Revisiting Minority Report, onscreen and on the page

Revisiting Minority Report, onscreen and on the page
Image: Andrew Liptak

More than a decade ago, Steven Spielberg released Minority Report, what may be the best adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story ever brought to the screen. Taking place 50 years in the future, it follows a special crime unit dedicated to stopping murders before they happen. The movie takes some major departures from its source material, leaving room for a sequel the original novelette could have never had.

And what do you know: a new television show, premiering in the fall, is poised to pick up the film’s story a decade later.

We have to admit—it looks better than we expected [2023 edit: it was not, and was canceled after a season.] It also sparked a desire to revisit Dick’s original novelette and again consider how this story has mutated on the way to the screen (both big and small).

Originally published in January 1956 in Fantastic Universe, “The Minority Report” follows John Anderton, head of the Precrime division, which utilizes three “precogs” in its fight against crime. The mentally impaired psychics babble random words and syllables, which are plugged into a computer and analyzed. From the data, Precrime is able to determine when a crime will be committed, often before the “perp” has any idea of what he’s about to do. The original story doesn’t focus only on murders—the precogs can forsee any crime—but in both, they predict that Anderton will kill Leopold Kaplan, a man he’s never met.

The film retains only the basic framework of the story, though it preserves its spirit, and raising the same questions: if the accused has yet to actually commit the crime, are they truly a guilty party? As in the book, Anderton desperately flees his own people, determined to prove his innocence.

But there is a key difference: what drives the story’s Anderton is far different from what motivates Tom Cruise’s version. In the original, when Anderton comes across a punch card with his name, he immediately believes it came up as part of a conspiracy to oust him from his position (the military is sent duplicates of all predictions). In the film, he believes he is being framed for a drug addiction. This disparate motivations veer the narrative onto quite different paths.

Still, each can be classified as a paranoid thriller, as Anderton is pulled into a conspiracy at the heart of which is the central tenet of Precrime: the the system is infallible. There’s a strange logic at work, and unwinding it is a brain-buzzing pleasure both on the page and onscreen.

With a television show picking up the story, there’s certainly no shortage of angle to cover in a weekly procedural: the stopped crime of the day. But when it comes to the central paradox of Precrime, revisiting the original story rather than sticking solely to the movie might lead to some interesting new stories, philosophical dilemmas, and additional complexity.

Moreover, the series will need to distinguish itself from other, similar shows—Fox’s now-canceled Almost Human had a distinct Minority Report vibe when it came to depicting future tech, while Person of Interest also takes on the idea of stopping crime before it starts, albeit with a different twist (though one that’s also worthy of Philip K. Dick).

Where the movie examined the idea of fallibility and how a justice system would need to completely eliminate doubt in order to keep functioning, the novelette plays with the idea of perception and how one’s knowledge of the future impacts one’s future actions. Delving into the source material might be what the television show needs to forge its own voice and longer story. If it lasts, it’ll be interesting to see what stories it will tell.