Hasitha Fernando on the essential Philip K. Dick movie adaptations…
The name Philip K. Dick needs no introduction. The tireless author’s work has dazzled the minds of readers around the world for decades. However, Hollywood 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 film adaptations based on the enigmatic writer’s works, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Minority Report†
Blade Runner (1982)
Ah yes, we all knew this is the movie we would start the list with because let’s face it, Blade Runner is the end of all sci-fi movies and there’s no denying it. Aided by none other than Ridley Scott in his A-game, Blade Runner follows the story of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former police officer tasked with tracking down a group of violent androids. His mission sees him cross the border between the enchanting Rachel (Sean Young), a synthetic human, and the charismatic Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), the leader of the Rebels who must kill Deckard.
Interested in adapting Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids dream of electric sheep? started way back in the early 1970s, but it would take nearly half a decade for the project to blend well with the involvement of Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford. The film received a relatively lukewarm reception at the time of its release, but has since been re-evaluated and embraced as a groundbreaking sci-fi classic. Packed with compelling performances, a captivating story, a unique neo-noir aesthetic and a sublime score by Vangelis, Blade Runner is truly an experience like no other.
Total Recall (1990)
The pre-production journey of Total Recall was a tricky one. Development of the project began in 1974 when the rights to Dick’s 1966 short story We can remember it for you Wholesale! were bought. The project switched hands between multiple studios for nearly a decade, before landing at Carolco Pictures in the mid-1980s. Arnold Schwarzenegger was instrumental in Carolco’s acquisition of the rights and development of the film, RoboCop helmsman Paul Verhoeven to steer the ship.
Multiple failed attempts later Total Recall finally became a reality when it hit theaters on June 1, 1990. The story revolves around construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who has implanted virtual vacation memories in his head and inexplicably sets in motion a series of shocking events. Although the film polarized audiences and reviewers upon its release, it has since been valued as an essential watch and I totally agree. Gnarled visuals, campy humor and over-the-top violence all come together seamlessly to deliver a sci-fi actioner mindfuck you won’t soon forget.
Minority Report (2002)
Cinema wunderkind Steven Spielberg has always wanted to partner with superstar Tom Cruise. After years of failed attempts to collaborate, Minority Report was the project where it became reality. Based on the 1956 short story of the same name, the production phase of this film was one with numerous delays. Disagreements over the quality of the script, Cruise’s unavailability and Spielberg’s busy schedule meant that the start date had to be moved several times.
The story of Minority Report focuses on a technology that allows agents to arrest criminals before a crime is committed. John Anderton (Tom Cruise), the commander of the elite PreCrime unit, is accused of a future crime and goes on the run to prove his innocence. Despite the numerous delays, when the project saw the light of day, everyone agreed that the wait was well worth it. What Spielberg, Cruise & company had made 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 exciting. While certain elements of the source material were changed, there’s no denying that the end result was nothing short of stunning.
A scanner dark (2006)
Richard Linklater was one of the first and most successful filmmakers to emerge from the American independent film renaissance of the 1990s. With movies like slackers† Dazed and confused and the For Trilogy, the self-taught director tapped into the cultural zeitgeist of the time in a way few people had before him. His laid-back, dialogic indies struck a chord with moviegoers, but nothing would quite prepare them for what he planned for the Philip K. Dick adaptation he had next in line. Based on his experience in 2001 awake lifeLinklater decided that A scanner dark should also leverage the digital rotoscoping technology he used for the first. The talented author was not wrong.
The project caught the attention of several big names – Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder – and along with Linklater, they took us on a trippy rollercoaster ride. The twisting story chronicles the fortunes 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. Aside from the orgiastic, hallucinatory visuals, this offers a heartbreaking look at the war on drugs and the toll it takes on everyone involved. An absolute must.
The Adjustment Office (2011)
From the aforementioned movies The Adjustment Office is undoubtedly the most conventional-looking film in terms of looks and aesthetics. But don’t let that stop you from looking at this underrated gem. Adapted from the 1954 short story The Adaptation Team the premise concerns David Norris (Matt Damon), an aspiring politician who falls in love with Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), a contemporary dancer, and the mysterious forces that try to keep the two lovers apart.
Helped 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 they all deliver great performances and that’s what the movie sells. So, if you’re in the mood for some good old-fashioned romantic yarn sprinkled with some sci-fi metaphysics, look no further than The Adjustment Office†
What are your favorite Philip K. Dick adaptations? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time physician and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter at @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.