With a new movie coming out, another Indiana Jones sequel in the works and a confirmed reputation as Hollywood's most bankable director, you'd think Steven Spielberg would be pretty excited about the future.
Actually, he's a little worried.
In directing his new thriller, Minority Report, Spielberg has had a lot of time to contemplate where mankind is headed, and he's come to the conclusion that the loss of privacy to the peering eye of law enforcement is inevitable.
In the new movie, Tom Cruise plays a police officer in a futuristic Washington, D.C. He leads a "pre-crime" unit that employs infallible psychics and surveillance technology to arrest killers before they commit crimes.
Danger for Nerds With a Funny Walk
That may seem like farfetched science fiction, but Spielberg is not so certain. He's worried that America's war on terrorism has set in motion new high-tech methods to try to find criminals before they can carry out their crimes.
"They have a computer program that they're developing that's going to try to predict human behavior and be able to spot terrorism in airports," the filmmaker says.
"What they're looking for is anomalies in behavior. It's sort of a mean average of how people behave when they're simply walking down the street and they're going to compare that to people whose behavior is more erratic," he says.
And that makes the Oscar-winning director distinctly uneasy.
"What really disturbs me — a nerd who does have a weird walk — is that I imagine that suddenly a van pulls up and hauls me into an interrogation, you know, for being original … or for being different."
Cruise: ‘It Is a Dilemma’
Minority Report, which opens nationwide on Friday, paints a vivid image of the future. It's based on a story by Philip K. Dick, whose writing was the basis for Blade Runner and Total Recall.
The film takes place in 2054, when Washingtonians shuttle between ultra-large skyscrapers in mass-transit magnetic levitation pods that move horizontally on roads and vertically up buildings.
Eye retinal scans serve as ID cards. The newspapers feature moving images. And advertisers know so much about you that billboards address you by your first name as you pass — with products tailored to your needs based on past purchases.
In one telling scene, Cruise's Detective John Anderton is at his kitchen table, being hounded by the animated cartoons on his own cereal box until he chucks it against the wall in disgust.
Cruise also agrees that the future holds a loss of privacy. He worries that the powers that may be given law enforcement to fight terrorism now may never be rescinded.
"Like anything, it becomes the norm," he says. "Once you get that machine going it is a dilemma, because we need it, and yet on the other hand, I don't even think the public realizes ultimately what they're going to be giving up in terms of their personal freedom."
Cruise's character works with a law enforcement team that uses the extrasensory perception of three scientifically proven, infallible psychics — called "pre-cogs" — to fight crime.
The pre-cogs foresee a murder before one occurs, and they steer pre-crime agents to the culprit before the crime takes place.
The pre-crime unit has reduced the D.C. murder rate to zero, and the government is about to make it a national program. But the tables are turned on Anderton when his own name comes up on the pre-cogs' list of future murderers.
Anderton goes underground to try to alter his own apparent destiny. To hide his identity, he locates a shady doctor who replaces his eyes, allowing him to escape the ever-present retinal scans.
A Jones for Indy Sequel
Spielberg worked with a think tank of scientists, urban planers, architects and futurist writers, including Generation X author Douglas Coupland, to consider every aspect of human life half a century from now, down to how humans will brush their teeth.
Coupland contributed such ideas as the "Sick Stick" (a police weapon that causes involuntary vomiting), spray-on meat (for snacks), and genetically boosted cats (who grow as big as dogs).
"George Orwell's prophecy really comes true, not in the 20th century but in the 21st," Spielberg says. "Big Brother is watching us now and what little privacy we have will completely evaporate in 20 or 30 years, because technology will be able to see through walls, through rooftops, into the very privacy of our personal lives, into the sanctuary of our families."
As for Spielberg's own immediate future, it's much rosier, even though his last film — A.I. Artificial Intelligence, another bleak vision of the future — drew mixed reviews and a disappointing box-office tally. He told reporters that plans are firming up for the next Indiana Jones movie, and that he'll be re-teaming with George Lucas and Harrison Ford.
"There was always going to be a fourth Indiana Jones, starting about four years ago, and we just weren't able to agree on the story," he says.
"We finally have a story and Frank Darabont is going to write it and we're going to start shooting in May or June of 2004 and it's coming out for the July Fourth holiday weekend on 2005," Spielberg says.
"The only thing that'll change that is the unforeseen. But Harrison's committed, I'm committed, George is committed and we're all really gung-ho to do it."