June 22, 2012

Top 5 Phillip K. Dick Adaptations


Inspired by my Blade Runner post earlier this week, I'm taking a look at my favorite movies adapted from the work of renowned sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick. While reviewing the options, I was surprised by the limited amount of films that come from his work. I expected the decisions to be much tougher for this Top 5 List. Even so, this is still an impressive group, especially when you get closer to the top. If you're unfamiliar with Dick, here's some quick background on his career. Born in 1928, he published 44 novels and 121 short stories during a career that spanned three decades. His works often focus on themes of personal identity, spirituality, and the dangers of governments and other powerful entities. Dick's writings have also been adapted for the stage and comic books while earning many prestigious awards over the years. They've also influenced other intriguing films like The Matrix, eXistenz, and Inception. I expect that more of Dick's stories will appear in movies going forward. Let's check out the picks before I get lost in a surreal dreamworld, unless I'm there already!


5. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
This low-key thriller drifted under my radar when it was released and received mixed reactions from critics. Catching up with on DVD, I was surprised by its charm, particularly with the mystery. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have good chemistry as a politician and dancer who meet by chance and seem destined for a romance. It may not be that easy. Well-dressed strangers are observing their every move and determined to keep the couple from getting together. The stakes may be a lot higher than just the fate of their relationship, but Damon's David Norris refuses to give up. There's no grand twist at the end, but that fits with the relaxed feeling of this clever film. In his directorial debut, George Nolfi does a solid job presenting a world where your fate may not be entirely in your hands.


4. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
This Richard Linklater mind-bender has a similar look to Waking Life but cranks up the paranoia. Shot in live action and then animated, its unique look enhances the feeling of a world falling to pieces. Keanu Reeves stars as Bob Arctor, an undercover agent who infiltrates a drug culture and becomes addicted to Substance D. This nasty drug induces hallucinations and causes him to question his reality. The plot twists repeatedly, and it's never clear who's telling the truth. Although the effect is disorienting is bound to lose some viewers, it's also an intriguingly messy film. Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder join the fun, and Reeves' acting style works perfectly for the confused lead character.


3. Total Recall (1990)
Get your ass to Mars! In one of his best films, Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Douglas Quaid, an ordinary guy who gets more than he bargained for when he goes to Rekall, Inc. for a mental holiday. Embroiled in a giant plot involving evil guys on Mars, he heads to the Red Planet. Of course, this thrilling trek could all be part of the implanted excitement. Based on Dick's short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", Total Recall is both a clever genre film and a high-flying Schwarzenegger action vehicle. The villains are two of my favorite character actors, Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside. These guys can chew scenery with the best of them and are the perfect foils. Ironside in particular gets one of his best parts as the nasty henchman; he was born to play this type of role. When you add this to the style of Paul Verhoeven, you have a classic in the making. The over-the-top ending is a bit much, but that fits right with the crazy Dutch director's full-on approach. I'll be interested to see how the remake with Colin Farrell stacks up later this year.


2. Blade Runner (1982)
This renowned sci-fi vision from Ridley Scott holds up remarkably well 30 years after its original release. One reason for this durability is the enhancements to the effects and story made in the subsequent cuts following the theatrical version. If there's any downside to this movie, it's the slow pace and difficulty to connect with the cold lead character. Even so, the stunning cinematography and remarkable physical sets make up for these issues. Blade Runner remains one of the pivotal movies from the genre and will likely have considerable staying power. There's a strong possibility that Scott will return to this universe in the future, which could open up a whole new generation of fans to this impressive movie.


1. Minority Report (2002)
Placing this Steven Spielberg action epic in front of  Blade Runner  might seem like a strange move, but it shows how much I like this movie. It provides a nearly perfect mix of sci-fi, thrills, and believable characters while blazing through its 145-minute running time. There are several remarkable sequences, particularly a surprisingly tense moment when Cruise's John Anderton hides from spider-like robots in a bathtub. Samantha Morton does excellent work in a tricky role as Agatha, a "pre-cog" who holds the key to the mystery. Along with being a great sci-fi film, it also works as an "innocent man on the run" chase picture in the realm of classic thrillers from the '50s and '60s. Combing those elements with gorgeous cinematography, Spielberg delivers one of his best movies.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this list. Are you a big fan of Paycheck? You should also check out the archive of past Top 5 Lists if you've missed them.

18 comments:

  1. Fun timing, since Minority Report was a DemPod film in an upcoming episode. It's my favorite, as well. But I really disliked A Scanner Darkly. I just couldn't get into it and really didn't like anything about it. Basically the only PKD-based film that's ever happened to me on.

    And yes... I'm also a fan of Paycheck! :P

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    1. Nick, I do have a soft spot for Paycheck and John Woo's US career. I've only seen A Scanner Darkly once, and that was in the theaters. I have good memories of it, especially due to the style. I can see why it wouldn't work, though.

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  2. Glad to see Minority Report over Blade Runner, but I've never been much of a Total Recall fan, so I think I'd have Scanner above that, I loved the visual style of it.

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    1. Nice to hear from another Minority Report fan. I figured that would be a tough sell. I think Total Recall is ridiculous and over the top, but in a good way. Still, I don't see a problem in flipping the two, which were pretty close for me.

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  3. Blade Runner isn't number 1? Blasphemy. Still, great list.

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    1. Dave, I expect that many film fans would probably agree, and I can't really argue the point given how good Blade Runner is. For me, the pure entertainment value of Minority Report puts it at the top.

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  4. Couldn't agree more with the order of your top and second spots. Blade Runner is the shit, no doubt. But Minority Report... that's just a great great film, and a fantastic adaptation. Great call!

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    1. Alex, I've been surprised at the consensus so far about Minority Report in the top spot. I agree exactly with your descriptions of both movies. I really need to watch Minority Report again in the near future.

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  5. I'd put Blade Runner at the top but Minority Report is definitely close. Glad that Scanner Darkly is on there above Paycheck or Imposter. Was Screamers a PKD adaptation? I do have a soft spot for that.

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    1. Pete, Screamers was based on the short story "Second Variety" by PKD. I think they made big changes for the movie. The original story took place on Earth after a nuclear war, not on another planet. I haven't seen it in a while, but I do remember enjoying it. It helps that Peter Weller's the star.

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  6. I've only seen seven films based on Dick's works, the five you listed, plus Paycheck and Next. My list would be:

    1. A Scanner Darkly
    2. Total Recall
    3. Minority Report
    4. Blade Runner
    5. Next
    6. Paycheck
    7. The Adjustment Bureau

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    1. Chip, it's great to see that you're such a fan of A Scanner Darkly, which I also enjoyed. I haven't seen Next out of this group, and from what I've heard, it isn't that great. No big argument from me on your top four. They're flipped around from mine but in the same ballpark.

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  7. Your crazy man! I could never put Minority Report in front of Blade Runner. I guess I should really check out A Scanner Darkly and Total Recall sooner rather than later huh?

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    1. Max, I have to say that while Blade Runner is more influential, I still enjoy Minority Report more. Both are great, so it's really splitting hairs. Total Recall and A Scanner Darkly are worth seeing, though they fall pretty far beyond the top two.

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  8. Yay for number 1 and 2, I think I'd put Minority Report higher than Blade Runner too, it's just more enjoyable though BR certainly is iconic. That 'tears in the rain' dialog is so indelible and it's one of those films that efficiently ponders the question of 'what it means to be human.'

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    1. I agree about Blade Runner, particularly that scene. There's so much to explore thematically with it. It's great, but Minority Report is just slight above it for me.

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  9. I think Blade Runner gets kudos for being ahead of its time, but Minority Report really is a fantastically made movie and one of my favorites of Spielburg's.

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    1. I agree with both of your points. Blade Runner is a stunning film with a great vision, but Minority Report is a fine example of a smart big-budget thriller.

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