“Can you see?” This oft-repeated phrase from Minority Report became a powerful emblem of the 2002 film’s thematic and visual fixation on vision and surveillance. Set in the mid-21st century, the Steven Spielberg production rendered a chilling future in which a government agency known as Precrime taps into the visions of murder involuntarily experienced by three human “precognitives” (or precogs) to stop crimes before they occur. The Fox series picks up more than 10 years after Precrime has been shut down and the precogs have been freed. However, the pilot’s opening scenes, in which a precog named Dash (Stark Sands) unsuccessfully attempts to save a woman whose murder he foresaw, suggest these psychics are no less haunted by grisly visions.
Likewise, society remains throttled by surveillance-state intrusions from both regulatory and commercial interests, monitoring everyday habits of coldly submissive citizens. Given how little has changed in the world of this narrative, perhaps it’s no surprise that many of its concepts and visual markers—not the least of which is the phrase, “Can you see?”—have also become the guiding themes for a series more preoccupied with digging up the past than exploring its own potential future.
The immediate difference between the film and the series is the pairing of its two primary characters, the precog Dash and murder detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good), who’re drawn together by the former’s attempts to help the victims in his visions. The relationship feels forced to follow a specific path, which speaks less to the performances than the characters as they’re written. Whereas the film gradually teased out and revealed symmetries of the relationship between Tom Cruise’s protagonist with the female precog played by Samantha Morton, here the mechanizations by which the two main characters come together are preordained and bereft of subtlety. In addition to the flat characterizations, Minority Report’s dialogue unflatteringly accentuates the tired cop-story conventions it relies on. Some exchanges border on parody, such as a scene in the pilot between Lara and a cocky lieutenant, Will Blake (Wilmer Valderrama), in which the actors utter lines like “I figured I would solve your case so you can take the credit and land a big promotion like last time” and “You’ll make a great lieutenant…once I’m your captain.”
If Minority Report fails at evoking the nuanced mood plays of its cinematic precursor, it effectively conjures a sense of the massive shadow cast in the wake of Precrime’s abolishment. The pilot alone introduces several plot points—the fate of Dash’s money-focused twin brother, as well as what came of the prisoners Precrime pardoned when it disbanded—that pose challenging questions about the ethics and institutionalization of precognition and scientific anomalies in general.
Yet, while the series is ripe to explore these notions as it continues to unfold, few of these allusions reverberate as powerfully as they should, which is a reflection of the story’s singular focus on replicating the visual dimensions of the film’s world at the expense of a functional narrative. Nearly every scene or exchange contains either a reference to Precrime or a callback to the various gadgets and throwaway details of the film, including glimpses of jetpacks and various pieces of weaponry. This carries over visually as well as audibly, including reused sound effects from the film and one sequence involving evolved prototypes of the bug-like search devices that boasts music resembling the squirmy string chords of John Williams’s film score. And yet, all of this is in service of a plot that amounts to little more than a futuristic equivalent of Law & Order.
Minority Report’s reverence for the material that inspired it undermines its own attempts to explore and build on the environments and sensibilities it labors so intensely to recreate. Perhaps had the series not drawn so many obvious connections to its cinematic predecessor, its deficiencies wouldn’t seem so pronounced. Nonetheless, every reference it makes to Spielberg’s blockbuster inadvertently accentuates the degree to which it falls short of capturing or expanding the world the filmmaker created.