I watched Rocky for the first time last weekend, and if you’ve ever seen a truly iconic classic film in adulthood, you know how strange it can be. I’d never seen the movie before, and yet by osmosis, I had. I knew the broader plot points—Rocky would get the girl, but not the title—and scene after scene was recognizable from countless pop culture homages. Rocky pummeling carcasses in the meat fridge, that high-waisted track suit, that theme music. I loved the film, but as I watched it I had the feeling that I’d already seen it second-hand.
An overabundance of nostalgia has already littered the entertainment landscape with endless sequels, prequels, spinoffs, and live-action remakes. But I don’t think its impact is only on current movies and TV shows—overdosing on nostalgia can change the way we see old entertainment, too. Beloved movies are endlessly referenced on TV and in other films, they’re memed and analyzed and continuously scoured online. How can favorites like Jurassic Park, Ghostbusters, The Dark Night, and Star Wars fulfill their due destinies as escapist fantasies when it’s so hard to escape them?
But there’s one acclaimed, thrilling, and deeply fun big-budget adventure that’s been a bit more immune to this cultural cannibalization. If you’re looking for a movie that’s just as immersive now as it was when it was released, a summer blockbuster that can still be viewed first hand, you’ve got to watch Minority Report.
I don’t begrudge Rocky its well-deserved ubiquity, and a world where we don’t communally analyze and resurrect pop culture would be duller one—and one where I’m out of a job. But I wonder what I would have taken from viewing Rocky if I hadn’t known what I was supposed to take from it. Cultural references had plotted a viewing guide that I followed dutifully, paying extra attention to the aspects of the film I’d already learned were important. But my favorite scenes weren’t the ones that are the most famous. To me, Adrian’s fight with her brother is the most memorable, moving, and unusual part of the movie—a glimpse at a parasitic familial bond that rings true to real life but isn’t the sort of thing I’ve often seen onscreen. What would the film look like if I’d watched it without the influence of decades of nostalgia?
There’s a certain breed of big-budget classics with broad appeal that are have been nearly neutralized by their continued popularity. Back to the Future? Unwatchable. Jurassic Park? Not on your life. They’re great films, but they’ve been so absorbed into our cultural consciousness that we’re in a near constant state of engagement with them. It’s an endless cycle of anniversaries, memorabilia auctions, where are they nows, references in other media and online. Movies feel fresh when we can brush them off for repeated viewings after time away from them, like beloved friends who live in far-off locales. But these movies never go away. And now, it’s nearly impossible to have a personal relationship with them. Instead of a dialogue between the viewer and the film, there’s an uninvited third wheel—generations worth of communal culture built up around the work.
Minority Report is not exactly a little-known gem—its director is Steven Spielberg, for one thing. It was among the highest grossing movies of 2002, earned critical praise, and, more than a decade later, inspired a TV series of the same name that was cancelled after its first season. But it doesn’t have the colossal footprint of Independence Day or the Indiana Jones movies. Somehow, Minority Report has been spared, perhaps because it’s premise isn’t as obviously delightful as the idea time-travelling teenager or a dinosaur theme park, or because, little-watched 2015 TV sequel, it’s not spawned a successful franchise. Maybe it’s because it’s not particularly quotable: Spielberg’s other 2002 offering, Catch Me If You Can, isn’t one of the director’s most widely-referenced films, but Minority Report doesn’t have any lines as well-remembered as Frank Abagnale’s fable about the little mice who fall into a bucket of cream.
If you haven’t seen it yet (and if not, lucky you) Minority Report stars Tom Cruise as Washington D.C. cop John Anderton, who heads up the city’s PreCrime police unit in the year 2054. Thanks to the birth of precognitive siblings who predict killings before they occur, murder is now non-existent in the city, and Anderton’s team is tasked with arresting future killers before they commit their crimes. It’s all well and good and ethically creepy until the “precogs” foretell that Anderton himself will murder someone—a man he’s never met and is pretty sure he’s not going to kill—forcing him to go on the run from the law.
There are no Minority Report conventions. While GIPHY is home dozens of GIFs from E.T., I could only find three from the Minority Report movie, which suggests that you’re not being bombarded with images from the film in your group chats or on social media. If you watch Minority Report now, you’ll experience the closest possible thing to viewing the movie as it was intended to be seen when it was released 18 years ago.
That’s with one big caveat—much of the future predicted in the movie is already here. Spielberg took a studied approach to the technology featured in the film, impanelling expert consultants who helped develop a realistic-seeming vision of a future that included personalized advertising, camera drones that scurried about on spider’s legs and touch screen interfaces that featured gestures we now use every day, like pinch to zoom and swipe to dismiss. The familiarity of this tech definitely makes it harder to see the film with anything but 2020 eyes.
Its prescience in considering the disturbing future of surveillance and policing doesn’t make Minority Report any less of an escapist treat, however. This is a movie where, while being chased by federal agents, Tom Cruise falls into the shell of an automobile that’s being constructed on an automated factory assembly line, and somehow survives the giant, laser-wielding robots building the vehicle and drives off in the newly-created car. Minority Report is truly a blast, and adventure that still feels fresh in part because it’s just that good, but also because it hasn’t been loved to death.
And yes, in nominated Minority Report as the perfect cure for summer blockbuster nostalgia, I am feeding the beast I decry. Anyone who watches the movie after reading this article will be tainted by it. I’m sorry for that, but it had to be done.
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