Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Based on a Philip K. Dick story

In many ways the film version of The Adjustment Bureau is stronger than the original short story, “The Adjustment Team” (1954), which I am sure is heresy to Philip K. Dick devotees. The story and the movie have little in common. The story is about the counterfeit nature of surface reality. It has no romance, never Dick’s strength, and none of the same characters. No hats, no doorways. It shares only the idea of a mysterious team of people who adjust and edit reality. Questioning the solidity of reality is central to Dick’s work. It also suggests, with more subtlety than the movie, that either a science fictional or fantasy explanation could be applied. The story is early Dick, with undistinguished prose and overtly sexist treatment of women.  The main character is an average guy who works at a real estate office, a typical sort of Dick viewpoint character, not the promising politician running for Senate in the film version.

If it hasn’t happened already, surely soon there will be a Philip K. Dick film festival drawing upon the many adaptations of Dick’s stories. It’s an appealing idea. This list has gotten lengthy: Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), Confessions d'un Barjo (1992, French Canadian), Screamers (1995), Minority Report (2002), Imposter (2002), Paycheck (2003), A Scanner Darkly (2006), Next (2007), Radio Free Albemuth (2010), and The Adjustment Bureau (2011). Most of these are obscure or flawed or both. Blade Runner stands out as the best of the bunch, an influential film that created a stunning future Los Angeles, copied endlessly in other science fiction films.

More Philip K. Dick adaptations are in the pipeline. Ridley Scott, the director of Blade Runner, is attached as executive producer to a four-part BBC mini-series adaptation of Dick’s Hugo award-winning novel The Man in the High Castle (1962). A remake of Total Recall is supposedly in “pre-production.” Director Michel Gondry says he is adapting Dick’s novel Ubik (1969). No doubt there will be others.

That’s fine. Really. It’s not a zero sum game, where every movie based on a Philip K. Dick story means that another science fiction film for grown-ups doesn’t get made. Is it? Charlie Jane Anders at io9.com helpfully suggests 10 unfilmed Philip K. Dick stories that “deserve” to be movies. Um, yeah, that would be great. Except, before I worry about overlooked Philip K. Dick stories that should be filmed, what about some other authors? I feel awkward pointing this out, but Dick died almost 30 years ago. What about stories from the past 30 years?  How about a movie based on a story by Neal Stephenson, or Connie Willis, or Vernor Vinge? Or perhaps China Miéville, or Lois McMaster Bujold, or Paolo Bacigalupi? Or Pat Murphy, or Octavia Butler, or Michael Swanwick? Or Nicola Griffith, or Kelly Link, or Ted Chiang? Or Jeffrey Ford, or Elizabeth Hand, or Margo Lanagan? Or Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke? Or The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon? I could go on. These are some of the people who have turned out the best work in recent years. Where are the film adaptations of their work?

Related links:
Every Philip K. Dick movie ranked from best to worst
The Man in the High Castle to become BCC TV mini-series
Michel Gondry to adapt and direct Ubik: link one and link two
The Adjustment Bureau review

1 comment:

  1. We are organizing a Philip K Dick Film Festival in New York City featuring films inspired by the writings of PKDick and some direct legal adaptations of his stories. For more info visit'