Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Do you love the scene in “The Matrix” where Neo wakes up in an embryonic chamber, connected to wires and floating in a nutrient bath? Do you love films like “Stranger Than Fiction” or “The Truman Show” where the main character discovers that reality isn’t to be taken at face value? Do you enjoy stories like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” where the process of erasing someone from your memory triggers a realization that true love is really all about accepting someone – warts and all?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, you are already a fan of Philip K. Dick stories. You just don’t know it yet.

In many of the hundreds of short stories and novels by prolific author, Philip K. Dick, the concepts of flawed perception, fluctuating reality, and evolving humanity are central themes. While Dick did not directly write any of the stories found in the films mentioned above, his influence on every single one of those films is unmistakable.

In fact, there are key moments in all of these films which could easily be traced back to the short stories and novels Dick published decades earlier. Which is probably why Hollywood is so in love with Philip K. Dick these days.

At the moment, several of Dick’s novels have been optioned for film production, including “Ubik”, and “Flow My Tears the Policeman Said”. Production on the film adaptation of his novel “Radio Free Albemuth” wrapped recently and is slated to release later in 2010. His short story “The Adjustment Team” has just been optioned by Matt Damon’s production company under the title “The Adjustment Bureau”.

There are also two biopics based loosely on his life story. One, “Your Name Here” starring Bill Pullman bears the dubious distinction of being a fictionalized take on his life, (read, “the unauthorized version”) and the other, “The Owl in Daylight” stars Paul Giamatti and is being produced under the watchful eye of the Dickian Estate.

Of course, the saddest thing is that Dick never lived to see any of this. He died a few months before his book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” released to theaters as “Blade Runner”. Thankfully, this meant that he also died before having to endure “Paycheck” with Ben Affleck or “Next” starring Nicholas Cage. Not all of this ideas have survived the Hollywood treatment. Only “A Scanner Darkly” and “Total Recall” (based on his short story, “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale”) can stand alongside “Blade Runner” as faithful, and nearly intact, adaptations of his work.

While “Minority Report” may have earned a lot at the box office, thanks mainly to the star power of Tom Cruise and the presence of Steven Spielberg, the film itself bore little to no resemblance to Dick’s original story.

Still, the spirit of Philip K. Dick lives on in films where reality is questioned, perception is altered, and memory is untrustworthy. Perhaps this is why, as a long-time PKD fan, I love movies like “Memento”, “Adaptation”, “Time Crimes”, “Brazil”, “Fight Club”, and “12 Monkeys”. When we question reality and test our perceptions, we are exploring our own souls and mining for truth. I’m just thankful that people like Philip K. Dick had the courage to get this process in motion.


NoelCT said...

That's a wonderful writeup, Keith, and it's a nice looking blog you've got here.

As bad as the finished film is, I highly recommend a read of the original script for NEXT, which I thought was just as worthy of Dick's name as the other films you mentioned. Sadly, it went through all the typical studio rewrites before reaching the screen.

And what did you think about SCREAMERS?

Keith Giles said...

I was very disappointed in Screamers and also Imposter. Both had nuggets of PKD's orignal ideas, but were obscured by the flawed execution.

I am very excited about "Radio Free Albemuth" and "Flow My Tears..." as well as the possibility of "The Adjustment Bureau" and "Ubik" (one of my all-time favorite PKD novels).