Sunday, January 28, 2007

Minority Report

by Philip K. Dick
from Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

I liked "Minority Report" the movie. It continues to stand as one my favorite Tom Cruise movies, not least of all because it was created in those magical pre-Scientology and Oprah couch-jumping days. The sleek, futuristic sophistication of Steven Spielberg’s production, combined with the adequate tortured-father, hunted-lawman acting of Tom Cruise, and the exceptional screen writing all worked to make what I thought was a suspenseful, entertaining, and thoughtful movie. There are worse things to spend summer movie money on after all, "X-Men 3: The Last Stand" comes immediately to mind. In any case, "The Minority Report" was one of the reasons why I decided to buy the Selected Stories in the first place. I say this all as preface to my review of Philip K. Dick's "Minority Report" because I wish to concede, even before I begin, that it's possible that my opinion of the short story is negatively effected by how much I liked the movie.

I didn't like "Minority Report" the short story. The phrase "Based on a story by Philip K. Dick" is vast overstatement. Yes, there is a suspense plot involving pre-cognitives who predict future crimes; yes, the main characters' names are all the same; and yes, the story is set in the future. That, my friends, is where the similarities end. Instead of the young, capable though troubled Anderton that Cruise plays, the Anderton in the story is old, paranoid, virtually clueless, and finally smug. He doesn't have a missing son, an illegal drug problem, or an ex-wife. The only problem he does have is that he's old. The Anderton of the story isn't motivated by a desire to find his son's kidnapper but rather by the paranoid need to protect his job. He isn't tortured, he's middle-aged, which does have its own problems, sure, but not enough to justify his often frank idiocy.

Among the other many differences which I found particularly disturbing is that the procogs are actual mentally-challenged vegetables. They have no personalities nor do they even receive the reverent respect displayed in the movie. In fact, they are derisively referred to as "monkeys". When Witwer expresses his surprise at the precogs' deformity, Anderton instantly replies, "Deformed and retarded...The talent absorbs everything; the esp-lobe shrivels the balance of the frontal area. But what do we care? We get their prophecies." And here's a sampling of the way the precogs are treated: "The dwarfed, hunched-over figure had sat buried in its wiring and relays for fifteen years...'Jerry', however, remained in the aimless chaos of idiocy; the burgeoning faculty had absorbed the totality of his personality." Poor dude. Don't they have human rights organizations in the future?

Strangely enough, out of all the stories set in the future in Selected Stories, "Minority Report" seems to have aged the worst. The precrime reports are kept on paper cards and recorded on cassette tapes, which don't jibe very well with phones that come with aud and vid lines and ID cards that include brain-wave patterns. Nor did it play very well in my mind as I pictured the moving, wall-sized video screens and the hard, incriminating red balls so sleekly dished out in the movie. Tapes and paper cards? Surely Dick could have done better than that. We'll be lucky if readers ten years from now even know what those are.

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