Philip K Dick’s short story, “Minority Report,” focuses on the paranoia of the protagonist, John A. Anderton. As Dick describes, Anderton is “Bald and fat and old (119)” and is the retiring commissioner of the precrime unit who arrests people before they commit murder. The precogs are what they use: mutants who receive visions from the future. The precrime unit treats these mutants (Mike, Donna, and Jerry) as a means to an end with no autonomy. The story intensifies as Witwer comes into the picture as a future replacement for our current commissioner. Everything is set in motion when Anderton finds his name on a card that tells the commissioner who is going to commit murder. The card says he is to murder a retired army general, Leopold Kaplan. As this is all developed, Anderton wonders if Witwer is looking for power and if his wife is conspiring against him. As a filmmaker known for his spectacle, Steven Spielberg takes Dick’s short story and expands it with many new elements and possibilities. Evidently, Spielberg uses the interweaving strategy. Desmond’s definition of point-of-departure indicates extreme distance, and I think Spielberg does not go far enough for this strategy. Spielberg takes some of what Dick grapples with and reimagines and reconfigures the plot. He keeps character names, narrative details, and disperses them in a different order. He is not afraid to scramble many essential elements of the story to fit a vision that he wants to accomplish for Hollywood and himself. A sequence that is indicative of Spielberg’s application of the interweaving strategy is the murder of Leopold Kaplan in the short story. Spielberg scrambles this scene and retains details in other parts of the film. When Anderton (Tom Cruise) confronts Lamar Burgess (Max Von Sydow) in the film, the sequence is a reimagining of this crucial climactic scene in the short story.
With his mise-en-scene, Spielberg uses Dick’s story in a way that complements the visual storytelling of cinema. He has a radiant ability to create mood or tone through various choices in partnership with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. For example, the filter that the filmmakers employ is “bleach bypass,” which highlights blues and causes paler skin. This filter pairs well with the subject matter; the bluish tint compliments the futuristic world, the theme of an all-seeing surveillance state, and overwhelmingly present technologies (which often overtake the frame). Both iterations interestingly tackle “extrapolation”— a common occurrence in science fiction when a writer takes known scientific concepts and imagines how events and circumstances may evolve. Spielberg extrapolates on the surveillance state and uses context from post-9/11 United States policies to predict how these policies will develop with technology. Spielberg opens the film with a close-up of an eye and subsequently has eye-scanners as a means of surveillance. He does not extrapolate everything that Dick does. He still has some similarities. Philip K Dick extrapolates on authoritarianism, the criminal justice system, penal servitude through exile to other planets, and individual freedom. For authoritarianism, Dick uses Leopold Kaplan, “General of the Army of the Federated West-bloc Alliance.” as the conspirator to authoritarian rule. Kaplan tells Anderton that he is, “Retired, since the end of the Anglo-Chinese War, and the abolishment of AFWA.” (127). The indication that the military has lost power and Kaplan’s attempt to seize power by discrediting the pre-crime system extrapolates that authoritarian rule will always be possible. At the end of the short story, Anderton waits to fulfill his exile to “Centaurus X by inter-system transport” (149). Lisa, his wife, declares, “I suppose we won’t be able to use these new atronic appliances. They’re still using electricity on Centten.”(150). Dick extrapolates on the future of punishment and even something as universal as electricity.
In the short story, the murder of Leopold Kaplan is done to retain the pre-crime system and to prevent an authoritarian military state. In this version, Anderton is the originator of the pre-crime system compared to originator Lamar Burgess in the film. The main motivator for Kaplan, who is dressed in his old military uniform, is his chance to restore military control by unveiling the minority report to a crowd. This version’s minority report is a dissenting opinion that shows a fundamental flaw in the precrime system. The minority report shows that Anderton would not murder Kaplan. The majority report, which the pre-crime unit has consistently used as evidence to imprison people, concludes that Anderton will murder Kaplan. With dramatic irony, Kaplan does not know Anterton’s plans in a tense climax. Some key details of the scene are that Kaplan’s uniform is ornate: “He wore his service bars, his medals, his boots, his decorative short-sword, and his visored cap.” The scene’s description of the setting is notable but is not exact in the Spielberg version: “Army uniforms predominated, and at the perimeter of the cleared area, a line of tanks and major weapons was displayed.” (146). Dick continues creating an atmosphere akin to authoritarian regimes and the idolization of the past: “Behind the stand hung the vast AFWA banner, emblem of the combined powers that fought in the war.” (146). The scene creates a complex atmosphere of uncertainty that is perfectly demonstrated in this climactic moment. Kaplan says it himself, “The exposure will have considerable repercussions. It may cause the Senate to reconsider the basic validity of the precrime system.” (148). With this statement, Kaplan seems certain in the potential. Although he tells this to Anderton, there still seems to be a slight concern in Kaplan: “Inspite of his nervousness…” (147). Kaplan supports Anderton in one of the most compelling moments: “John Alission Anderton is innocent of any crime past, present, and future.” (148). This is only a few sections before the decision: “Anderton raised the gun, stepped quickly forward, and fired.” (149). The film scene that most corresponds is when Lamar Burgess makes his own decision, which indicates an interweaving adaptation.
In the film, Spielberg splits the climactic scene into two. The card, or ball in the film, reveals that Anderton will kill Leo Crow. Crow, like the short story, is someone Anderton does not know. The “murder” of Crow and the suicide of Burgess has elements from the Kaplan scene in the short story. For the authoritarian element that was so heavily emphasized in Kaplan’s speech, Spielberg opts to foreground the pre-crime system as the tyrannical authoritarian force. He accomplishes this by dispersing moments with the military that was so present in Dick’s climax. A scene that emulates the tense atmosphere is when the hyper-militarized unit hunts down Tom Cruise’s character in the tenement building. One could argue that this scene is not unlike the moment when Kaplan’s men capture Anderton. So with this connection in mind, Spielberg is making the precrime unit an applied version of Kaplan’s authoritarian conspiracy. Spielberg’s Lamar Burgess is a union of Kaplan and Anderton. In the events leading to Burgess’ downfall, Anderton comes out of imprisonment and communicates with Burgess directly. The tone is similar to how Kaplan had a rally, although it is transformed into a banquet hall celebrating 100 years of precrime. Instead of the murder in front of a crowd and retention of the precrime system, Spielberg uncensors the minority report, projecting it for all. He chooses to dismantle the precrime system rather than retain it like the short story. Close-ups of renowned Swedish film actor Max Von Sydow show the nervousness that was so apparent in the original Kaplan (there is a shadow on his face). Not only does a close-up indicate nervousness, but the isolation of sound is also key in getting into Burgess’ psychology. Cruise’s voice-over reveals the truth, while Spielberg places Burgess in a crowd of people. The mass of voices are sped up, and we cannot understand them as though we are inside in Burgess’ mind. There is a crane shot that pulls back and goes into a high-angle. The crane shot reveals the immense crowd of people while indicating Burgess’ helplessness in this situation. The parallel editing demonstrates the fluidity of cinematic time. For Burgess’ suicide, the bird’s-eye shot after he shoots himself and the single light source beaming down from the doorway reveals a frame full of texture. The mise-en-scene illuminates the downfall of a powerful man, which is similar to the tense atmosphere of how Philip K. Dick wrote the murder of Leopold Kaplan.
These dispersed elements signal that Spielberg weaves between his and Dick’s version. Spielberg does not take everything in its original order. He alters the chronological progress of Dick’s story in favor of a version that is more complex. The two scenes that correspond to each other, the murder of Kaplan and Burgess’s suicide, show the interweaving strategy. There are elements from the Kaplan climax all over the film. The way Dick describes the conspiring military is seen in the precrime unit. Kaplan’s ornate military dress can be seen in the decorative pistol Burgess receives as a gift. By making the pre-crime system the authoritarian system built on falsity, Spielberg comments on the original vision. Even though there are problems with the precrime system, Dick chose to retain it over Kaplan’s authoritarian military state. Does this ask us to see the virtue in our world even though it is imperfect? With the context of the United States policies, Spielberg may be saying that the system will inevitably go too far. The cinematic conventions that Spielberg uses in the suicide is another way he weaves his elements. With Spielberg’s parallel editing, Anderton’s dialogue about precogs is shown to us visually. The emphasis of Burgess’ nervousness mirrors Kaplan in the short story. In essence, Spielberg reimagines and reconfigures the plot. He scrambles vital elements and creates a vision that is both Hollywood and his own. In his adaptation, Spielberg uses the interweaving strategy.
“Minority Report by Philip K. Dick.” Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen: 35 Great Stories That Have Inspired Great Films, by Stephanie Harrison, Three Rivers Press, 2005, pp. 119-151.
“The Short Story.” Adaptation: Studying Film and Literature, by John M. Desmond and Peter Hawkes, McGraw-Hill Education Create, 2006, pp. 127–157.
— Christian Mietus, Blog Editor.
Christian is a Senior at Lewis University who is an English major and a minor in Film Studies and Russian Language and Culture. In 2019, he received the “Dr. Stephany Schlachter Excellence in Undergraduate Scholarship Award” for his collaborative piece “Assimilation through Sound.” Additionally, his poem “The Japanese Photography is Covered in Dust” is forthcoming from City Brink Magazine. In his free time, he appreciates and dissects cinema as well as consistently rating and reviewing it. Some of his favorite directors are Andrei Tarkovsky, John Cassavetes, Ingmar Bergman, and Kenji Mizoguchi. He also appreciates different art forms, such as music and literature. Christian hopes to continue expanding his skills as a writer and to encourage others to do so as well. He writes about film for the JFR blog, so check out Christian’s Cinematic Syntax.