April 12, 2004
The Minority Report: In Print and On Screen
American Military University
HM 214, Science Fiction and Fantasy
by James Landrith
The short story The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick is a fast-paced crime drama, set in a future where murder is predictable and preventable. Like all of the Philip K. Dick works I’ve read, I enjoyed it. However, the 2002 DreamWorks movie version of The Minority Report was an improvement on the story, with several new characters introduced. Further, existing characters were enhanced or changed in the movie version.
One major change from the short story to the movie involved setting. The short story took place in New York City and the surrounding countryside. The movie took place in Washington, DC, Baltimore and Northern Virginia.
The basic plot of both the short story and the movie involve a future society where murders are preventable through the use of three gifted individuals known as “precogs” or “precognitives.” These three individuals are able to predict murders and the identities of the assailants in advance of the crime, allowing agents of the Precrime Unit to apprehend the future criminal, effectively preventing the murder.
In both the short story and the movie, law enforcement officer John Anderton is framed for a future murder. In the short story, the Precrime Unit had been in existence for fifteen years. In the movie version, the Department of Precrime had been operating for six years.
For starters, let’s examine the lead character of John Anderton. In Philip K. Dick’s story, John Anderton was the founder of the Precrime Unit. Further, Anderton also served as police commissioner. In the movie version of The Minority Report, John Anderton is police chief of the Department of Precrime, but not the police commissioner. In the short story, Anderton is quite a bit older than his wife Lisa, who had previously been his secretary. Also, the short story portrayed John Anderton as in his fifties, balding and out of shape.
In the movie version, Anderton’s ex-wife is a photographer and appears to be about the same age as her ex-husband. Tom Cruise, who portrayed John Anderton in the movie version, is a runner, obviously in excellent shape, in his early forties and with a full head of hair. This particular change in the character of John Anderton allowed for a more believable and dynamic action sequence. It would be much harder to believe an out of shape fifty something was capable of outrunning the entire Precrime police force through the subway, down the side of a building and through a car manufacturing plant.
In addition, the movie version of John Anderton was far more developed than the short story version. The movie portrayed Anderton as a divorced grieving father and drug addict. The movie version also portrayed Anderton as a man with an intense internal drive and deep faith and confidence in his work in the Department of Precrime. This intensity and belief in his work was due, in large part, to the abduction of his son six years prior. Following his son’s abduction, Anderton went to work for Lamar Burgess in the newly formed Precrime Unit, where he immersed himself completely in his work, to the detriment of his marriage. Anderton completely devoted himself to ensuring that no family would ever suffer the loss of a loved one again. This eventually led to the dissolution of his marriage through divorce.
In addition, the movie dramatically changed one character from the short story. In the short story, character Leopold Kaplan, retired General of the Army of the Federated Westbloc Alliance was the intended victim of John Anderton, as well as a major conspirator in the plot to wrestle control of the Precrime Unit from civilian oversight and into the hands of the military. In the movie version, Anderton’s victim is Leo Crow, a prisoner granted release and financial compensation for his family in exchange for his volunteer death at the hands of Anderton. Leo Crow impersonates a pedophile and pretends to be the individual responsible for the disappearance of Anderton’s son.
In addition, the movie version added an extra character, Lamar Burgess, in the role of police commissioner and founder of the Precrime Unit. In the end, Burgess is responsible for framing Anderton and murdering Danny Witwer. Burgess commits these actions in an effort to keep Anderton from uncovering a murder he had committed six years prior. This prior murder had been committed in order to keep the lead precognitive, Agatha, from being reclaimed by her mother who had been in rehab for drug addiction. Had Agatha been returned to her mother, the Division of Precrime would have been closed down and Burgess would have been out of a job.
In the short story, the United States either no longer exists, or has been incorporated into a larger world-nation. The story never fully clarifies this point. The government in the short story consists of a new entity known as the Federal Westbloc Government. Further, the world has recently been aflame in a military conflict named the Anglo-Chinese War. In addition, the nation had only recently begun to be ruled by civilian authority, after a long period of martial law.
The story also contains descriptions of the countryside near New York City as “war-ravaged rural countryside spread out like a relief map, the vacant regions between cities crater-pitted and dotted with the ruins of farms and small industrial plants.” By contrast, the movie pictured the countryside near Washington, DC as green, peaceful and beautiful. There is no reference to a recent war in the movie version.
Both the movie and the short story captured the existence of slums in much the same way. The short story described the run-down areas of New York as a “vast slum region” with “tumbled miles of cheap hotels and broken-down tenements.” The vision of the slums in the movie, where Anderton hid from the police, purchased drugs and changed his identity, were quite similar.
In addition, the nation had recently endured martial law and military rule. Further, there are detention camps and civil liberties are not as respected and protected as they are in 2004. The movie version makes it clear that the United States still exists and makes no mention of a war with China. That’s a major plot change, that doesn’t really have a large effect on the overall story.
Another character who appeared in both the movie and the short story was Witwer. In the short story, his name was Ed Witwer. In the movie version, he was named Danny Witwer. The Danny Witwer character in the movie was an employee of the Department of Justice. His task in the movie was to execute a warrant and investigate the Department of Precrime.
Another difference between the movie version and the short story involved their treatments of the precognitives. The short story described the precognitives in this excerpt:
In the gloomy half-darkness the three idiots sat babbling. Every incoherent utterance, every random syllable was analyzed, compared, reassembled in the form of visual symbols, transcribed on conventional punchcards, and ejected into various coded slots. All day long the idiots babbled, imprisoned in their special high-backed chairs, held in one rigid position by metal bands, and bundles of wiring, clamps. Their physical needs were taken care of automatically. T hey had no spiritual needs. Vegetable-like, they muttered and dozed and existed. Their minds were dull, confused, lost in shadows.
Further, in the short story, John Anderton referred to the precognitives as “deformed and retarded.” In the movie version, the precognitives were first portrayed as semi-conscious morons, but later portrayed as gifted and highly intelligent. Also, the names of the precognitives were different in the movie version and the short story. In the movie version, their names were Agatha, Dash and Arthur. In the short story, they were named Jerry and Donna, with the third precognitive’s name remaining unmentioned.
Another key difference between the movie version and the short story involved the manner in which John Anderton assumed a new identity. In the short story, a mysterious stranger hands Anderton an envelope with a new identity card and other materials enclosed. In the movie version, biometrics are used to verify an individual’s identity. Anderton is forced to take much more drastic measures in the film. Anderton resorts to the desperate act of submitting to an eye transplant from a black market physician. Such a transplant, while risky, remains his only hope of eluding the ever present biometric scanners that allow the government to keep tabs on the citizenry.
Finally, the biggest difference between the film and the short story related to the manner in which they presented the conspiracy to frame John Anderton. In the short story, Anderton is framed by his “victim”, General Leopold Kaplan. This conspiracy involved a military plot to get John Anderton removed from the position of police commissioner, while discrediting the Precrime Unit. The ultimate goal of this conspiracy was to force the Senate to turn over control of domestic policing back to the military.
In the movie version, the conspiracy was less a plot to gain control and more a desperate attempt to retain control on the part of Lamar Burgess. As the Justice Department and Danny Witwer investigated the Department of Precrime, Anderton stumbled onto several older Precrime cases with incomplete case files. During the course of investigating these incomplete case files, Anderton discovers the fallibility of the Precrime technique. In the short story, Anderton succeeds in killing his victim, but only in order to stop him from orchestrating his military coup. In the movie version, Anderton doesn’t kill his victim. Rather, the victim kills himself while Anderton is holding a gun on him attempting to arrest him. By removing the responsibility for the killing from Anderton, the film made the character a bit more sympathetic.
In addition, the movie didn’t have any mention of space travel, but the short story featured a galaxy where planetary colonization had taken place. Ultimately, Anderton and his wife elect to leave Earth following the killing of General Kaplan in the short story. In the movie, Anderton and his wife reconcile and are awaiting the birth of their second child following the closure of the Department of Precrime. In the short story, the Precrime Unit continues on, with Ed Witwer in charge. The movie ends on a far more optimistic note than the short story. Both are excellent stories in their own right and I enjoyed reading and watching The Minority Report.
This short story combines science fiction and criminal conspiracy while asking the question, “what if you predict the future.”
The Minority Report. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Tom Cruise, Colin Ferrell, Samantha Morton, and Max Von Sydow. DreamWorks. 2002.
This film is based on Philip K. Dick’s short story The Minority Report.