movie that "polarized audiences more than anything else I've ever done."
"And I know," Spielberg said during a recent press gathering in Seattle, "that some people think summer is not the right time to release a thought-provoking movie. I'm pretty naïve about that, I must admit. I never think about the expectations of people. At this stage of my life, I'm pretty stubborn about making the movies that I want to make. And as far as I'm concerned, no time is the wrong time for a good movie."
Still, some times are better than others. And in Cruise's view, Minority Report is especially pertinent right now, as debates are waged over the limits of police powers, pre-emptive arrests and government-sanctioned surveillance.
"When I first got the script for Minority Report," Cruise said, "I thought it was a great idea, one that's very relevant for today's world: If we knew murders were going to be committed, and we could stop that – what would we do? And at the same time, what about the people in that situation? Can they handle that level of responsibility?
"We're facing this right now with the terrorists. The government wants more control to battle the threat. But what are they going to do with that power? What does that mean to our lives – to, ultimately, our freedom – to try to insure our freedom? Are they responsible enough to do that? Should they have that kind of power? I certainly don't want to see another airplane go down, ever. But it's a dilemma, isn't it?"
Pressed on the subject, Cruise admitted: "I fall on the side of personal freedom, freedom of choice." But Spielberg seemed more supportive of extreme measures – albeit with a few caveats.
"I want to be clear about this: I'm not an advocate of pulling back the CIA's and the FBI's far-reaching powers right now," Spielberg said. "I think this is a time of war, and they need to do what Lincoln did when he suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1862… During times of war, things like that have to happen.
"What I'm worried about is when we have finally gone beyond the brink, where we are right now, and things start to settle down. Will the government pull back those powers of surveillance? Or are they going to say that's the new standard for them? Like, 'Hey, you've lived with them for five years. Sorry, folks, but that's just the way it's going to be from now on.' I hope that doesn't happen. That would be very sad. If this doesn't end, then we'll have to go back to the college campuses and hold up signs."
Speaking with Spielberg about Minority Report inevitably leads to discussion of his last futuristic drama, last summer's A.I. He laughed, but did not smile, while addressing what an interviewer politely described as the "mixed reviews" that greeted the film.
"People pretend to think they know Stanley Kubrick, and think they know me, when most of them don't know either of us. And what's really funny about that is, all the parts of A.I. that people assume were Stanley's were mine. And all the parts of A.I. that people accuse me of sweetening and softening and sentimentalizing were all Stanley's. The teddy bear was Stanley's. The whole last 20 minutes of the movie was completely Stanley's. The whole first 35, 40 minutes of the film – all the stuff in the house – was word for word, from Stanley's screenplay. This was Stanley's vision.
"Eighty percent of the critics got it all mixed up. But I could see why. Because, obviously, I've done a lot of movies where people have cried and have been sentimental. And I've been accused of sentimentalizing hard-core material. But in fact it was Stanley who did the sweetest parts of A.I., not me. I'm the guy who did the dark center of the movie, with the Flesh Fair and everything else. That's why he wanted me to make the movie in the first place. He said, 'This is much closer to your sensibilities than my own.'"
Cruise endured "mixed reviews" for his own collaboration with Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut. But he remains immensely proud of that film. And he's just as quick to defend Vanilla Sky, which many detractors still insist on describing as a box-office fizzle despite its $200 million worldwide gross.
"It really polarized people," Cruise said, "and I don't think that's a bad thing. But people who want to say it wasn't financially successful – well, that's just taking shots at me. You just know that that's what they have to say in order to create that (misconception). I've had to deal with that before. Because, when you're successful, they want to say stuff like that. That's just part of human nature.
"But you know, even some people who didn't like Vanilla Sky didn't want to stop talking about it. You know what I'm saying it? They didn't like it, but they still wanted to keep talking about it. It's like, people are always telling me, 'I want something different.' But when you give them something this different, it's like, 'D'oh! Wait! I didn't mean that different!'"