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New Directions: A Growing Minority
© Lou Anders
July 18, 2002

Those of you who recall my earlier rantings concerning the disparity between cinematic and literary SF will remember that I drew a distinction between SF as theme and SF as setting. I proposed that true Science Fiction, with its capital letters, occurs when we see the intrusion of some hitherto unforeseen development—some invasion, technical advance or socio-political upheaval that accounts for the differences between the World We Live In and the World of the Story. This X factor, whatever it is, provides the means by which we take humanity apart and examine its components. Too often, I lamented, Hollywood misses this point. It instead uses SF merely as a setting for some boys' action drama in which the very intrusion that would make the story Hard SF must be prevented by a bunch of muscle-bound oafs intend on preserving the status quo.

With this metric to guide us, I must admit, despite my prior skepticism, that Steven Spielberg's Minority Report is true SF. The film depicts a near-future world, where the very surveillance technologies we see implemented today in the wake of 9/11 have come into their own, resulting in a society where every citizens movements are constantly monitored throughout their lives. While the product placement annoyed some viewers and critics, I thought the intrusive nature of the Gap holograms, recounting arriving customer's previous purchases and preferences, was a perfect extrapolation of the personalization software already in use in most major ecommerce sites today. The precogs and funky cars excepted, the world of Minority Report is a good deal closer than the film's 2054. Indeed, I suspect that 2010 will bring many of these devices into our lives, and that in this regard Spielberg's film will date very fast.

The precogs themselves serve as a wonderful cap to the hierarchy of a surveillance system—the single 'science fictional' element introduced that distinguishes our world from this world. In allowing for their precognostication, the story is able to examine the themes of fate and guilt and the needs of the greater society conflicting with the (in)justice of the single individual.

Now, adherence to my party platform doesn't make a film an automatic good movie, but it does force me, at the least, to grant it a place among real SF cinema. But what's more, in that it is a fairly entertaining, engaging, thought-provoking, well acted, well shot film, Minority Report is mostly a success.

Where it breaks down—and I know you know I'm loving this—is in its deviations from its source material! Yep, when will these studio types learn? The arc of a story is a perfect bow, a journey from A to Z that's Omega is prescribed by its Alpha. You can't just snip the ending off and stick a contrary one on without its blatant contradiction screaming at you from the machinations of the ravaged plot. In Philip K. Dick's original short story, John Anderton is a firm believer in Precrime. Realizing he has no reason whatsoever to kill the man he's 'fated' to murder, he purposes against it, and a Minority Report—a conflicting future where the murder fails to take place—is generated. But this Anderton sees the good that Precrime can accomplish, and so he carries through with the murder, martyring both himself and an innocent man, in order to insure that Precrime is not discredited. This is a darker ending than Spielberg has been capable of in some time, and while I laud him for the noir edge he has given the world of 2054, and for the bravery of leaving the main character's drug addiction in (surely the first aspect you'd expect major studios and major stars to balk at), still he lets us down in his nonlogical insistence that Anderton has a choice.

The precog's assertion that, even in the absence of a Minority Report, Anderton can still avoid his fate makes no sense in the context of the movie. If Anderton is indeed capable of alternate actions, then he very definitely should have had a Minority Report. This is merely Spielberg's (and the Hollywood system behind him) inability to avoid injecting hope and the triumph of the human spirit into a story where it doesn't belong. As a cautionary tale of the loss of rights and freedoms that we may very well be giving up in the Right Here Right Now, Dick's original ending is much more poignant and much more powerful.

But I'm not really grousing. We've gotten a dignified treatment of a real science fiction story, brought to the screen with painstaking attention to world-building, and brought to us from major players in the Hollywood game. For the most part, I want to laud their efforts and encourage more of the same. I'll give this one a 'very, very close' but I will withhold the banana. And with Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Spider-Man, we do have a growing minority of SF films that religiously adhere to their source material and shine for their devotion. Hopefully, with the attention they are receiving both from critics and from moviegoers, cinema that disregards plot in favor of sensation and sentiment will one day become a true minority.


LOU ANDERS is an editor, author, and journalist. In 2000, he served as the Executive Editor of Bookface.com, an Internet company which provided books and short stories for free online reading, and before that he worked as the Los Angeles Liaison for Titan Publishing Group. He has published over 500 articles in such magazines as Dreamwatch, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and the editor of the anthologies Outside the Box (Wildside Press, 2001) and the forthcoming Live Without a Net (Roc, summer 2003). Currently, he is at work on two more anthologies and a novel.

 
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