Despite supposedly being all about predicting the future, the 2002 film version of Minority Report is mostly about Tom Cruise running around. It was like he was jealous of Harrison Ford in The Fugitive and demanded that Steven Spielberg give him a movie with even more running plus cooler clothes. In fact, Minority Report the movie has such a cool aesthetic that Fox decided to base an entire TV show off of it.
How tired are you of hearing that such-and-such-show is a “procedural?” Yeah me too. But sorry! Minority Report the TV show is mostly a procedural with a weird dose of nostalgia for a movie that’s not really even all that classic.
Light spoilers for episode 1 of Minority Report.
In both the original Philip K. Dick short story and the 2002 film, a “minority report” refers to contradictory or tangential versions of the future. The idea is this: certain precognitive people (“Precogs”) have visions of future crimes which allows law enforcement to bust bad guys before a crime—usually a murder—occurs. This new version of Minority Report keeps that mythology as a central premise, but weirdly puts the concept of “precrime” into the past. Here, the precrime justice system has actually been dismantled by the government. This idea of the good-ole-days of sci-fi perp-busting is set up glibly by two cops, one who says, “GIRRRLL…precrime was way before our time! Now we just clean up messes.” It’s pretty weird for such a great sci-fi premise to be rendered as retro in your very first episode, but that’s what Minority Report is all about. The Precogs are out of business and crime is like, a serious problem, man! Lets get some Precogs working for the police again! But shhhh, it’s going to be secret Precogs on the sly!
Comparing Minority Report the TV show to Minority Report the movie seems like the obvious way to go here, but other than the aesthetics being vaguely borrowed from the film, and the fact that it’s supposed to be a sequel, there’s almost no thematic similarity. In an early scene our primary cop protagonist Lara Vega (Meagan Good) busts out Tom Cruise’s hand-swippy virtual reality interface—which really at this point is something we associate more with Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies than we do with Cruise. An oh-so-subtle click-track takes over the score of this scene, making investigating crime with retro holograms like dancy cool, I guess? Not to be mean, but it’s almost like Vega is acting like she’s on a catwalk in this scene and when her colleague begins a sentence with the aforementioned “GIRRLLL” line it’s immediately hard to take any of what you’re seeing seriously.
What is Minority Report about then? Basically this: getting rid of the Precogs was clearly a bad idea because preventing crime with clairvoyant visions is awesome. But, don’t worry! Even if you want to employ one Precog illegally to prevent crime, it’s still not too easy! This brand of soothsaying is totally the standard hazy visions of the future Captain-I-sense-treachery BS; minus GPS coordinates or exact intersections. In all iterations of Minority Report (or really any half-assed future dream story) this kind of piecemeal prophecy can seem very contrived very quickly. Once Vega teams up with Dash (a former Precog) it’s all about using his visions with her no-nonsense police know-how to prevent disasters and murders. You don’t actually need to be precognitive yourself to see where this is going: mysteries which seem less like real mysteries but more like TV puzzles that have no connection to reality.
I bet in an early pitch meeting at FOX, somebody probably described this show thusly: “It’s an exciting police drama with a psychological sci-fi twist! Plus, vague brand identity to something people might have heard of!” There’s no way to prove this brand of cynicism was present in the inception of this show, but it certainly feels that way. Minority Report reads more like a Minority Report “product” than a fully realized fictional universe. If I were the person in the pitch meeting, I would have tried to sell the show to studio heads like this: “It’s sort of like that show Continuum only with less complicated paradoxes, no actual time travel, and really dumbed-down dialogue.” I’m not saying lead actors Meagan Good (Vega) and Stark Sands (Dash) aren’t trying to sell the material, it’s just they’ve been given a kind of watered-down version of something that was once only kind of interesting to begin with. If Dash’s blurry visions of the future are a metaphor for the show’s longevity, I’d say they’re in trouble right away. Precrime might have been shut down in this future, but it’s only going to get shut down again unless they start taking it a little more seriously.
In the super-famous Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale,” people’s memories are tampered with to provide them with more interesting memories than they could have experienced otherwise. The problem with this process is that it makes everyone’s heads a little more jumbled up than they would be ordinarily, in short, rendering everything in one’s mind feeling fake and half-baked. When it comes to the cultural consciousnesses concerning something like Minority Report, the effect is similar. We vaguely recognize what we’re seeing on the screen here. We kind of already know where it’s going. But we’re infinitely jarred because it seems like we’ve done all of this already and someone is trying to brainwash us.
It’s fairly harmless and not offensive at all, but the new Minority Report feels like corporate-generated déjà vu. Which, sadly, is a pop-entertainment endgame that is all-too predictable.
Ryan Britt is the author of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths. (Plume 11.24) He’s written for The Morning News, VICE, Electric Literature and The New York Times. He’s a longtime contributor to Tor.com.