What’s in the Report?
There seems to be an ongoing need to turn the ideas of Philip K. Dick and adapt them for the screen, big and small. Minority Report has had a TV show adapted recently and soon Man in the High Castle will be streaming through Amazon. Granted the two episodes I have seen for MHC have been really good so I am anxiously awaiting the rest of the first season, but that is a story for another time. Instead I want to spend some time with Minority Report and the three different iterations of the story.
Three different iterations. Think about that. The story, roughly 100 pages, is so big that it takes on the three different forms. But it really isn’t the story itself that is so big, but the idea of what it represents. In a nutshell, the whole premise for Minority Report hits us with the thought, if we could stop crimes before they happen, should we?
I mean, seriously, if you were imprisoned for a crime you never actually committed but they claimed it was a preventative measure, would justice truly be served? I know right, rhetorical questions that we don’t really have the lived experience to know for sure what our answers would be. But that’s just it, in a world where our actions are seen before they happen, we could be in a position to never actual experience this life either. At this point it comes down to being imprisoned for thought crime instead of actually committing the crimes.
And of course, the worst bit of it is when you consider the possibilities of manipulating the system. Which is where the idea of the minority report itself comes into play. The book explains this a bit better than the original movie (2002 Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise and Max Von Sydow). The idea is that the three mutants all see the future. When two agree on what the most relevant future could be they create a majority report. It is this report that is used in the apprehension of criminals before they commit their crimes.
The third mutant holds the minority report. This report shows an alternative that may or may not agree with the majority report. Both the book and the movie are built on the premise that the minority report told a different story than what the majority report said. This and the basic premise are the only real similarities between the two. Yes, you can read or watch the both of them and enjoy them both and enjoy the places where overlap happens but in the end you will carry out a slightly different experience.
And then comes this current television show.
Essentially, the show picks up where the movie left off. Yes, the movie. Because the movie and the book actually had polar opposite endings. Through the overall arch of the stories, in the book the end was to maintain the status quo. But in the movie it was to bring an end to the system that removed our chance of free will.
The TV show starts a few years after the dissolution of precrime. The mutants had been released back into the world and given the freedom to live their lives without government interference. And the odd thing is this is also where the whole idea diverges yet again. Aside from the mentions of precrime and the three that can see the future, this story has no real connection to the original story.
Now when I caught the first episode of the show, I was drawn into the view of the possible future. The world the show exists within isn’t too much different from the world we know now. It gives us roots into our own modern lives that makes the more fantastic elements jump out a bit more and makes for a grounding that allows us to accept the flights of fancy. Which is a bit different from what we saw in the movie.
We as the viewer/ reader are given different levels of tech throughout the different iterations of the idea. And each of these either builds upon or supersedes the ideas of the others in a way that stands out. Case in point; the book mentions flying vehicles in a few places, the movie has small glimpses of that but the main traffic is a mass computer controlled system that climbs up and down megastructures, and then the TV show displays traffic and public transportation that isn’t too far outside what we have now.
The use of computers within each iteration reflects something akin to what is known at the time of production with thoughts of what the future of that tech could be. Picture the ticker tapes and magnetic strips used in the books to record and display the reports to the wooden balls used in the movie to display the reports. The movie also used virtual computing and something similar to video calling on virtual screens. But then the television show takes it back a step to physical controls on many of the devices though there are some high tech spy devices that the investigators use.
Of course, all of that is just fluff really. It is, in the end, what we expect to see within the framework of our time of viewing, the place where we are outside the timeline of the movie itself. But at the same time there is another change within the framework of the story that is reflective of the times. The TV show steps into the modern era by placing a woman as the main character and investigator. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. But there is a failure here none the less.
The failure is to follow the same pattern of every detective show on television now. Instead of a singular gumshoe, the plucky individual that is working to bring justice and such to the troubled world, we have the formula in place that we should have a team of heroes, usually a man and a woman. What is more the woman is hard boiled and tough as nails and the man is a… for lack of better words … a wuss. He isn’t meant to be in tough situations and really has no clue how to protect himself. This would be novel and unique if it wasn’t done in every other cop show out there. But instead we are given a show that the only real difference is, the male character can see the future and has access to two other characters that can see the future as well. Same flavor as every other version of vanilla ice cream but in a different package.
The movie, that at least tried to tell a similar story to the book, has some redeeming qualities. For the most part it is still a crime story of the wrongly accused, but at the same time, we see interesting ways in which the future is pushed along in a way to ensure that what was predicted actually happens. To make it even better, the movie also goes a step further than the book by making the crime that we know about, the lesser crime. There is a deeper crime that is hidden within the minority reports that the hero needs to discover. This added dimension fuels the narrative and makes it worth the 2.5 hours it takes to sit through the whole thing.
I find it interesting in the overall run through the three iterations that we can see the similarities in three different ways and know the source and how it was meant to play out, while at the same time each different piece builds upon the narrative of the world. Overall, the world of Minority Report is much bigger than we might consider at first glance. The ideas give us much to think about. And in the end, I think it is worth a bit of your time to check them all out.
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