With the Phillip K. Dick Film Festival taking place this weekend, Hasitha Fernando on the essential Philip K. Dick movie adaptations…
The name Philip K. Dick needs no introduction. The indefatigable author’s works have dazzled the minds of readers the world over for several decades now. Hollywood, however, took some time to recognize the author’s brilliance, hence the handful of films based on Dick’s writings. In this article we look at the top five movie adaptations based on the enigmatic scribe’s works…
Blade Runner (1982)
Ah yes, we all knew this is the film we’d kickoff the list with, ‘cos lets face it, Blade Runner is the be-all-end-all of sci-fi movies and there is no denying that.
Helmed by none other than Ridley Scott at his A game, Blade Runner follows the story of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former police officer tasked with hunting down a group of violent androids. His mission makes him cross paths with the beguiling Rachel (Sean Young), a synthetic human, and the charismatic Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), the leader of the rebels that Deckard’s been ordered to kill.
Interest in adapting Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? began as early as the early 1970s but it would take nearly half a decade for the project to properly come together with Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford’s involvement. The film received a relatively lukewarm reception at the time of its release, but has since then been reevaluated and embraced as a seminal sci-fi classic.
Replete with compelling performances, an engaging story, a unique neo-noir aesthetic and a sublime score by Vangelis, Blade Runner is truly an experience to unlike any other.
Total Recall (1990)
The pre-production journey of Total Recall was a troublesome one. Development on the project began in 1974 when the rights to Dick’s 1966 short story We Can Remember it for You Wholesale were purchased. The project changed hands between multiple studios for nearly a decade, before landing at Carolco Pictures in the mid-1980s. Arnold Schwarzenegger played an instrumental role in Carolco acquiring the rights and the film’s development, even handpicking RoboCop helmer Paul Verhoeven to steer ship.
Multiple abortive attempts later Total Recall finally became a reality when it hit theatres on June 1, 1990. Its tale revolves around construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who has virtual vacation memories implanted in his mind and inexplicably sets off a chain of harrowing events in the process.
Although the film polarized audiences and reviewers on its release, it has since been appreciated as an essential watch and I couldn’t agree more. Gnarly visuals, campy humor and over-the-top violence all come together seamlessly to deliver a sci-fi actioner mindfuck that you will not soon forget.
Minority Report (2002)
Cinema wunderkind Steven Spielberg have always wanted to collaborate with superstar Tom Cruise. After years of unsuccessful attempts at teaming up, Minority Report was the project where it became a reality.
Based on the 1956 short story of the same name, the production phase of this flick was one rife with innumerable delays. Disagreements in script quality, Cruise’s unavailability and Spielberg’s busy schedule meant the starting date had to be pushed back multiple times.
The tale of Minority Report focuses on a technology that allows cops to apprehend criminals before a crime is perpetrated. John Anderton (Tom Cruise), the commanding officer of the elite PreCrime unit is accused of a future crime and goes on the run to prove his innocence. In spite of the myriad delays, when the project saw the light of day, everyone agreed that the wait was totally worth it.
What Spielberg, Cruise and company had crafted with Minority Report was a neo-noir, whodunit sci-fi thriller that defies comparison. It was a rare gem of a film that was both thought provoking and viscerally thrilling. While certain elements of the source material had been altered, there’s no denying that the end result was nothing short of amazing.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Richard Linklater was one of the first and most successful filmmakers to emerge from the American independent movie renaissance of the 1990s. With films such as Slackers, Dazed and Confused and the Before Trilogy, the self-taught director tapped into the cultural zeitgeist of the era in a manner very few people before him had. His laidback, dialogue heavy indies struck a chord with movie goers but nothing would quite prepare them for what he’d planned for the Philip K. Dick adaptation he’d lined up next.
Based on his experience on 2001’s Waking Life, Linklater decided that A Scanner Darkly should also utilize the digital rotoscoping technology he employed for the former. The talented auteur wasn’t wrong. The project caught the attention of several big-name actors – Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder – and they together with Linklater, took us on one hell of a trippy rollercoaster ride.
The twisty-turny narrative details the misadventures of one Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), an undercover cop in the not-too-distant future, and his motley crew of companions as they indulge in drugs and lose themselves. The orgiastic, hallucinatory visuals aside, this offers a heartbreaking look at the war on drugs, and the toll it takes on all involved. An absolute must see.
The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Of the aforementioned films, The Adjustment Bureau is undoubtedly the most conventional looking movie in terms of looks and aesthetic. But don’t let that dissuade you from watching this underrated gem.
Adapted from the 1954 short story The Adjustment Team the premise concerns David Norris (Matt Damon), an up-and-coming politician who falls for Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), a contemporary dancer and the mysterious forces that attempt to keep the two lovers apart.
Helmed by Ocean’s Twelve writer George Nolfi, the sci-fi romance thriller features a stacked cast of the likes of Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp, and all of ‘em turn in great performances which is what sells the movie. So, if you are in for a good old-fashioned romantic yarn sprinkled with some sci-fi metaphysics look no further than The Adjustment Bureau.
What are your favourite Philip K. Dick adaptations? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.