There are few authors whose work transfers properly over to the big screen. The obvious example would be Stephen King, and the most hated example being, Dr. Seuss. His World War Two cartoons have not stood the cultural test of time and it’s clear that Mike Myers doesn’t help anything.
A Cinematic World Adapted
Stephen King has had his success, and the lesser talked about Philip K. Dick has had his too, even if you haven’t noticed yet. The most important aspect of an author’s work is the malleability of the content. Philip K. Dick wrestles with themes of human vs. machine and social control in almost all of his work. The themes Dick wrestles with are either brief glimpses leaving the reader wanting more, or ideas worth exploring further in depth.
A lot should be said for the authors whose most notable works have been transferred to film. There is a certain level of audience accessibility that needs to be engaged for those works to be successful on the big screen. Each piece of an author’s fiction needs to have a certain degree of flexibility to it. The prime example in the Dickian cinematic universe would be Blade Runner. Blade Runner is based off of the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but it’s safe to say that director Ridley Scott ran with the idea that Philip K. Dick started.
Re-scanning A Scanner Darkly
After a recent re-watching of A Scanner Darkly, I quickly realized that this is one of the better, if not the best, Philip K. Dick adaptations out there. Now I realize that there could potentially be a handful of Total Recall fans out there, but come on. If you could sum up the entirety of Philip K. Dick’s body of work, the outcome would be a single question posed, “What does it mean to be human?”
A Scanner Darkly wrestles with the most human conflict out of Dick’s entire science fiction catalog. The central idea is drug addiction and the dangers of trying to get out of a drug-fueled circle of friendship. A Scanner Darkly is a film for those who have lost family and loved ones to addiction. It’s the most human message in an entire bibliographical universe of science fiction. A constant emotional struggle is what it means most to be a human.
The message written by Philip K. Dick at the end of Richard Linklater’s film sums up the human emotional aspect perfectly.
The look of A Scanner Darkly separates it from other Philip K. Dick adaptions. It was a clear choice for director Richard Linklater to implement the use of rotoscope animation to create a warped, almost always hallucinatory cinematic world.
This is barely about animation styles though or even the casual racism of Dr. Seuss; this is about adapting the work of the legendary science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick into increasingly strange, and unique formats. These formats will allow the work of a legendary writer to thrive, expand, and unfold properly.
The Man In The High Castle
Philip K. Dick, if you haven’t noticed already, has a series on Amazon Prime based off of his novel, The Man In The High Castle. Television is of course, not that strange of a format, but streaming still kind of is. Especially a streaming service that’s not Netflix or Hulu. These services however, allow a deeper, expanded, looser exploration of The Man In The High Castle, A story about the United States in the 1960’s if the Allies had lost World War Two.
The adaptations are starting to evolve, and the time in which a story can progress is expanding appropriately. From Total Recall, to A Scanner Darkly, then to The Man In The High Castle, What’s next for the vast science fiction universe of Philip K. Dick?
The next step in the adaptation process will be an anthology series titled, Electric Dreams. This series has just been picked up by Amazon and is scheduled to release later this year. Little is known about the series so far, other than Brian Cranston having his name attached to the project. According to Variety a few heavy-hitting screenwriters are attached to the project as well, including Jack Thorne, Tony Grisoni, Mathew Graham, Travis Beacham, and David Farr. The ten-part, hour-long drama will take a closer look at some of the short stories written by Philip K. Dick, and the series will presumably feel just like Black Mirror.
It’s almost as if this is what Philip K. Dick wanted (to be posthumously successful, sure), but more importantly to have complex ideas live on forever. The titles of the adaptations may not always correspond with his original work, but the ideas are all there. The format in which the ideas are conveyed to the audience will continue to change, and eventually, we will face Dickian ideas without knowing their origin. The film and television medium will eventually be obsolete, but somehow the themes and ideas of Philip K. Dick will thrive and continue to linger below the surface of technology.
The Future Work
In the future, you may go on a date, or in for a job interview, or watch a commercial and a question may be posed to you. You’re in the desert, walking along and then you look down and notice a tortoise on it’s back, its belly baking in the hot sun, trying to turn itself over. Why aren’t you helping it?
The work may change names, and the format will keep evolving, but the ideas will remain.