Adapting Philip K. Dick

This week on the Kirkus Reviews Blog, I jump ahead from some of the older stories to a very modern author: Philip K. Dick and the adaptations of his works.

This was an interesting article to write, because I wanted to tie it in with the upcoming movie release of Total Recall. Prior to writing it, I was able to find a number of the films and watch through them over the course of a weekend, to get a sense of how they were adapted. Some were a pleasant surprise: Total Recall and Screamers were two that I particularly liked. Others, like Paycheck and Next, I didn’t like very much.

Dick’s works have translated interestingly into film, I suspect because the premise that he’s really known for – this world is not correct – is something that’s easy for a film to capture and challenge its characters with in ways that audiences can easily understand.

Here’s the sources that I used for this piece:

The Library of America Series (Four Novels of the 1960s, Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s, and Valis & Later Novels): This series examines notable works from American authors, seldomly looks at Science Fiction. These books are fantastic examples of the author’s works, but are also excellent for their in-depth chronological look at Dick’s life.

Minority Report Special Features: This is something that I watched way back, when Minority Report was the first DVD that I ever owned. It’s an excellent collection of special features, not the least of which the one that talks about the adaptation of the story and how it came to be.

Prophets of Science Fiction: Philip K. Dick: This was a really neat one to watch, even as it glosses over much of Dick’s life and dramatizes some of it. The most interesting thing was Ridley Scott’s impressions of the man, whom he met at a screening. There’s also some interesting points about how Minority Report was going to become a sequel to Total Recall.

Internet Speculative Fiction Database: This large archive was useful for tracking down the original publications of each of the stories, which allowed me to string them out in publication order.

The films: I was able to track down almost all of the films, with the exception of A Scanner Darkly and Radio Free Albemuth. Watching each (and reading most of the stories that they were based on) really helped to see what exactly was adapted.

Usual Suspects: The Stuff Dreams are Made Of, History of Science Fiction and Trillion Year Spree each have sections about Philip K. Dick and his works, which provide good background material on the life of the author and his contributions to the genre.

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Bad SciFi Movie Night

A year or so ago, I posted up on Facebook that I had finally gotten a chance to watch Tron, and asked people what movies were worth looking into. The response was overwhelming, and I’ve come up with a long list of films that I should watch, along with some of my own research into cult classics and gems from the science fiction / fantasy genres. When Megan moved in to my apartment, we began what we jokingly referred to ‘Bad SciFi Movie Night’, running with the idea that most of the films from that time period are bad films.

It’s entertaining, that whenever I post up something about Bad Scifi Movie Night, there’s an inevitable flood of replies that the films that I’m watching *aren’t* bad. It’s true: while there have been some films that I’ve come across that have been hard to get through, most are outstanding. So, here’s an explaination to what I can point to.

So far, Megan and I have run through an excellent list of films:

12 Monkeys, 2001, 2010, Alien*, Aliens*, Alien Nation, Batman, Blade Runner*, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind*, Dark Crystal, Dune, Enemy Mine, 5th Element*, Forbidden Planet*, Jason and the Argonauts, Gattaca, Highlander, Last Starfighter, Logan’s Run, Omega Man, Outland, Planet of the Apes, Predator, Silent Running, Starship Troopers, Supernova, Soylant Green, The Thing, Tron, Total Recall and Westworld. (* indicates that I’d already seen and owned it, but rewatched it.)

Of those, there’s some real classics that I’ve really, really loved: Alien, Alien Nation, Omega Man, Outland, Silent Running and Soylent Green. Others, I didn’t like: Enemy Mine, Dark Crystal and Supernova. Win some, lose some.

What I’m enjoying about this watch-list is that it’s an excellent opportunity to go through some of the roots of science fiction classics. Movies such as Alien, 2001, Blade Runner, Forbidden Planet and a couple others are real classics in the genre that have absolutely shaped the films that come after it. Part of this came out of my love for the film Moon, by Duncan Jones. In some of the interviews and commentaries that I’ve read/listened to, he’s cited films such as Silent Running and Outland as direct inspirations for his first, brilliant film.

As a historian, my instincts are to look at the roots of what form the present. The films of the 1950s through the early 1990s form the basis for movies and popular culture of today – it’s easy to recognize the phrase ‘Soylent Green is People!’, but it’s also important to see some of the roots and themes of the stories from these movies. Understanding the past is important to understand the present, especially in something such as popular culture.

So, while Bad SciFi Movie Night is titled as such, it’s not reflective of the quality of the films that we’re watching: if anything, the films that we’ve gone through are just as good – better in some cases – than films that are coming out today.