2002 rewatch: The infinite influence and disappointment of Minority Report
Every week, Entertainment Weekly is looking back at the biggest movies of the summer of 2002. As audiences struggled to understand the new post-9/11 world order, Hollywood found itself in a moment of transition, with upcoming stars and soon-to-be-forever franchises playing alongside startling new visions and fading remnants of the old normal. Join us for a rewatch of the first true summer of Hollywood's strange new millennium. This week: Leah Greenblatt and Darren Franich feast their transplanted eyes on Minority Report, while Patrick Gomez and Christian Holub rediscover one of Disney's least expected sensations, Lilo & Stitch. Next week: Mr. Deeds goes to Sandlertown.
LEAH: Did Samantha Morton have a premonition we were going to write this, Darren? That's Morton in Minority Report's opening scene murmuring "Murrrr-durrr" in a primordial pool, her wired-up brain pumping out little Lotto balls of destiny so that Tom Cruise's stern time-cop John Anderton can make sure a cuckolded man (Arye Gross) never kills again.
Of course Gross's character hasn't actually killed anyone yet; Morton's Agatha is a precog, which means she sees crimes before they happen (though not, apparently, the thief who stole her eyebrows). And John carries out his job with full conviction, because the precogs are never wrong. Or are they? But let's back up a second for some context: Minority Report spent nearly two decades in development before Cruise and Steven Spielberg finally got it made, somewhere between Vanilla Sky and The Last Samurai (two more high-concept Cruises) and A.I. and Catch Me If You Can (the latter two which Spielberg helmed in 2001 and 2002, respectively).
It turns out they did a lot to Philip K. Dick's original 1956 short story, including giving John an entirely different motivation to care: a dead son, who we see in shimmery holograms of old home movies. If the precog system had existed just a few years earlier, we're told more than once, John would still have his little boy. So he's a true believer, though a visit from DOJ agent Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell, so young! And so much snappy gum) sows indignation at first, then doubt: What if everything is not actually kosher in the house of Pre-Crime?
I had forgotten how outrageously visual this movie is, Darren, and what a future-styled smorgasbord Spielberg makes of it. There's some Jetsons kitsch in there, a heavy dose of Blade Runner, a little Fritz Lang. And several bits, alas, that now just make me think of CBS procedurals (the oversaturated flashbacks; the quirky-officemate banter over crime scenes and blood spatter), though that's probably just what trickled down, inevitably. But how does it all hold up for you?
DARREN: We talked a lot last week about influence, Leah, and how The Bourne Identity sent a whole generation of action movies into on-the-ground-running grit. It's funny how Minority Report immediately doubled down on a lot of those grime-glam instincts. Here's a big-budget science-fiction adventure that purposefully washes every visual into ghoulish gray. The camera gets right up close to Tom Cruise, whose never-more-perfect skin looks pallid. I go back and forth between thinking the tone of the movie is "metallic" and "corpse-like," and you're right to trace this visual palette into two terrible decades of purposefully flavorless cop grunge. It also kind of became the de-facto science fiction look. J.J. Abrams saw the lens flares and wanted more, and you can trace this high-fantasy brutalism through at least a couple of Batman reboots.
But Minority Report is also glorious. Janusz Kaminski's 30-year collaboration with Spielberg is one of film history's great cinematographer-director relationships, and this film's first hour feels like their apex as kinetic storytellers. There's a fluidity in the photography, with a restless camera that nevertheless always seems to find perfectly framed illustrations of future-world paranoia. The opening pre-crime sequence is a perfect ticking-clock thrill ride, introducing so many far-out concepts (murder prophecy, motion-activated viewscreens, dangling airship super cops) with a brisk flair. The real fun starts when John has to go on the run, framed (maybe?) for a murder he has no plans to commit. Camerawork fetishists love the robo-spider invasion, with its god's-eye view of a whole apartment building. Personally, I love the precog heist, when John kidnaps (frees?) Agatha and she uses her prophecy powers to hide in plain sight.
You've got Farrell as a marvelous sleaze with a surprising moral code, Max von Sydow as a lovable mentor with a secret, and Neil McDonough as the man with cinema's bluest eyes. And I think the most noir thing about Minority Report is how willfully some actors dominate their single scenes, like Lois Smith as a witty-freaky scientist or Peter Stormare as an oddly sensual underworld sawbones.
Of course, the movie always had a problem: It's too damn long. I know we were mid-Lord of the Rings in the summer of 2002, and three-hour runtimes were about to become the new normal for Pirates of the Caribbean movies. But a lot of Minority Report's appeal is its sheer velocity, and inertia hits in the last half hour. This was the moment I remember savvy film fans complaining about the Spielberg Ending — his gut instinct for mass appeal that encouraged the director toward talky-sappy final acts. Do you think the film's second half suffers a bit in comparison to the first? And I'm curious: Do you think we've moved past its visual influence for onscreen science fiction? Directors do seem to have rediscovered colors.
LEAH: A little trivia for you, apparently Meryl Streep was originally slated to play Lois's mad-scientist role, which is a take I feel like we both would have enjoyed: Meryl whispering sweet nothings to her Little Shop of Horrors house plants and delivering the movie's most important exposition — what is a minority report? — in a greenhouse caftan while poor, poisoned Tom quivers into his tea.
Anyway, I love the word "metallic" as the mood board for the color palette here, though it doesn't feel distinctly Spielberg-y to me. It's almost as if he borrowed it from 1995's Seven — that sense of saturation and light, all the tone-on-tone coolness. (Speaking of Kevin Spacey-adjacent things, the twist of a main-character murder in Minority's third act also reminded me a little too much of another iconic death scene, in L.A. Confidential). Stormare, at least, certainly seems to come from that grimier David Fincher world, while John's ex-wife (Kathryn Morris, who would soon be the star of…a CBS procedural) lives in another place entirely, the land of soft-focus lake houses and linen-shirt sadness.
Newer films like Arrival and Ex Machina are certainly echoes or extensions of that glossy quiet-menace aesthetic, though they also created such a distinct visual language of their own. And I love the warmer, more — can I use the word artisanal? — visions of late 21st-century living that Her and After Yang gave us, too. But whenever someone is trying to explain something logistically complicated to me, I still find myself reverting to Minority's urgent, swooshing AI arm motions, like an upper-body Electric Slide only Tom Cruise can see. Give me a pair of light-up robo-gloves and let me crack the case! So much about this movie really saturated the pop-culture firmament and stayed there, which says a lot about the bygone monoculture of that moment, but it's still pretty amazing.
So I wish I could say I enjoyed the back third of the movie more. But on rewatch, certain gaping plot holes did get to me — as did the dragging of poor Agatha through the actual Gap (I mean yes, she needed pants) and into a precogged scenario she's literally begging to be excluded from. John Anderton, super cop, could not wait ten minutes to negate the prophecy, even when the infallible dream-psychic was screaming at him to leave? And he never suspected that he might have a reason to kill a man he'd never met, when his grief over his son was still a raw, weeping wound? Oh, and the "orgy of evidence," as Farrell's doomed Witwer smartly puts it: Anderton didn't even pause to wonder why a killer would essentially build a "BEHOLD MY CRIMES" diorama in his own hotel suite before he aimed that fateful gun.
What's important, of course, is that he didn't pull the trigger. And that von Sydow's sloppy-villain whoopsie gave the game away ("But I never said she drowned") so that John and his wife could be reunited in a burst of second-chance fertility, and Agatha and the waifish twins could go…read books in a barn, I guess? And wear cozy cable-knit sweaters, which seems nice. It is interesting how much the movie glosses over their dehumanizing — just the bare fact that they were essentially kept drugged and spandexed in a weird viscous pool for six years. They're people! The pre-cogs were made out of people.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the script was blunter and a little sillier than I remembered it (that Cyber Parlor alone); last week's Bourne excursion generally stood up better to my youthful memories, in the end, than this one. Still, there's a disturbing amount that the movie gets right about our future-now, from the individually targeted ads to the Siri-like system that turns John's lights on by verbal command when he comes home. Though in Philip K. Dick's original story, spoiler, John and his wife both end up in a penal space colony, not pregnant with righteous justice. Darren, would you do it any differently?
DARREN: I actually read Dick's story when I was pretentious enough to think Hollywood would never fully capture the author's psycho-prophetic cynicism, no matter how many wannabe Blade Runners slapped his literary conceits onto an action movie. "The Minority Report" is one of his little tossed-off tales, which means it's full of ideas and thin on character. I actually think credited screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen do a solid job of importing the talky premise into a massively emotional chase saga. And all praise to Morton for bringing shocking depths of humanity to a role that's half-Vulcan and half-primal. She has to unload computer-sounding exposition and embody a battle-hardened state of constant feeling. Thanks to her, you feel that Agatha feels everything: a whole world of potential violence playing on video-repeat in her brain. My favorite single moment in the movie comes during her run with John, when she grabs a bystander and offers a bleak warning: "He knows. Don't go home."
The actual future turns every sci-fi movie into a checklist: What did it get wrong? I think you're right to note Minority Report's casual cleverness in guessing toward a more personalized (and more impersonal) future. We're now 32 years away from the film's projected time period of 2054, and despite some heavy federal investment recently in infrastructure, I seriously doubt new stratospheric freeways will be carrying magnet cars by then. (Likewise, the whole awesome-looking concept of suspended-animation mind-terror prisons would require rather more penitentiary funding than our country usually allows.) Also, I can't decide if it's charming or secretly incisive that the whole concept of smartphones seems foreign to this new America. As awesome as the movie still looks, it's recognizably a clash of analog aesthetics with digital possibilities. Like: balls of destiny! A bit silly on reflection, but totally mesmerizing to look at — and a reminder that realism isn't always the best approach.
Like Bourne Identity, the movie evokes an emerging era of paranoia, despite being filmed in pre-9/11 D.C. (among other areas). The whole idea of pre-crime moved unsteadily through the next period of real history, as the U.S. armed up for a preemptive war to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. (Could've used Agatha on that one, eh?) That's just Spielberg being a vital storyteller who really had his finger on the pulse. What a turn he took after Saving Private Ryan. Despite its overwhelming (and tantalizing) brutality, that film exemplified the 1990s' fervent Greatest Generation nostalgia, and a new national myth of indisputable finest-hour nobility. Then came A.I. and Minority Report, and then Munich and War of the Worlds in the same dang year. That's a lot of untrustworthy authorities, shifting identities, and so many cute actors punished in monochrome. (Even the wonderfully frothy Catch Me If You Can and the painfully frothy The Terminal feel haunted along the margins — not to mention eerily fixated on airplanes.)
Actually, this is my favorite period of Spielberg's and Cruise's careers — the moment when both legends pushed their shared decades of success toward unusual concepts. They were never not making massive big-budget thrill rides, but 2002 was a time when the mainstream seemed to demand unsettled entertainments. That is not a common opinion today. But we should always pay more attention to the minority reports.
Read past 2002 rewatches:
- The Bourne Identity reinvented action for the new millennium
- The Sum of All Fears was somehow too late and too early
- Insomnia was a flawed but promising daylight noir from pre-Batman Christopher Nolan
- Star Wars: Episode 2—Attack of the Clones is still fascinating and confusing
- Unfaithful brought sex to the summer
- Spider-Man still swings high one multiverse later