Saturday, January 23, 2010

Another Philip Dick Movie? Color Me Skeptical

It has come to my attention that yet another Philip K. Dick work is being turned into a film. This time, it's one of my three favorite Dick books, Radio Free Albemuth. I am less than certain that this is remotely a good idea.

It's not exactly that Dick's movies and stories are unfilmable - Minority Report wasn't terrible, Total Recall is actually fairly good for what it is, and Blade Runner is an absolute classic. But the latter two really diverge greatly from their original source material, and even Minority Report is a 2+hour telling of a short story, so there's a lot added on. (And I haven't seen A Scanner Darkly, but heard it was fairly good, too).

But I just don't see how Radio Free Albemuth will work as a movie. It's not just that my skepticism is based on a paranoia-filled Cold-War dystopia during a political administration that strongly represents Dick Nixon's and Joseph McCarthy's love-child (not exactly the same political-cultural climate we are in now). It's not even that Alanis Morisette will apparently play a major role in the film. It's also that I just don't see how you narrate the book in film format. I don't think I'm giving too much away when I say that the book hinges in no small part on a major narrative shift that starts with "Philip Dick" (the character)'s internal point of view in the first third of the book, shifts to his friend Nicholas Brady's point of view in the second, and returns to Dick's in the third. And those shifts in POV are one of the most seamless, simple, and yet innovative ways to shift narrative voices in a book that I've ever read. It's actually kind of central to the way the story is told, and I just don't see how that works in film. If you're not looking "through" Dick's and Brady's eyes, then the story is going to be radically different.

Again, I'm not saying the film will be terrible. But I can't help but think that, if it's to succeed, it will have to take the Blade Runner path and basically very loosely follow the story it's based upon; in other words, it will have to use Dick's ideas as a launching point, but become it's own story separate from the book. And given that for every Blade Runner there has been a Paycheck, I'm not holding my breath.

And as a final comment, please - if you've never read any Philip Dick, go out and get something by him now. I'd recommend Radio Free Albemuth, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, Dr. Bloodmoney, Confessions of a Crap Artist, The Man in the High Castle, or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as good starting points, though honestly I could recommend another 8-12 beyond that. Suffice to say, there are lots of excellent books by him, in addition to his short stories.

UPDATE...Apparently, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is also becoming a film. That may be a bit easier than Radio Free Albemuth, but not by much. Either these screenwriters/directors are amazingly good and clever, or these are going to be some major film fiascos.