Minority Report (Philip K. Dick) short story 1*, movie 4*

I’m often grumpy about adaptations, but this time the source material is crap and the movie adaptation is pretty nifty.  Tom Cruise works for Pre-Crime, which is where three pre-cogs identify murderers before they kill anyone.  When the three pre-cogs are not unanimous, one of them is the “minority report.”

As in the movie, the short story starts when Tom Cruise is fingered as a future murderer.  Tom Cruise has no murderous intent, and the initial minority report declares him innocent.  The minority report then changes its mind, however, so the prediction is rendered after all.  It all turns out to be true, Oedipus-style, because Tom Cruise discovers a reason to kill somebody as a direct result of the prophecy.  I would interpret the short story as a negation of real human choice, though it can be argued both ways.  In any case, it’s a little toy story (all theory with no characters or setting or, as a matter of fact, any conflict).

Spielberg wisely splits the main character into two people: Tom Cruise who wants to end Pre-Crime and the Director who wants to save it. The movie dumps the time paradox and dives for meatier themes of choice and justice.  The distance between Pre-Crime and racial profiling is not so large, and more interesting as genetic profiles get cheaper and more useful.

Even without its story, the movie is worth watching for its well-fleshed, very shiny Future DC.  Metrocards are out because you pay via retina scans — what do you care if the government can track your every move, if you are a good person with nothing to hide?  Future DC is a civilized, orderly place where the government would never infringe someone’s human rights by hitting them, but Pre-Crime will come after you with sick sticks and re-program your brain if the pre-cogs spot you.  The technology, including 3-D computer interfaces (coming soon, I hear), sick sticks, and personalized advertising, hits the sweet spot between the plausible and the new.

The source material’s lack of setting was a real problem (no setting = no society).  Future DC, meanwhile, is Orwellian in a plausible extrapolation, and its residents are completely recognizable as our kind of people living in a future kind of society.  Every flash of the new, seductively slick DC adds weight to the question: How much would you give up for safety and convenience and customer satisfaction?  I don’t agree with Google’s privacy stance, and I don’t support the abolition of cash, but I use Gmail and I never have cash.

Random Philip Dick Factoid: Saw an article on Philip Johnson’s Glass House, which sounds exactly like the house described in Dick’s Confessions of a Crap Artist, down to the outrageous heating costs.  In real life it was the weekend retreat of two artistic gay New Yorkers, but the book ramps up the absurdity by having a family with small children live there.  The Glass House is utterly impractical, hideously expensive, and hailed as an icon of modern art.  The article had pages of superlative testimonials about how it’s as if the house isn’t there, and all you see is the landscape.  Hmmm.  So it has the habitability and aesthetics of a gazebo, but costs a fortune and burns a dinosaur herd of heating oil.  And you can’t snuggle into any of the furniture.

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