Minority Report - the story behind the movie

Story by Jack Foley

STRANGE what a difference a year - or even six months (!) - can make. At the tail end of last year, Steven Spielberg was having to stave off the bad reviews for AI: Artificial Intelligence, while Tom Cruise was dividing audiences and critics alike with his mainstream/art-house crossover, Vanilla Sky.

Had both director and actor been able to peer into their own futures, (and maybe they did!) they need not have worried; for while many were questioning whether those projects marked the beginning of the end of their own golden eras, critics are now lining up to hail the ‘dream’ partnership of two of Hollywood’s greatest players.

Minority Report, a sci-fi whodunnit based upon a short story by Blade Runner scribe Philip K. Dick, opened in America to a wealth of acclaim and a healthy box office and looks set to do the same in the UK. It is being hailed as Spielberg’s darkest and most gritty film to date, which offers a nightmarish glimpse into a Big Brother-style future which could, quite possibly, come true. Oh, and Cruise delivers one of his finest blockbuster performances to boot (he has already shone in less mainstream fare, such as Magnolia, of course!).

Little wonder, then, that the Cruise/Spielberg partnership appears to be in high spirits, according to which interview you read. Spielberg, in particular, is fully aware of the criticisms levelled upon him from a media which has tired of his need to produce a happy ending, no matter what the subject.

In an interview with the BBC online, he confesses to having become ‘tired of myself’ and is pleased with the gritty feel of the film, which differs from the grit displayed in Saving Private Ryan or the solemnity in Schindler’s List [other movies which are considered to be among the director’s finest work].

Talking to Entertainment Weekly, the US-based entertainment giant, he confesses: "If there’s a part of me that I’d want to inject Botox into, it’s my sentimental side. I’m a sentimental guy, but I’m working on that."

It seems Spielberg is drawing on outside help, however, to help him combat this fondness for sentiment; taking on a Kubrick project for AI (which was dark in places) and drawing on film noir classics such Asphalt Jungle, Key Largo and The Maltese Falcon for Minority Report.

Not that Spielberg feels that he has to apologise for the direction which AI eventually took (despite the criticisms), saying: "I realised I had succeeded when I saw what a Kubrickian reaction the film was getting - it was given exactly the same reception that every other Kubrick film has always gotten."

Another significant step in the Minority Report production process was collaborating with Cruise, for whom an image make-over was also needed after the critical disappointment of Vanilla Sky - one cinema in Texas reportedly offered refunds after screenings.

Cruise remains defensive of the picture, describing it as ‘challenging’ and adding: "I'm proud of it, but when you're making a film like that, you know that it's not going to be for all audiences. Honestly, I'm surprised it did as well as it did."

But he was also keen to broaden his range still further, taking on a mainstream summer blockbuster which was aimed squarely at the adults.

"It's a complex story about where our society is going, about what the world will be like in 50 years," Cruise told Entertainment Weekly. "But it's also got plenty of eye candy, some really great entertainment value," he adds.

The eye candy, of course, is the star himself, although Spielberg decided early on to play down the actor’s ‘star presence’. His first direction to Cruise was, ‘No smiling!’, allowing the star to flash the famous teeth only three times in total. They had to discover which times together - yet the result is quite eye-opening.

Another remarkable aspect of the Minority Report story is that it was Cruise who first brought the project to Spielberg’s attention, although neither could commit straight away due to the AI/Sky commitments.

When the two did agree on a date, the collaboration marked a union which had been in the making since the days of Rainman and which required both star and director to re-evaluate what many had started to take for granted.

The delay allowed Out of Sight scriptwriter, Scott Frank, to carry out some fine tuning (in order to flesh the characters out), while Spielberg assembled a panel of 28 renowned futurists and told them to spend three days brainstorming what life might be like in the year 2054.

But not everything they came up with could be used, according to Spielberg, as an analytical toilet, that would catch and evaluate what went down and automatically adjust a person’s diet accordingly, would have landed the movie a dreaded R rating.

As it was, Spielberg had to lose a few frames from the opening murder scene and drop the odd ‘f-word’ to avoid being given it, but he remains pleased with the final cut and confident it shows a darker direction.

Referring back to the BBC interview, the director said: "Every science fiction movie I have ever seen, any one that is worth its weight in celluloid, warns us about things that ultimately come true. It's easier for an audience to take warnings from sci-fi without feeling that we're preaching to them."

It remains to be seen whether Spielberg’s movie serves as a big enough warning to prevent the type of consumer-driven police state witnessed on screen. But audiences can form their own opinion of how close we are to realising this vision, when the movie opens on Thursday.

RELATED LINKS: The full Entertainment Weekly story on Minority Report. Click here...
Click here for the BBC interview with Steven Spielberg...
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RELATED STORIES: Click here for the Minority Report review...
Tom Cruises in for Minority Report premiere. Click here for story...