Dick's story was first optioned by producer and writer Gary Goldman in 1992. He created the initial script for the film with Ron Shusett and Robert Goethals (uncredited). It was supposed to be a sequel to the 1990 Dick adaptation Total Recall, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. Novelist Jon Cohen was hired in 1997 to adapt the story for a potential film version that would have been directed by Dutch filmmaker Jan de Bont. Meanwhile, Cruise and Spielberg, who met and became friends on the set of Cruise's film Risky Business in 1983, had been looking to collaborate for ten years. Spielberg was set to direct Cruise in Rain Man, but left to make Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Cruise read Cohen's script, and passed it onto Spielberg, who felt it needed some work. Spielberg was not directly involved in the writing of the script; however, he was allowed to decide whether the picture's screenplay was ready to be filmed. When Cohen submitted an acceptable revision, he called Cruise and said, "Yeah, I'll do this version of the script." In that version, Witwer creates a false disk which shows Anderton killing him. When Anderton sees the clip, his belief in the infallibility of the precogs' visions convinces him it is true, therefore the precogs have a vision of him killing Witwer. At the end, Anderton shoots Witwer and one of the brother precogs finishes him off, because Witwer had slain his twin. Spielberg was attracted to the story because as both a mystery and a movie set 50 years in the future, it allowed him to do "a blending of genres" which intrigued him.
In 1998, the pair joined Minority Report and announced the production as a joint venture of Spielberg's DreamWorks and Amblin Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Cruise's Cruise-Wagner Productions, and De Bont's production company, Blue Tulip. Spielberg however stated that despite being credited, De Bont never became involved with the film. Cruise and Spielberg, at the latter's insistence, reportedly agreed to each take 15% of the gross instead of any money up front to try to keep the film's budget under $100 million. Spielberg said he had done the same with name actors in the past to great success: "Tom Hanks took no cash for Saving Private Ryan but he made a lot of money on his profit participation." He made this agreement a prerequisite:
I haven't worked with many movie stars—80 per cent of my films don't have movie stars—and I've told them if they want to work with me I want them to gamble along with me. I haven't taken a salary in 18 years for a movie, so if my film makes no money I get no money. They should be prepared to do the same.
Production was delayed for several years; the original plan was to begin filming after Cruise's Mission: Impossible II was finished. However, that film ran over schedule, which also allowed Spielberg time to bring in screenwriter Scott Frank to rework Cohen's screenplay. John August did an uncredited draft to polish the script, and Frank Darabont was also invited to rewrite, but was by then busy with The Majestic. The film closely follows Frank's final script (written 16 May 2001), and contains much of Cohen's third draft (24 May 1997). Frank removed the character of Senator Malcolm from Cohen's screenplay, and inserted Burgess, who became the "bad guy". He also rewrote Witwer from a villain to a "good guy", as he was in the short story. In contrast to Spielberg's next science fiction picture, War of the Worlds, which he called "100 percent character" driven, Spielberg said the story for Minority Report became "fifty percent character and fifty percent very complicated storytelling with layers and layers of murder mystery and plot." According to film scholar Warren Buckland, "It appears that...Cohen and...Frank did not see" the "Goldman and Schusett screenplay; instead; they worked on their own adaptation." Goldman and Schusett however claimed the pair used a lot of material from their script, so the issue went through the Writer's Guild arbitration process. They won a partial victory; they were not given writing credits, but were listed as executive producers. The film was delayed again so Spielberg could finish A.I. after the death of his friend Stanley Kubrick. When Spielberg originally signed on to direct, he planned to have an entirely different supporting cast. He offered the role of Witwer to Matt Damon, Iris Hineman to Meryl Streep, Burgess to Ian McKellen, Agatha to Cate Blanchett, and Lara to Jenna Elfman. However, Streep declined the role, Damon opted out, and the other roles were recast due to the delays.
After E.T., Spielberg started to consult experts, and put more scientific research into his science fiction films. In 1999, he invited fifteen experts convened by the Global Business Network, its chairman, Peter Schwartz, and its co-founder Stewart Brand to a hotel in Santa Monica, California for a three-day "think tank". One of them was urbanist, futurist, and journalist Joel Garreau. He wanted to consult with the group to create a plausible "future reality" for the year 2054 as opposed to a more traditional "science fiction" setting. Dubbed the "think tank summit", the experts included architect Peter Calthorpe, Douglas Coupland, computer scientist Neil Gershenfeld, biomedical researcher Shaun Jones, computer scientist Jaron Lanier, and former Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) architecture dean William J. Mitchell. Production designer Alex McDowell kept what was nicknamed the "2054 bible", an 80-page guide created in preproduction which listed all the decided upon aspects of the future world: architectural, socio-economical, political, and technological. While the discussions did not change key elements in the film's action sequences, they were influential in the creation of some of the more utopian aspects of the film, though John Underkoffler, the science and technology advisor for the film, described it as "much grayer and more ambiguous" than what was envisioned in 1999. John Underkoffler, who designed most of Anderton's interface after Spielberg told him to make it "like conducting an orchestra", said "it would be hard to identify anything [in the movie] that had no grounding in reality." McDowell teamed up with architect Greg Lynn to work on some of the technical aspects of the production design. Lynn praised his work, saying that "[a] lot of those things Alex cooked up for Minority Report, like the 3-D screens, have become real." Spielberg described his ideas for the film's technology to Roger Ebert before the movie's release:
I wanted all the toys to come true someday. I want there to be a transportation system that doesn't emit toxins into the atmosphere. And the newspaper that updates itself...
The Internet is watching us now. If they want to. They can see what sites you visit. In the future, television will be watching us, and customizing itself to what it knows about us. The thrilling thing is, that will make us feel we're part of the medium. The scary thing is, we'll lose our right to privacy. An ad will appear in the air around us, talking directly to us.
News sources have noted the future technologies depicted in the film were prescient. The Guardian published a piece titled "Why Minority Report was spot on" in June 2010, and the following month Fast Company examined seven crime fighting technologies in the film similar to ones then appearing. It summarized that "the police state imagined in the Tom Cruise flick feels a bit more real every day." Other major media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal have published articles dedicated to this phenomenon, and National Public Radio (NPR) published an August 2010 podcast which analyzed the film's accuracy in predicting future technologies. Companies like Hewlett-Packard (HP) have announced they were motivated to do research by the film; in HP's case to develop cloud computing.
Technologies from the film later realized include
Multi-touch interfaces similar to Anderton's, put out by Apple's iPhone (2007), Microsoft (2007), Obscura Digital (2008), MIT (2009), Intel (2009), and Microsoft again, this time for their Xbox 360 (2010). A company representative, at the 2007 premiere of the Apple iPhone, promised it "will feel like Minority Report." When Microsoft released the Kinect motion sensing camera add-on for their Xbox 360 gaming console in 2010, the Kinect's technology allowed several programmers, including students at MIT, to create Minority Report-inspired user interfaces. Retina scanners, by a Manhattan company named Global Rainmakers Incorporated (GRI) (2010). GRI disputed the notion that its technology could be the threat to privacy it is in the film. "Minority Report is one possible outcome," a corporate official told Fast Company. "I don't think that's our company's aim, but I think what we're going to see is an environment well beyond what you see in that movie—minus the precogs, of course." The company is installing hundreds of the scanners in Bank of America locations in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has a contract to install them on several United States Air Force bases.
Those in development include
- Insect robots, similar to the film's spyder robots, by the United States Military. These insects will be capable of reconnoitre missions in dangerous areas not fit for soldiers, such as "occupied houses". They serve the same purpose in the film. According to the developer, BAE Systems, the "goal is to develop technologies that will give our soldiers another set of eyes and ears for use in urban environments and complex terrain; places where they cannot go or where it would be too dangerous."
- Facial recognition advertising billboards, being developed by the Japanese company NEC. These billboards will theoretically be able to recognize passers-by via facial recognition, call them by name, and deliver customer specific advertisements. Thus far the billboards can recognize age and gender, and deliver demographically appropriate adverts, but cannot discern individuals. According to The Daily Telegraph, the billboards will "behave like those in...Minority Report...in which Cruise's character is confronted with digital signs that call out his name as he walks through a futuristic shopping mall." IBM is developing similar billboards which plan to deliver customized adverts to individuals who carry identity tags. Like NEC, the company feels they will not be obtrusive as their billboards will only advertise products which a customer is interested in. Advertisers are embracing these billboards as they figure to reduce costs by lowering the number of adverts wasted on uninterested consumers.
- Crime prediction software, developed by a professor from the University of Pennsylvania (2010). The software, which was detailed in a Daily Mail article titled "The real Minority Report" upon its announcement, "collates a range of variables then uses an algorithm to work out who is at the highest chance of offending." As in the film, the program was announced for a trial run in Washington D.C., which, if successful, will lead to a national rollout.
- Electronic paper, development announced by Xerox (2002), MIT (2005), Germany (2006), media conglomerate Hearst Corporation (2008), and LG; a South Korean electronics manufacturer (2010). Xerox has been trying to develop something similar to e-paper since before the film was released in theaters. In 2005, when The Washington Post asked the chief executive of MIT's spin-off handling their research when "the Minority Report newspaper" would be released, he predicted "around 2015". In 2006 PC World announced in an article titled: "German Researchers Say 'Minority Report' Transparent Screens Possible", German researchers thought they would be available in two years. Tech Watch's 2008 article, "'Minority Report' e-newspaper on the way", noted that Hearst was "pushing large amounts of cash into" the technology. In discussing the LG announcement, CNET commented that "[i]f you thought electronic newspapers were the stuff of science fiction, you're quite right. They first featured in the film Minority Report, released in 2002."
- Augmented reality with hand control developed by Keytree Limited allowing users to perform the iconic gestures from the film. This development combines AR, hand tracking face recognition and the ability to work in virtual space all pioneered in this film
Minority Report was the first film to have an entirely digital production design. Termed "previz", as an abbreviation of previsualization, production designer Alex McDowell said the system allowed them to use Photoshop in place of painters, and employ 3-D animation programs (Maya and XSI) to create a simulated set, which could be filled with digital actors then used to block out shots in advance. The technology also allowed the tie-in video game and special effects companies to cull data from the previs system before the film was finished, which they used to establish parameters for their visuals. When Spielberg quickly became a fan, McDowell said "[i]t became pretty clear that [he] wouldn't read an illustration as a finished piece, but if you did it in Photoshop and created a photorealistic environment he focused differently on it." Filming took place from 22 March to 18 July 2001, in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Los Angeles. Film locations included the Ronald Reagan Building (as PreCrime headquarters) and Georgetown. The skyline of Rosslyn, Virginia is visible when Anderton flies across the Potomac River. During production, Spielberg made regular appearances on an video-only webcam based in the craft services truck, both alone and with Tom Cruise; together they conferenced publicly with Ron Howard and Russell Crowe via a similar webcam on the set of "A Beautiful Mind" in New York.
Although it takes place in an imagined future world of advanced technology, Minority Report attempts to embody a more "realistic" depiction of the future. Spielberg decided that to be more credible, the setting had to keep both elements of the present and ones which specialists expected would be forthcoming. Thus Washington, D.C. as depicted in the movie keeps well-known buildings such as the Capitol and the Washington Monument, as well as a section of modern buildings on the other side of the Potomac River. Production designer Alex McDowell was hired based on his work in Fight Club and his storyboards for a film version of Fahrenheit 451 which would have starred Mel Gibson. McDowell studied modern architecture, and his sets contain many curves, circular shapes, and reflective materials. Costume designer Deborah L. Scott decided to make the clothes worn by the characters as simple as possible, so as not to make the depiction of the future seem dated.
The stunt crew was the same one used in Cruise's Mission: Impossible II, and was responsible for complex action scenes. These included the auto factory chase scene, filmed in a real facility using props such as a welding robot, and the fight between Anderton and the jetpack-clad officers, filmed in an alley set built on the Warner Bros. studio lot. Industrial Light & Magic did most of the special effects, and DreamWorks-owned PDI was responsible for the Spyder robots. The company Pixel Liberation Front did previsualization animatics. The holographic projections and the prison facility were filmed by several roving cameras which surrounded the actors, and the scene where Anderton gets off his car and runs along the Maglev vehicles was filmed on stationary props, which were later replaced by computer-generated vehicles.
The Philip K. Dick story only gives you a springboard that really doesn't have a second or third act. Most of the movie is not in the Philip K. Dick story – to the chagrin of the Philip K. Dick fans, I'm sure.—Steven Spielberg, June 2002
Like most film adaptations of Dick's works, many aspects of his story were changed in their transition to film, such as the addition of Lamar Burgess and the change in setting from New York City to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Northern Virginia. The character of John Anderton was changed from a balding and out-of-shape old man to an athletic officer in his 40s to fit its portrayer and the film's action scenes. The film adds two stories of tragic families; Anderton's, and that of the three pre-cogs. In the short story, Anderton is married with no children, while in the film, he is the divorced father of a kidnapped son, who is most likely deceased. Although it is implied, but unclear in the film whether Agatha is related to the twin pre-cogs, her family was shattered when Burgess murdered her mother, Anne Lively. The precogs were intellectually disabled and deformed individuals in the story, but in the film, they are the genetically mutated offspring of drug addicts. Anderton's future murder and the reasons for the conspiracy were changed from a general who wants to discredit PreCrime to regain some military funding, to a man who murdered a precog's mother to preserve PreCrime. The subsequent murders and plot developed from this change. The film's ending also differs from the short story's. In Dick's story, Anderton prevents the closure of the PreCrime division, however, in the movie Anderton successfully brings about the end of the organization. Other aspects were updated to include current technology. For instance in the story, Anderton uses a punch card machine to interpret the precogs' visions; in the movie, he uses a virtual reality interface.
Free will versus determinism
"We don't choose the things we believe in; they choose us."Lamar Burgess
The main theme of Minority Report is the classic philosophical debate of free will versus determinism. One of the main questions the film raises is whether the future is set or whether free will can alter the future. As critic C.A. Wolski commented, "At the outset, Minority Report... promises to mine some deep subject matter, to do with: do we possess free will or are we predestined to our fate?" However, there is also the added question of whether the precogs' visions are correct. As reviewer James Berardinelli asked, "is the Precogs' vision accurate, or has it in some way been tampered with? Perhaps Anderton isn't actually going to kill, but has been set up by a clever and knowledgeable criminal who wants him out of the way." The precog Agatha also states that since Anderton knows his future, he can change it. However, the film also indicates that Anderton's knowledge of the future may actually be the factor that causes Leo Crow's death. Berardinelli describes this as the main paradox regarding free will vs. determinism in the film, "[h]ere's the biggest one of all: Is it possible that the act of accusing someone of a murder could begin a chain of events that leads to the slaying. In Anderton's situation, he runs because he is accused. The only reason he ends up in circumstances where he might be forced to kill is because he is a hunted man. Take away the accusation, and there would be no question of him committing a criminal act. The prediction drives the act – a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can see the vicious circle, and it's delicious (if a little maddening) to ponder." Film scholar Dean A. Kowalski argues that in this scenario free will still exists, as the perpetrators control their actions, and the precogs' visions are but the facts that resulted from their choices.
The central theme of the movie is discussed in the film's fourth scene. Witwer discusses the PreCrime system with the division's staff. He believes that its main "legalistic drawback" is that it "arrests individuals who have broken no laws." Jad responds, "But they will!" When Anderton later arrives upon this discussion, he acknowledges the paradox Witwer raises; that the precogs prevent an event accepted as fact, but one which will never happen. To show him that people regularly use predetermination, Anderton picks up a wooden ball and rolls it toward Witwer, who catches it before it lands on the ground. When asked why he caught the ball, Witwer says "Because it was going to fall." Anderton replies, "But it didn't." Then confidently tells him, "The fact that you prevented it from happening doesn't change the fact that it was going to happen." Kowalski feels this example is faulty in the sense that the ball has no free will; it merely acts according to the laws of physics, but he acknowledges that if an individual were to have freely chosen to commit murder, then it would hold. Film scholar Stephen Mulhall points out that unlike the laws of physics which have a series of scientifically testable causal laws, Anderton merely has the visions of the precogs, whose psychic abilities are not fully explained by science.
Another quandary is that if the precogs' visions are infallible then the future cannot be otherwise, while if they are incorrect people will be punished for crimes they will never commit. Kowalski contends that the precogs only attain knowledge of what he calls the "conditional future". He cites as evidence two examples: the scene where Agatha steers Anderton through the mall by foreseeing dangerous events and helping him circumnavigate them, and a later scene where she tells Anderton and his ex-wife what would have happened to their child if he had lived. In the first example, Agatha knows what Anderton will freely choose to do when presented with specific facts so she provides them to him, and, in the second, she knows what will have happened to the Andertons' son based on specific scenarios throughout his life, in which she can see what he would have freely chosen to do, and what selections various people in his life would have freely made. According to Kowalski, the PreCrime unit therefore removes individuals from precise situations where they would freely choose to become a murderer. Philosophy professor Michael Huemer adds that he believes "the only way the otherwise predetermined future seen by the precogs can be averted, we are led to believe, is by the influence of the precogs themselves," and that since there was no minority report (i.e.; no possibility of an alternative fate) for Anderton, the only way he can change the future is by knowing the precogs' visions.
Political and legal
Spielberg said that the arrest of criminals before they have a chance to commit their crimes in the movie had some real world background in post 9/11 America, commenting that "[w]e’re giving up some of our freedom so that the government can protect us." The future world in Minority Report of retinal scans, robotic human inspectors, and intrusive, individualized, public advertising arrived in American theaters as the country was debating how much governmental intrusion into personal matters was necessary to ensure safety of its citizens. Spielberg said he would be against a PreCrime system if it were ever possible, as he believes that if it did exist, those in control of it would undoubtedly abuse its powers. Kowalski questions what the benevolent precogs in the film could become in the hands of those who trained their skills for political intrigue. Science fiction scholar Gary Westfahl asserts that in a political context, PreCrime may be seen "a metaphor for racial profiling, and one could view the liberation of the precogs as the end of a form of slavery."
Kowalski feels the isolation of the precogs ensures that they see their visions merely as facts, and removes them from having to justify them. The precogs' ignorance of the results of their visions prevents them from knowing the effectiveness of the program. He feels the PreCrime officers are thus more qualified to evaluate their efficacy "than the precogs themselves." In the December 2003 edition of the academic journal Film Criticism, scholar Mark Garrett Cooper moved past that point by asserting that not only have the precogs "yet to fully understand" their visions, but that the process by which the images are interpreted makes it so that no one individual could understand them without the use of the apparatus. The machinery is so effective and precise according to Cooper however, that the "omnipresent system effectively makes capture more certain than the crime." When the system targets the hero [Cruise], instead of fleeing, he remains in the vicinity in the belief that the system will, in its inexorable logic, correct itself. The apparatus is considered so infallible according to Cooper that the hero knows once he is cleared by it, his life can immediately return to normal. In this respect, Cooper feels that "far from indicting a security state, the film legitimates one".
The film presents a legal system where the PreCrime office gathers the images from the minds of the precogs, then organizes them into a coherent order for display in front of a set of judges. The judges appear via video feeds, analyze the images, and according to Cooper they view the images, listen to Anderton rattle off "a string of legalistic verbiage", then give it a "pro forma ratification." Thus the accused is never present, is not allowed a defense, and is convicted before he is aware he is on trial. The program is marketed in a similar basic fashion, as in its tag line: "It works." Cooper says that in a typical American courtroom drama, the audience is treated as if it were the jury, but in this system, instead of desiring the hero be proven innocent, the audience seeks to have the guilt transferred from Anderton to Burgess. But to do so Anderton has to disprove the system, which he does by proving the existence of the minority report. This renders the PreCrime justice system inoperable, as if there is doubt related not merely to the gathering of the images, or their ability to be interpreted, but their ability to be correct even in perfect circumstances, then the system of infallible guilt can not exist.
Spielberg conceived of the idea of a future world permeated with intrusive capitalism and government surveillance after everyone at the "think tank summit" told him that "the right of privacy is a diminishing commodity" which will soon be thrown "right out the window". According to film critic J. Hoberman, Minority Report "visualizes (as well as demonstrates) a future where the unconscious has been thoroughly colonized." When the movie first appeared in theaters a common source of reviewers' complaints was the film's product placement, which they found intrusive. The personalized advertising is disconcerting partly because of the invasion of privacy, but also, argues Cooper, because it is cold, impersonalized, and insincere. Film scholar Martin Hall says that the purpose of the ads Anderton runs into are "encouraging him to buy certain products and, by extension, affirm his place in society."
Cooper feels Minority Report emphasizes the future importance of the control over imagery. According to him, the images captured from the precogs' visions in the film bestow power on those who control their processing. He says the film warns viewers that those who control images must be carefully overseen so as to prevent the abuse of power, and that the film presents "governance as a problem of image arrangement". Cooper says the quandary arises when the film intimates that there will be no way to escape the media industry's omnipotence in the future, while at the same time defending "the need for image manipulating institutions". He feels that this logically raises another issue in that the same concern could be leveled towards image-makers such as DreamWorks, and he says the "film's virtue lies in provoking this question". He notes that the film's tranquil ending concludes with the Andertons looking out into a peaceful exterior with only rain visible, and the precogs reading in their isolated, idyllic farm, and both families apparently free of electronic surveillance.
In his analysis of the movie in the academic journal Rhizomes, scholar Martin Hall discusses the self-perception people develop based on the views of those outside of themselves. The academician notes that when a child first comprehends the function of a mirror, they begin to develop the understanding that their perception of themselves is not self-contained, and learn that they are what they see in the mirror. He contrasts this to when Anderton discovers the precogs' vision of his future self. Anderton becomes flustered while interpreting the images which show him about to commit murder. According to Hall, he begins "searching for whatever possible versions of this representation are available to him, other than the one that represents him as a murderer." He literally becomes obsessed with himself, seeking to resolve these images which put him at "discordance with his own reality". Hall says that he is sorting through the images so feverishly because he is convinced once they are sorted properly and understood, they will not show him to be the murderer, as he is convinced that he is not one. Previously, at peace with himself, Hall says Anderton cannot accept the image he sees in the precogs' visions. Unable to reconcile the two, Hall says he is forced to decide that "it is likely that errors have occurred" in the PreCrime system. Agatha enters a similar period of self-examination when she has visions of her mother's death, and is informed they are merely "echoes", i.e. a faulty image in her memory.
When he escapes the building and enters the mall, Hall feels he is disturbed by ads calling to him by name not only because they will give away his presence, but also because they remind him of his lost place in society, and he begins "to see through the false consciousness his (illusory) previous position as fixed subject had allowed him." Spielberg said Anderton is being punished for his previous callous unconcern for anything but the effectiveness of the PreCrime program. "He's dirtied by the fact that he doesn't spend much time thinking about the moral consequences. It's just like a sporting event almost—and then suddenly that whole sporting event makes him the soccer ball." Hall says that his doubts about his own future lead him to examine his previous life to better understand himself. He runs through his role in the PreCrime system, and his son's disappearance "to reconstruct his past". After Leo Crow in fact kills himself, Anderton becomes healed, and later has "recreated himself as the subject he was previously through the knowledge that he is not a killer." Although he has satisfactorily repaired his self-image, Halls notes that Anderton is not the same person, as he no longer believes in the PreCrime system. Hall says that Burgess's final quandary; namely his desire to keep PreCrime running, but his inability to bring himself to kill Anderton to accomplish that task, and his desire to live, drives him to see his only suitable action to be suicide.
Minority Report continues Spielberg's tradition of depicting broken families, which he has said is motivated by his parents' divorce when he was a child. In Dick's short story, Anderton is a childless, married man whose main motives are self-preservation and preventing the disassembly of the PreCrime division. While he is also trying to save himself in the movie, his greater concern is uncovering the story behind his son's disappearance. Spielberg would later transform his next science fiction film, War of the Worlds, from a story about a single man to one about a divorced father concerned with protecting his children. Buckland notes that the two tragic parent-child relationships in the picture (Agatha and Anne Lively, John and Sean Anderton) have a common element. The movie has four shots of them submerged in water. Agatha's face is shown in a close up shot, taken from directly above her, when she is submerged in her photon milk, nutrient bath. When photos of her mother's submerged corpse are shown to her, the emphasized photograph is a similar image of her face taken from directly above. Anderton and his son are shown together in a pool flashback scene in which they have a contest to see who can hold their breath longest. John is underwater when his son is taken, and later in the apartment he is shown lying motionless, immersed in a filled bathtub, in a manner Buckland finds similar to the shots of Agatha and Anne. Buckland notes that co-screenwriter Frank introduced the water theme, as he wrote Agatha and her mother's back stories while adding the bathtub scene.