What qualities should a science-fiction film have to be tagged “great”?

Is it great special effects? Maybe it is the excellent portrayal of a dystopian future? Dream gadgets every geek wants to possess? Robots making our lives simpler (and following the 3 laws of robotics)?

Which sci-fi films have given us a glimpse into a future that turned out to be true in the present? Were these just the cosmetic elements that came true, or were they the problem solving/revolutionary ones?

So, should sci-fi films aim for ‘grand & audacious’ or ‘grand & audacious’ + logic?

During the production of Minority Report (2002) Steven Spielberg consulted several scientists and experts to create an accurate portrayal of plausible future technology and many of the technology shown in the film have since proved to be prescient.

Minority Report was ahead of its time. Notwithstanding the climax, the rest of the film is nuanced and intriguing. The film is definitely a sci-fi, but it is also a thriller and sported a film noir tone. The screenplay, written by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, and based on a Philip K. Dick short story ‘The Minority Report’, twists and turns its way to the slightly tepid (and if I may say clichéd) ending.

Minority Report

Up to the point in the film when John Anderton (Tom Cruise) finally gets arrested, Minority Report was one of the most intriguing sci-fi/thriller I had watched in a long time. Without acting preachy or all-knowing the film introduced us to certain technologies used in day-to-day life in 2054 (that’s when the film’s events take place) that are today (four decades before the film predicted and about a decade after the film released) either a reality or on the threshold of reality. Were the scientists Steven Spielberg consulted, before commencing development of this film, geniuses and completely in-sync with future-technological progress (and yet they advised Spielberg to set the film in 2054?) or did the technologies shown in the film egg the scientists to work that much harder and turn the predictions into reality?

This brings me back to my original question; what qualities should a good sci-fi film have? We all know we are headed towards a dystopian future, heck in some parts of the globe this ‘dystopian future’ might already have arrived. We all also know that the introduction of some really ‘futuristic’ vehicles is on the anvil. Will we be traveling in fully automated vehicles on roads that are virtually monitored? These aspects have already been implemented in several Western countries.

Minority Report Virtual Billboard

Steven Spielberg held what he termed a three-day ‘think tank summit’ to deduce a plausible future reality. At this ‘summit’ were present experts from various fields, including architects 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. They sat down and decided upon all possible aspects, like architectural, socio-economical, political, and technological, of this future world (2054). And the minutes of this meeting became what the production design team of Minority Report referred to as their ‘2054 Bible’.

Among the future technologies depicted in the film the ones that have already been realized are multi-touch interfaces, retina scanners, and chronograph wristwatches. The ones that are on the anvil of realization are insect robots, facial recognition advertising billboards, crime prediction software, electronic paper, etc. Hewlett-Packard even stated that the film motivated them to work towards realizing the technologies shown in it – in their case it was could computing.

virtual billboard

Read these articles to know more about how future technology portrayed in Minority Report is today a reality: The Guardian, Fast Company, and The Wall Street Journal. Also read more in this Wikipedia Article.

What sets Minority Report apart from most other sci-fi films is the fact that whatever you see in the film had grounding in reality. It was like facial aging software that takes the image of a young person and through minute permutations and combinations based on established understanding of skin aging and facial transformation creates an image of how the same person would look when they got older. Because of this the technologies depicted in the film seemed apt for a sci-fi film and at the same time became reality so soon.

So even though Minority Report will never be considered a sci-fi great by the critics or audience, for me this film truly represents what science-fiction set out to be (and pioneered by the likes of Jules Verne) – a glimpse into the future.

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