"Dickheads." That's what die-hard fans of prolific science-fiction author Philip K. Dick call themselves. And that is certainly the attitude adopted when Dickian canon is messed with.
This weekend marks the release of the latest PKD adaptation, 'The Adjustment Bureau,' starring Matt Damon. In the film, Damon stars as David Norris, a young, charismatic politician who discovers his life plan is controlled by a mysterious, otherworldly organization known as (you guessed it) the Adjustment Bureau. 'Bureau' is based on Dick's story 'Adjustment Team,' but only loosely based. The jury is still out on whether this new movie will please or anger the Dickheads.
As far as straight-up PKD film adaptations go, the pool is a pretty shallow one to choose from. But, still waters run deep, and we are fortunate enough to have some true masterpieces in the running. We also have a wealth of untapped source material to choose from for future adaptations. Without further ado, Moviefone presents the five best PKD film adaptations and five more that we'd love to see happen (including our picks for who should make them).
'Blade Runner' (1982)
What's It About? In 2019, replicants –- organic, mass-produced robots straight out of the uncanny valley (the theory that the more human a robot looks, the more repulsive it looks to us) –- provide off-world slave labor for their human oppressors. Banned from Earth, the occasional replicant rebels and returns illegally. When this happens, human bounty hunters called blade runners track down and kill them. Given the uncanny-valley factor and a pesky penchant for developing human emotions, a few replicants call the very definition of humanity into question on both sides of the power divide. Harrison Ford (blade runner) and Rutger Hauer (replicant) go toe-to-toe in this seminal dystopian paranoid thriller based on 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?'
Why Is It Great? Despite major departures from the original work, Ridley Scott takes a deeply Dickian approach, visually contrasting technological advancement with subsequent environmental decay while revealing that the height of civilization is anything but civil. The production design is stunning, the lighting is moody and gorgeous, and the overall feel perfectly captures Dick's vision of this particular future. Scott's neo-noir masterpiece is not only the best Philip K. Dick adaptation to date, but also one of the finest films ever made.
News: 'Blade Runner' Prequels and Sequels on the Way
'Minority Report' (2002)
What's It About? In 2054, drug-addicted John Anderton (Tom Cruise) works on the PreCrime police force, which uses three mutant humans with precognitive abilities (precogs) to predict murders before they happen. The three precogs don't always agree on the future, so they deliver prediction reports according to majority consensus (2 out of 3); the odd precog out produces a "minority report," which is usually disposed of. Anderton suddenly finds himself named by the precogs, who predict he will murder a man he doesn't know within 36 hours. His only shot at avoiding a preemptive jail sentence is to track down his minority report and determine whether he's been set up.
Why Is It Great? Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the eponymous PKD short story is sleek, polished and intelligent, and it adeptly explores the Dickian theme of free will vs. determinism in a high-octane, over-the-top action film sort of way. Tech-junkies drool over the spatial operating environment interface (aka the thing Cruise does with his hands to use the computer), and indeed all of the future equipment is so cool that most of it already has, or will be, invented (i.e. cloud computing, Xbox Kinect). Nerds love it when fiction becomes fact.
'A Scanner Darkly' (2006)
What's It About? In the near future, America has lost the war on drugs to the highly addictive and illegal Substance D. In response to the coup, the government has organized an invasive, high-tech system of cameras, informants, and agents. Bob (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover agent tasked to infiltrate the drug underworld and trace the supply chain as far as he can. The problems begin when Bob's deep cover ruse, combined with his own developing addiction to Substance D, confuse and conflate the situation to darkly comedic effect.
Why Is It Great? Visually this film is an absolute delight; vibrantly colored rotoscoping throughout suggests a psychoactive drug experience that emphasizes the altered states of all of the players and induces one in the viewer as well. The casting is exceptional: Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Rory Cochrane have awesome chemistry as a group of drug-addled paranoids, each trying to fly below the radar of a society obsessed with surveillance. It's total eye candy that remains reverent to the source material.
What's It About? Set in 2078, this action-thriller takes place on Sirius 6B, a planet decimated by nuclear war, where sentient humanoid weaponry roams the land, hunting and grotesquely murdering survivors in a flurry of blades and screams. The story follows Peter Weller as the commanding officer of the Alliance, who is trying to get to the opposition's bunker to negotiate a truce. Along the way he learns there are more varieties of these intelligent killing machines than originally thought, and suddenly every humanoid is a potential threat.
Why Is It Great? While this film was largely panned, it's sort of a hidden gem. What it lacks in content, it makes up for in atmosphere, impressive set design and fast-paced action. The screamers are frightening; and conceptually, the story is really tight even if the execution isn't so much. Bleak and creepy, the film's climax is not to be missed: legions of little boy killing machines swarm a bunker and are laid to waste by a shower of bullets.
'Total Recall' (1990)
What's It About? In 2084, Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) dreams of visiting the Martian colonies. As he's a man of meager means, the cheapest option for realizing his dream is paying a visit to Rekall, a company that specializes in customized false memory implantation. He asks for the full Martian vacation experience, complete with a secret agent subplot, and ends up with a reality far stranger than he bargained for.
Why Is It Great? In a clever "reality within a reality within a reality" spy thriller, Paul Verhoeven delivers an extremely entertaining action film that criticizes the corrupt nature of commercialization while questioning the authenticity of reality and perception, all against a colorful backdrop of gratuitous violence and goofy robot scenarios (oh JohnnyCab!). Vibrant visual and thematic juxtapositions abound, lending to an ambiguous, mind-bending experience for protagonist and audience alike. This one strays far from its source, 'We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,' but its entertainment factor earns it a spot on this list.
What's It About? Set in a what-if-the-bomb-destroyed-the-world scenario, the plot revolves around a disparate collection of damaged survivors, including the titular physicist who's blamed for the destruction of the country, who come together to face the predictably unusual and trying challenges of societal reconstruction. Technology has reverted back to the nineteenth century, animals can talk, and the human race has been variously mutated and mentally damaged by the fallout.
Who Should Make It? Music video director Chris Cunningham. One hundred percent. He would weave the most perfectly arresting and disturbing visual narrative, completely suitable for this grim, post-apocalyptic tale. Lots of bodies ravaged by nuclear fallout, bizarreness ... and, he's really overdue for a feature-length directorial debut. Let's see Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the conniving, quadriplegic, psychokinetic Hoppy Harrington -- a pretty-boy like that with no arms or legs? Bring it. Nicolas Cage, whose freakouts are a joy to behold, could be a good candidate for the increasingly psychotic physicist Bruno Blutgeld (German for bloodmoney); if you have any doubts about that, watch him in 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.'
'Radio Free Albemuth'
What's It About? This is an alternate-history autobiography, with Philip K. Dick playing the protagonist, of what might have been had the corrupt Ferris F. Fremont, who embodies the best/worst of Nixon and McCarthy, been elected U.S. President in the 1960s. Under Fremont's regime, a war is waged against imaginary assailants while Dick himself attempts to avoid becoming a war casualty. Dick's best friend, Nicholas Brady, is a record exec who receives transmissions from an extraterrestrial god figure, urging him to overthrow the president. Thrillingly paranoid, intricate, and hilarious, this was Dick's final novel.
Who Should Make It? Perfect for the part of Dick himself? Jeff Bridges. With the right script, this role could be Bridges' lifetime role. He looks the part and already has the sci-fi pedigree to boot. The man can artistically go places few of his contemporaries ever could. Put him opposite Gary Oldman as President Fremont. Delicious. And up to the task of directing? Christopher Nolan. He can take some of the lessons learned while making 'Inception' and make the most psychologically dark and unhinged film to ever grace the theater.
'The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch'
What's It About? How to succinctly describe this story? It's not possible. This one is really special: corporate psychics, god-like avatars, religious mysteries, space travel, sanctioned reality-enhancing/distracting drugs, layers upon layers of reality and unreality. The purest of mind-bending reading experiences.
Who Should Make It? In terms of handling the disorienting dissolution of reality and identity, the only director that could give this out-there story the room to leisurely unravel is Charlie Kaufman. In fact, he apparently drew a lot of inspiration for 'Adaptation' and 'Being John Malkovich' from this visionary Dick classic. Though he intentionally avoids the exploration of religion in his work, Kaufman might reconsider for a chance to bring this story to life. As his adaptation of 'A Scanner Darkly' was passed up, Kaufman deserves a shot; this would be the perfect project for him. Incidentally, John Malkovich would be a prime choice for the titular god/satan-figure. Embittered precog protagonist Barney Mayerson could be played by Dan Hedaya with interesting results.
'The Variable Man'
What's It About? A handyman in the early 20th century, Thomas Cole accidentally gets transported to the distant future via a bubble sent back in time to research his era. In this future there is a cold war between two systems, each attempting to develop the perfect weapon to gain a strategical upper hand. A consummate tinkerer and fixer of machines, Cole, in arriving at this world, stands to alter the course of the war and the history of the future.
Who Should Make It? This lesser-known PKD short story would translate well to film. For this compelling paranoid thriller with opportunities for gorgeous alien landscape wideshots and plenty of gritty futuristic technology to display, the right director to helm this project would be the inimitable Terry Gilliam. With '12 Monkeys' in his repertoire, Gilliam could weave together another gorgeous narrative of a man lost in time; Bill Paxton would make the perfect everyman to root for. The burly Russian scientist -- and main advocate of Cole -- Peter Sherikov, would be a great role for the dark, broody Javier Bardem.
Remake 'Minority Report'
Who Should Make It? This one is ripe for a remake. John Anderton was never meant to be a trim lean Hollywood stud; the precogs were not androgynous, Bieber-esque nymphs; and precrime, for all its flaws, was not to be destroyed. A far better choice for antihero Anderton is Philip Seymour Hoffman; beyond fitting the original's physical description perfectly, he'd bring an appreciated depth and dark complexity to the role that is sorely missing from Spielberg's adaptation.
If someone could take another crack at this Tom Cruise vehicle and make a film as dark, cerebral, and challenging as the story on which it's based, Alex Proyas would be the perfect man to do it. Forgive that blemish on his resume ('I, Robot') and trust that his screenwriting and directorial chops, as evidenced by 'Dark City,' would deliver a far more authentic Dickian experience, replete with knocks against the military industrial complex, shifting notions of reality, and strong visual language.
Obvious choices 'The Man in the High Castle and 'Ubik' were left out as both are in the works by Ridley Scott (who should incorporate the I, Ching into his directorial decisions) and Michel Gondry (who can do no wrong), respectively.
Nicole McConvery is the Managing Director of the Boston Underground Film Festival, running from March 24-31 at the Kendall Square Cinema in Boston, MA. Check out the website to learn more about New England's biggest celebration of the bizarre.
Dickheads, let us know: what PKD story do you want to see on the big screen?