Costume Designer Deborah L. Scott Breaks Down 'Timeless' Fashions of Steven Spielberg's Neo-Noir, "Minority Report"
April 6, 2023

Written by Josh Weiss, SYFY

Following the release of Amistad and Saving Private Ryan — two historical dramas that continued to prove his growing maturity as a celluloid storyteller — Steven Spielberg returned to his genre roots at the turn of the millennium with a pair of dystopian, yet ultimately hopeful, sci-fi outings. The first was A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a long-gestating project nurtured along by Stanley Kubrick prior to his death, and then came Minority Report, an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novella published in 1956.

Now available to stream on Peacock, Minority Report is, at its core, a noir-style whodunit murder mystery wrapped up in a glossy futuristic coating. "Philip K. Dick writes amazing sci-fi because it’s not so sci-fi-y, if that makes sense," the film's costume designer, Deborah L. Scott, tells SYFY WIRE over Zoom. "It was pretty wide open in terms of the thoughts of designing it."

Tom Cruise — who would team up with the venerable director for a second time on War of the Worlds three years later — headlines the project as John Anderton, the guilt-ridden lead detective of an experimental police force known as Precrime. Relying on futuristic visions from three prescient beings called Precognitives (or "Precogs" for short), this burgeoning division of law enforcement works to stop murders before they are ever committed.

But just as the miraculous program is about to go national, John must go on the run when he's accused of a homicide that has yet to take place. The only thing capable of proving him innocent is a minority report, a conflicting vision from the lead Precog, Agatha (Samantha Morton). Is John being framed or does he truly have the capacity to take another person's life? Overarching motifs of free will and determinism elevate the project from cookie-cutter action movie to existentialist tentpole.

"It’s thoughtful, it’s not just people zooming around in space and doing crazy things," Scott says. "It’s filled with concept, which is unique now in a film … design-wise, it allowed me to go deep into it without being the slightest bit showy."

"[Steven] definitely did’t want it to look Star Trek sci-fi-y," Scott remembers of her initial conversations with the director. "We always say 'Star Trek' like it’s a bad thing, but it’s just a genre that this isn’t. I went about it by thinking about what real society is like ... I started to think about how every society, our whole world, is made up of different levels and kinds of people."

The costume designer ultimately divided the fashions of Minority Report into three distinct categories. "It was very determined by the settings and the characters," she adds. "I started there and I did all these illustrations representing these three parts of society. Once Steven really liked it, it was very easy to say, ‘Tom Cruise fits here, Colin Farrell fits there, and how do they cross over?'"

At the top, there were the "power players" like Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow), co-founder of Precrime, and Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), a representative of the U.S. Justice Department tasked with finding a flaw in the predictive system.

"That was very much based on the ‘40s," Scott explains, confirming that the outfits created for Burgress and Witwer were meant to evoke the classic detective films of Hollywood's Golden Age, particularly the ones fronted by Humphrey Bogart. "Very shouldered and double-breasted, the suspenders and the ties, although more contemporary."

The second category comprised "the middle part of the population, which would be the younger, more with-fashion kind of thing," Scott notes. "There are certain stages in our evolution where modernity was the thing and one of them was the ‘60s. It was very much that sleek, simple ‘60s thing. Eliminating the crazy ‘60s [aesthetic], but really going back to that very Balenciaga kind of style."

John Anderton belongs to this group, with Scott deciding to dress Cruise in nondescript outfits meant to reflect the way the character has cut himself off from the rest of the world following the tragic disappearance of his son years before. "He’s a very guarded person," she explains. "You only realize through the flashbacks to his past how human he was. He tends to keep everything really tight. He’s not gonna show much emotion and so, I tried to show that in his clothes."

The third and final distinction pertained "the underbelly of society" (referred to as "The Sprawl" within the context of the movie), which combined the first two brackets and employed "a completely different color palette," Scott emphasizes. "It was very warm, there are lots of those ‘60s oranges and burnt siennas and browns and things like that ... Since the color palette was so controlled, it was the combination of the characters that live in The Sprawl where you could express more personality. They could veer off."

The Precogs, meanwhile, occupy their own nebulous designation, floating in a tank of fluid meant to amplify their psychic projections.

"We settled on that fabric at the time that was kind of new. I don’t know if it looks dated now, but it’s that kind of holographic pattern," Scott says of the trio's skin-tight body suits. "You can get it really skin-tight; the idea being it’s a second skin ... That fabric managed to look amazing underwater. It was a little trial and error because they’re gonna be wet most of the time, so you’re like, ‘How do you still give it life?’ What if you put them in black? Eh, boring.' There’s only so many things you probably could’ve done, but we settled on that ... we tested a lot of fabrics underwater and that seemed to work the best."

While the story takes place in the year 2054, Scott hoped to achieve a sense of timelessness that would prevent the film from becoming dated. "You don’t look at it and identify it as anything in particular," she continues. "It might be the safer choices that keep it timeless, but I think Minority Report is the whole of it. The directing, the concepts, the cinematography, the sets, and the costumes. It works really well together, so nothing stands out too much."

She concludes: "Although it’s very stylized, it’s still got this amazing human core to it where people are behaving in a way that’s real to all of us. Steven is, at his soul, an incredibly dedicated, smart filmmaker. He’s very generous with his communications and he manages to keep the entire movie in his head on track [with a] very singular vision ... He can’t do anything wrong, in my opinion. He’s probably the only director that I’ve seen every single one of his movies. I can’t say that about every director I’ve worked with."

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