Saturday, August 05, 2006

23. The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories

by Philip K. Dick

When Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of The Minority Report came out a few years ago, I was really excited to see it because it featured a somewhat undiscovered Colin Farrell who I had deemed aesthetically perfect a few months earlier. I was less excited to see it because of the Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise collaboration which usually amounts to ruminations on life, the universe, and everything, although in an arrogant sort of way and not at all in a way that’s particularly fun to watch. True to my speculations, there was an entire portion of the movie that’s dedicated to Cruise’s guilt over the son he lost and his resulting obsession with precognitive crime prevention. I had a pretty sneaky suspicion that the story it was based on didn’t have any of the melodrama Spielberg and Cruise are so fond of. Boy was I right.

This was my first experience with Philip K. Dick’s short stories, although not with his novels, two of which I’ve read. I came across a criticism that said Dick’s stories are more difficult to get into than his novels, that they’re choppier and not as smooth. I actually found I enjoyed the stories more and I think it has something to do with the fact that the Vintage Books novel editions I have give away the entire plot on the back cover. I spend the whole book confused and wondering when this one thing’s going to come into play, only to find out it was the big twist at the end. There was no opportunity for spoilage with the stories and for the first time I really enjoyed Dick’s writing.

Let me tell you just how different Minority Report the movie and Minority Report the story are: completely. The entire concept of the “minority report” is totally different! If you haven’t read/seen either, the story is based on a society governed by the precognitive insights of three mutants. As a result, murder has been completely eradicated. John Anderton is the head of the precrime unit and all is peachy until the young Ed Witwer (a gorgeous, pre-fame Farrell), is sent in to monitor Anderton’s work, making Anderton suspicious that his companion is vying for his job, and the precogs release a report that Anderton is about to commit murder. Anderton’s only hope for proving his innocence is finding the minority report and this is where the two accounts diverge. In the movie the report is the dissenting opinion of one of the three precogs, making the reports of the other two the majority report and the one that is taken as truth. In the story, however, a minority report happens when one precog’s vision is based upon the vision of another. Ergo, one precog foresees Anderton committing murder and another precog’s vision is based on Anderton already having that piece of information. It took me a moment to get my mind completely around that idea, but when I did I wondered why the movie version was so different. Seriously – why would you do that?

But anyway, I enjoyed both (although I may have enjoyed the movie less if I’d already read the story because I’m like that) and I also really liked a good number of the other stories in the collection. Some were kind of frightening when you thought about how true they could be. “The Mold of Yancy” was one of these, telling the story of a society conditioned by governmental teachings told through a fatherly television figure by the name of John Yancy. Through fireside chats and ponderings in the garden with his wife, Yancy spouts governmental propaganda and society laps it up, none the wiser. Things take a darker turn when one of Yancy’s writers decides to steer his teachings in a different direction. “War Game” is about a group of workers at a toy company that are obsessed with figuring out what’s going on with a game of soldiers, only to completely overlook the seemingly innocuous Monopoly-type game where the winner is the one who has first parted with all his stocks and money. Imagine if we were brought up believing that winning meant giving everything back to the sovereign entity!

I think my favorite was “Recall Mechanism” which was about a man with a fear of heights so great that he can barely get up steps and sometimes can’t even stand up. A psychiatrist determines he has latent precognitive abilities and is foreseeing his death, only his precog abilities aren’t strong enough for him to know it. In comes another patient with the same latent abilities who has incredible urges to push people and, well…you see where this is going. It was kind of funny, which I wasn’t expecting, but it was also just really creative and I finished this story in admiration. I actually finished the entire book in admiration of Dick’s creativity because while certain ideas, like precognition and subliminal governmental practices, reoccur, each plot is so different and for how many stories Dick has written, it’s really quite stunning. The fact that so many of his stories have been made into movies is a testament to that, but, you know me, I can’t wait to get the original sources and discover just how much better they are in the author’s words.

2 Comments:

Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

I liked Spielberg's "Minority Report" quite a bit .. it's always nice to see Samantha Morton working .. My only beef was the ending was kind of a copout .. I haven't read the book, but I think I'll be checking it out

4:17 AM  
Blogger Exxie said...

I liked it too...it's on my list of DVDs to buy. But the ending was completely different from the story. It was like they thought they had to make the story more typical in order for the movie-watching audience to understand it, which may be true, but they ended up pretty much creating a whole different story.

7:34 AM  

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