While I think Stephen King probably gets the championship belt for most books adapted into movies, my hat is off to a certain unsung Sci-Fi writer (I suppose they’re all unsung) who has been cranking out Sci-Fi movies since long after his untimely death. That man is Philip K Dick.
He’s probably best known for writing “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” – even if most people have never heard of it. That short story was adapted into one of the most influential Science Fiction films of all time: Blade Runner. While he died shortly after it hit the big screen, its effect on all aspects of pop-culture, and of science fiction films following it, is a testament to Dick’s vision and creativity. From the bleak futuristic outlook, to the characters’ crises of identity, Blade Runner is a great example of what can happen when his work is handled properly and shared with the masses. The concept of artificial humans was merely a clever device to be able to discuss the nature of the human soul. Other futuristic concepts presented in the film are now staples of all sci-fi, and other are actually commonly found in everyday life. While it was one of Harrison Ford’s worst filmmaking experiences, it was Rutger Hauer’s favourite – and it was made at a time when people could still respect Catwoman wannabe Sean Young.
Probably a more commercially successful film, although not as universally recognized as a part of the sci-fi canon, is Minority Report. I kind of blew it off when I first saw the trailer – I was tired of Tom Cruise and the premise felt tired to me. It wasn’t until I spotted Dick’s name on the liner notes of the DVD that I realized I should be taking it more seriously. We begin with the idea of a police force that can stop crimes before they occur, we add in some cool gadgets and jetpacks, and then we add in the idea of how someone can hijack that future-vision system. I’m still not sure how I feel about Tom Cruise being the star of this film, but many forget the fact that Colin Farrell was in this film too – and as a pretty cool character.
Philip K Dick also provided the ammunition for Total Recall – although I have only ever read the adaptation of the movie written by Piers Anthony. Much like Blade Runner, the title of the source material had little in common with its successor – “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale”. The Dick hallmark of a crisis of identity is there, although rather than going with an unassuming nebbish type for the role of Quaid, they went the other way and got Schwarzenegger instead. I’m not sure how surprised that we were supposed to be when the Governator finds out that a man of his frame is some kind of secret agent, but it was a fun ride anyway. The film gets top marks for three boobed ladies, and the psychic tumorous growth known as Kuato.
A Scanner Darkly was one of the harder to swallow adapted works of Philip K Dick, but was no less revolutionary in its thinking. Rotoscoped in its entirety under the supervision of often overlooked cinematic maverick Richard Linklater, the movie follows the Dick pattern of asking questions of identity and self, while at the same time painting a bleak picture of future that is compeltely supervised, while ironically completely out of control. The plot is far too convoluted to try to explain in this quick fly-by overview, but it is unmistakably a think-piece.
Now, not all of Dick’s works made the most of the subject matter. Films like Paycheck and Next have managed to bubble to the surface as Hollywood begins to realize that it should have been mining the work of Dick’s estate for years. John Woo might have the chops to pull off a shoot ‘em up action flick, but with ultra-goof Ben Affleck on the cast roster, he’s already got an uphill battle trying to make Paycheck even palatble. The story is clever: an engineer who has his mind erased so that he never remembers the crazy stuff he’s invented, leaves himself a series of clues to help him unravell what doomsday device he has just created. Sadly, this was one of those times when I would have agreed with studio execs that they had a winning concept, they just had to offer it to a director with a little more of a knack for cerebral thrillers – like Aronofsky maybe. Why did this have to look like Demolition Man? (Come to think of it, maybe Marco Brambilla would have been the right choice.)
What am I getting at here? Well, I hope that by at least outlining some of the works that Dick has wrought, you might be tempted to look around for one or two and give them a look. Or possibly that you might start taking a closer look at where some of your favourite movies are getting their ideas, and maybe add few more favourite titles to that list.