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.