A minority report on "Minority Report"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jul 1 10:08:45 MDT 2002

Although Stephen Spielberg emerged side-by-side with George Lucas as a
purveyor of juvenile film fantasies during the Reagan era, he has evolved
into one of the more important social commentators in Hollywood. Whether
dealing with racial oppression ("The Color Purple", "Amistad") or the
holocaust ("Shindler's Gift), he is aspiring to the sort of reputation
enjoyed by liberals like Otto Preminger or Norman Jewison in years past.

More recently he has begun to put forward a somewhat dystopian vision of
the future, first with "AI", a film whose context is set by an ecological
catastrophe that has left many of the planet's cities underwater. Now with
the much-hyped "Minority Report," Spielberg turns to Philip K. Dick for
inspiration. In this tale set in 2054, "pre-cogs" can detect murders that
have not taken place yet. When pre-crime unit cop John Anderton (Tom
Cruise) discovers that the pre-cogs have identified him as a future
murderer, he takes it on the lam.

"Minority Report" is the third major film based on Philip K. Dick's
fiction. Along with "Bladerunner" and "Total Recall," it incorporates his
favorite themes. The future teems with technological advances, but within a
capitalist context. In "Bladerunner" and "Minority Report," advertising for
the same Fortune 100 corporations that exist today are plastered across
buildings and in subway stations. We also find out that the masses rely on
vicarious experience mediated through "virtual reality" type devices. In
"Total Recall," Arnold Schwarzenegger takes a virtual vacation trip to
Mars. In "Minority Report," Tom Cruise consoles himself with the
holographic images of his dead son.

Although Dick has a well-deserved reputation for being pessimistic about
the future, his message seems softened in Spielberg's treatment. Instead of
the grimy and congested urban tableaux of "Bladerunner" (a Los Angeles of
the future imagined by Hieronymus Bosch), instead we see a rather
smooth-running and spiffy world, only marred by a judicial system that
imprisons people even though they might be innocent. This of course has
suggested to many of the reviewers of "Minority Report" that Spielberg is
implicitly on the side of the angels in light of John Ashcroft's recent
police state measures. Alas, this is not quite so.

Before filming, Spielberg convened a bunch of futurists. In an interview
given to the Boston Herald on June 16th, Spielberg states that based on
discussions with them the future does not look too shabby: "I was just
fascinated about how positive some of those views were, notwithstanding the
nuclear age we've been in for 50 years and the terrorism we currently have
on the homefront."

>From Internetnews.com, we learn that advertising plays a key role in their
vision of the future. Referring to a scene in which Anderton has assumed
the identity of a Mr. Yakamoto, whose eyes he has received in a macabre
surgical procedure, the article points to a scene in "Minority Report" that
is directed without a hint of irony:

>>A smiling Gap employee appears on a giant flat-screen monitor just inside
the store, greeting customers as they walk in. "Good afternoon, Mr.
Yakamoto," she says, loudly and cheerily. "How did you like that three-pack
of tank tops you bought last time you were in?"

With the help of contemporary advertisers like Lexus, Reebok, Nokia,
Guinness, Bulgari, and Pepsi-Cola's Aquafina, Spielberg and his team paint
a fascinating picture of what advertising might look like in the future --
complete with interactivity and personalization. The vision grew out of a
"think tank" of MIT futurists that Spielberg asked to imagine what the
world would be like in 2054. From that team's work, and from the mind of
production designer Alex McDowell, grew a panoply of ads that appear
throughout the film.<<


Oddly enough, the proliferation of ads in "Minority Report" doesn't seem
that different from what you see in any Hollywood movie--the result of a
cozy relationship between the studios and big corporations looking for the
last inch to peddle their wares. It even approaches the chutzpah of
novelist Fay Weldon, who wrote the novel "The Bulgari Connection" on
consignment from the jewelers. One wonders if they paid off Spielberg as well.

Considering the fact that among the futurists assembled by Spielberg were
members of the editorial board of the techno-libertarian Wired Magazine, it
is no surprise that the future looks a lot like the present.

Spielberg has been cagey about the film's relationship to the current
crackdown. On one hand, he is quoted as saying that Ashcroft would like the
film's setup but not the way it concludes. On the other hand, he told the
NY Times:

"Right now, people are willing to give away a lot of their freedoms in
order to feel safe. They're willing to give the F.B.I. and the C.I.A.
far-reaching powers to, as George W. Bush often says, root out those
individuals who are a danger to our way of living. I am on the president's
side in this instance. I am willing to give up some of my personal freedoms
in order to stop 9/11 from ever happening again. But the question is, Where
do you draw the line? How much freedom are you willing to give up? That is
what this movie is about."

In other words, Spielberg has staked out a liberal position: for civil
liberties in the abstract, against them when they are most needed.

Louis Proyect
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