A picture of Washington DC at night

This look at Minority Report (From Short Story to Movie) is the next in our series of “Have You Watched a Good Book Lately?”

The series’ intention is to track a number of books’ progression from the printed page to the silver screen and assess how well or how badly the filmmakers accomplished each of the adaptations.

Today we’re going to be discussing “The Minority Report,” another of Philip K. Dick’s stories that was adapted for the screen. The story was originally published under the title “The Minority Report” in 1956, and it was adapted for the screen by Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg in 2002 with the title simply “Minority Report.” For those of you unfamiliar with the basic premise, here is a brief synopsis adapted from the DVD cover:

“For six years, Washington D.C. has been murder-free thanks to three “precognitives” who can see future events, as well as astounding technology that lets the police tap into their visions, identifying and arresting killers before they commit their crimes. But when the chief of the Precrime Unit is himself accused of a future murder, he has just 36 hours to discover who set him up – or he’ll fall victim to the “perfect” system he helped create.”

A picture of a cinema in Amsterdam

Book or film? Read on to find out.

From the Source’s Mouth

Let’s start our discussion with one of the main concerns of any story adaptation – how true is the film to the source material? Well, I think I can state pretty confidently that the story and the film are based on the same idea (preventing crime) and that both wrestle with the complex metaphysical theme of the nature of “guilt.” Can a person be considered guilty of a crime if he has not yet committed it but is predicted to commit it sometime in the future? In the film, Captain John Anderton of the Precrime Unit of the Washington, D.C. police rolls a ball across a table toward a federal agent who challenges what he does with that very question. The agent catches the ball as it goes over the edge, prompting Anderton to ask, “Why did you catch it?” The response: “Because it was going to fall.” But it didn’t fall, precisely because it was caught – does that negate the fact that it would have fallen if no one had intervened? It’s convoluted enough thought to make your head spin, and both the story and the film leave the reader/viewer’s head spinning with all the implications.

The crimes are seen in advance of the events by three precognitives, or “precogs.” Though present in both, these beings are portrayed quite differently in the story than in the film. Dick calls them “mutant idiots,” describing them as having enlarged heads, damaged brain tissue, wasted bodies, and not possessing the intelligence needed to comprehend anything that’s going on around them – their only use in society is the ability to see future events. And the police call the area where they’re kept the “monkey block,” further reinforcing that they aren’t really human.

In the film, the three are definitely human – twin boys named Dashell and Arthur and a female named Agatha, the dominant of the three and the one who has the most powerful visions. We learn that they were all the products of mothers who were drug addicts, and it was from exposure to these drugs in the womb that they developed their unique abilities. These were then enhanced by geneticists until they could produce reliable data streams. The three float in a pool inside a sealed room, blissfully unaware of outside events and focused solely on predicting future crime. The precogs in this version of the story are well known and revered by society for essentially eliminating murders in the nation’s capital (any murder that will occur is one of passion, as a premeditated act would be seen well in advance and the perpetrator arrested before they could carry out the act). There are statues built of them; school children are taken on field trips to learn about them, with instruction reverently delivered; and we are told – though quite falsely – that they live in luxury with all their needs met. When Anderton kidnaps Agatha to try to prove his innocence in what he believes will be his false arrest, she asks him, “Is it now? I’m tired. I’m tired of the future.” The look in her eyes at what she has seen exquisitely describes the horror she goes through in her “temple” every single day.

A gif of Tom Cruise in the movie

From the film, Minority report

The title “Minority Report” comes from the visions of the precogs. Usually they all see the same future realities (sometimes again and again, like a living nightmare), but sometimes only two see the same thing and the third sees a slight deviation of events – described as “out of phase” in the story and as a completely different outcome in the film. This “minority report” is subsequently deleted, because if it were to get out that there was any uncertainty that a person was guilty and that potentially innocent people were being imprisoned, Precrime would be dead in the water.


Non-Standard Deviations

Though it may seem, at first glance, that the two versions of the story follow the same path, there are actually quite a number of striking differences. First, the original work is so short that the filmmakers needed to provide a more richly detailed and complex story to span the movie’s 2 ½-hour run time. Second, the original was written back in 1956, almost half a century before the film, and the science of that time would be hopelessly out-of-date for a modern audience. Gone are the days of things like punch cards, analog computers, and data stored on reels of tape. To make the film both interesting and accessible to modern audiences, Spielberg had to incorporate concepts like state-of-the-art digital storage; retinal scans and brain wave monitoring; incessant, individually tailored advertising; and virtual reality suites. And third, he needed to weave the science through an action/sci-fi script that would continually escalate tension both visually and emotionally, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats through a more conventional whodunit than Dick’s layer upon layer turnabout of precog visions.

Another major difference comes with the main character. The story describes Anderton as a balding, middle-aged man, married, with no kids, and the Commissioner of the Precrime Unit, none of which are true in Tom Cruise’s portrayal of the character in the movie. There, he is young, divorced, a drug addict who wallows in self-pity over the breakup of his family, and who is dedicated to his position as Captain of the Precrime Unit because his son had been kidnapped and presumably killed while he was looking after him at the pool, just months before Precrime came in to being and could have presumably saved him.

In fact, it’s revenge for his son’s fate that’s the driving force behind the predicted “future murder” charge he comes up against, while in the short story that charge comes from supposedly trying to kill an Army general because the Army has a copy of the majority report for him that he has tried to suppress to save his own skin – an act of self-preservation or selfishness rather than one of justice. And while Cruise’s Anderton ultimately has to root out the person framing him to beat the charges and watch as Precrime becomes disgraced as less than the “perfect system” it was supposed to be, Commissioner Anderton leaves the politically fraught program to hash things out with the Senate and the Army while he heads off-world to escape any punishment to which he might be subject. The precogs in the story remain part of the “monkey block,” while in the film they are sent off to an undisclosed location to live out the rest of their lives in peace, more or less a “happy” ending and one that validates the individuals’ intelligence and humanity.


The Final Cut

So, how did “Minority Report” as a movie fare as a story adaptation overall? I would say that the adaptation was quite well handled, taking an eternally interesting question, giving it a modern facelift to appeal to a new audience, and not losing the thematic message in the translation. It was also very visual, with great lighting, camera work, and special effects, all necessary to develop a story within an intensely visual medium. I’d give it a solid A for its accomplishments and visual power.


What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Please add your comments in the section below.

– Miriam Ruff, Content Creator, PoetsIN

DISCLAIMER: The opinions discussed in this blog post are solely those of the blogger and do not necessarily represent any thoughts, values, or opinions of PoetsIN and any of its affiliate groups.


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  • Commenter's Avatar
    Jim Lamb — May 21, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    Great analysis. I’ve seen the film several times and find it fascinating. Thanks for the time and effort you’ve invested in this write-up. Enjoyed it much.

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