Minority Report Built The Fashion Of The Future Out Of Three Different Worlds

When Steven Spielberg was preparing to make his 2002 sci-fi film "Minority Report," an adaptation of the 1956 novella by Philip K. Dick, he wanted to ensure that the future world of 2054 seemed plausible from a technological standpoint. The story takes place after the founding of a futuristic Pre-Crime unit that uses a trio of psychics to predict when someone is going to commit murder. Thanks to the predictions, police can rain people's homes before they have even committed a crime and imprison them for it. It's a dystopian setup, but the system does, perhaps tragically, seem to work. The only victims are the psychics who have to live in a tank of fluid 24 hours a day. 

According to a 2002 article in the Washington Post, Spielberg gathered a cadre of tech experts and futurists to brainstorm what 2054 might look like from a practical perspective. The team wrote out an 80-page Bible that detailed what the future America's architecture, technology, economics, and politics might look like. "Minority Report" features self-driving cars that can zip up vertical highways, computers that are operated by waving one's hand through the air (a technology that seems practically nigh), and advertising A.I. that addresses people personally by name (something that's already here). Spielberg once told Roger Ebert that he "wanted the toys to come true someday." Alex McDowell, the film's production designer, made a palpable world indeed, even if robotic police spiders may still be a way's off. 

Also working hard to ensure the accuracy of the future was costume designer Deborah L. Scott who, on the special features for the "Minority Report" DVD was said to have designed the costumes to be as "fashion-free" as possible, giving the outfits a timeless — and hence believable — look.

The clothes of the future

Deborah L. Scott is one of Hollywood's preeminent costume designers, having worked on such high-profile films as "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," "Back to the Future," "Heat," "Titanic," "Wild Wild West," three "Transformers" movies, and the two "Avatar" movies. In a recent interview with /Film's own Jack Giroux, Scott discussed her approach to designing clothes for the future's denizens, and how they needed to be divided among class lines. In "Minority Report," the police officers are very fascistic and look very terse and militant. The outside world was wild and varied and represented a repressed civilian population. And then, of course, there was cruise himself, who needed to stand outside of both his character's hero status and his actorly "movie star" status. Scott said: 

"[I]t was more of a fantastical world, but we based it, again, in reality. What I did, when I started off designing that movie, there are three parts of society. There's Tom Cruise, there's the authoritarians, and then there's the underground people. I used three different illustrators with different styles, so that you could get this feeling organically. Tom Cruise is the real world, they're slick, they were minimal designs based with an artist that was much more of a fashion illustrator. So, it's a little gestural and very simple."

With the world so trifurcated, and with three illustrators assisting in the design, Scott also pointed out that each part of society needed to be evocative of a different era of the past. In addition to the fashion illustrator for Cruise, Scott also hired an expert in 1940s classic Hollywood design and 1960s fascist design.

The 1940s, the 1960s, and Tom Cruise himself

While Deborah L. Scott doesn't refer to any specific regime or military or police uniform, a quick browse over those types of clothes from the 1960s can illustrate her point. It was a time when fashion was used by both authoritarians and the counterculture to make their points. As such, there was a lot of visual variety. This was to stand in contrast to the world occupied by police chief Lamar Burgess, played by Max von Sydow. That was a staid and well-behaved world. Scott said:

"The authoritarian world is kind of like the '60s. Max von Sydow's world, it's very based on a '40s thing, old movie star, classic shapes, classic colors. I used a different illustrator for that, that was just more a realist. Then, the underground world with all these crazy characters, it was just that you needed more of a completely unique way of drawing and presenting the fact that you're going to take ... It's just a mishmash of stuff. We got to be as crazy as we could get, but contained and real too."

"Minority Report" remains one of the better sci-fi films of its decade, largely because of its curious timelessness. As of this writing, society is now two-thirds of the way to the 2054 of Spielberg's film, and many of its aspects seem to be playing out as predicted. We have touch-free computers, we nearly have reliable self-driving cars, and we — perhaps frustratingly — have personalized advertising. And, as Scott herself predicted, certain types of clothes will likely remain in fashion.