Adaptations are never carbon copies. A prime example is Philip K. Dick’s short story and Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film, Minority Report. The structure of the storytelling is indeed different as well as other key elements. The narrative transforms its structure into a more episodic approach when brought to the screen. Words on paper take on a new identity when brought to life on a visual basis.
Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report, written in 1956, was ahead of its time. The short story explores the consequences of technology and science and how the technology echoes the present state of society. Both the story and the film emphasize the same basic themes, however the actual plot is almost completely diverse. The film takes place around the year 2054. For five years (six in the film), the Pre-Crime Unit has successfully made murder a thing of the past. Their astounding technology is credited to three pre-cogs. These “idiot” pre-cogs identify killers before they commit their crimes, drastically cutting the crime rate by “ninety-nine and a decimal point eight percent” (in the film this rate was zero) (Dick 74). However, this infallible system runs amuck when Commander Anderton, played by Tom Cruise, is accused of a future murder. Anderton finds himself with only 24 hours (36 in the film) to discover who set him up and in the process, flee from the hands of the authority he once governed. If he fails, Anderton will fall victim to the perfect system he co-created. Both the story and the film are suspenseful and ask the question, “Is pre-crime justified?” The notion of innocent until proven guilty is virtually discarded. The accused murderers are based upon pure metaphysics. Theme and plot are not the only ways in which the film and the movie can be compared and contrasted.
Even the characters have very different traits. John Anderton in the short story is rather old and balding. He seems rather disgruntled and has an immense disliking for Witward. In Spielberg’s film, Anderton is played by Tom Cruise who is far from old and balding. Spielberg most likely chose the young A-list actor as opposed to an older one that fits the profile of Dick’s Anderton mainly for money’s sake. Simply having the name “Tom Cruise” in a movie leads many more people to view the film, even if they do not necessarily know the story line. In the movie, Anderton’s motive for joining the pre-crime forces was because his son was kidnapped and murdered. As a result, Anderton finds himself with a drug problem as a means of coping with his depression. In the film, Anderton and his wife are divorced. However, in the beginning of Dick’s story, Anderton has suspicion that his wife, Lisa, is behind the plot to set him up. In the film, Anderton is fortuned to kill Leon Crow, whereas in the story he is predetermined to kill a man by the name of Leopold Kaplan. Anderton as a character deviates from story to film.
In addition to Anderton, the three psychic beings, dubbed pre-cogs, are exceedingly different in the story and the film. In Dick’s rendition, the pre-cogs consist of Mike, Donna, and Jerry. As kids they were noted as having cognitive malfunction and were given psychiatric testing. Once their involuntary talent was discovered, they were hooked up to wires and became “idiot” mutants. In Spielberg’s film, the pre-cogs include Agatha, Arthur, and Dashiell; Agatha is the most gifted of the three. In the movie, a genetic biologist by the name of Hineman worked with children of drug addicts and came across the three “miracles” thus pioneering pre-crime. At one point in the film when talking to Cruise she says that to them, their gift is nothing more than a “cosmic joke” (Spielberg). Whereas in the story the pre-cogs are illustrated as “deformed and retarded”, the film gives them an almost God-like image (Dick 73). The Pre-Crime unit refers to their chamber as the shrine and themselves as the clergy. In layman’s terms, the story depicts them as stupid babbling mutants where the film glorifies their talents as if they were almost bestowed upon them from heaven. As the general theme tends to stay equivalent, the characters are enhanced or completely eliminated when put into the motion picture.
When it comes to accuracy, Spielberg could not receive higher than a D+. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. By taking his own vision and coupling it with Dick’s, he creates a powerful sci-fi thriller that helps usher in the futuristic age to come. He keeps the basic theme alive but chooses to manipulate various aspects to enhance suspense, liven the storyline, and make it more appealing to the viewer. When it comes to effectiveness, Spielberg receives an A. He takes a 70 page short story and transforms it into a two hour and 30 minute action-packed blockbuster. Let’s face it, if Spielberg devised the film verbatim from the original short story, it would be pretty dull.
The timeliness of Minority Report is uncanny, given the current situation in politics. Philip K. Dick’s short story emerged in 1956. The script for the film, written by Jon Cohen and Scott Frank, was completed well in advance of the shock of the post-9/11 terror frenzy. Dick’s intuitions of pre-crime enforcement have been brought to the big screen at just the moment when his seemingly sixth-sense is starting to be seen in real life. Both the story and the film warn the future of society of the suffocating effects of an encroaching police state.