Posted by: markfender | December 9, 2015

The Many Movie Stigmata of Philip K. Dick

There have been a ton of movies adapted from Philip K. Dick’s work.

PkdickSome are, of course, better than others. But why is he Hollywood’s goto person for sci-fi?

I think it’s because in Hollywood, sci-fi=action adventure movie and action adventure movies work best if there’s a conspiracy to uncover. And Philip K. Dick loved a conspiracy. Most of his oevre is about paranoia, subversion, and oppression from the higher-ups – perfect fodder for special effects and shiny lights.

Unfortunately, that means that the tone of his work is often left on the page. Because Philip K. Dick didn’t really write action. He was more interested in the inner thoughts of freaks, drug addicts, and the conspiracy-obsessed.

But, there are some films that capture his particular talents fairly well:

Blade Runner

Of this relatively short list, Blade Runner is the farthest from the prose style of Dick. It also takes the most liberties with the story, setting, and plot than the others on this list. Still, it manages to capture the dread of Dick fairly well. And, while it veers off into weird territory at times (anything with Pris, really), it’s still a gorgeous movie with a legacy that has not diminished in sci-fi circles. It’s a crowning achievement, despite its dubious connections to Dick’s work.

A Scanner Darkly

Linklater’s styles comes through in everything he does. Luckily, his rambly tone works perfectly for this particular novel. The movie is a fairly close adaption of Dick’s book. (Robert Downey Jr.’s character isn’t much of a stretch from the character in the book.) The rotoscoping can take some getting used to, but I think it really fits with the tone and hallucinatory nature of the text. If Blade Runner wasn’t just so damned good, this would be the best movie on this list. Despite its inclusion of Keanu Reeves.

Radio Free Albemuth

This one is the closest to Dick – the dialogue is almost verbatim. If you’re too lazy to read, but want to hear what Philip K. Dick really wrote like, this movie is the one for that (Although, a Dick novel is a fast read – just read the damned thing). Unfortunately, it’s just so damned Canadian. It stars some Canadian “heavyweights,” like Kathryn Winnick and Alanis Morrisette (?). The special effects are ScFy quality and way too prevalent. There’s just so much bad green screen and soft lighting that it’s at times hard to watch. And Dick dialogue doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue. The actors are trying their best, but there’s a reason Philip K. Dick scripts aren’t anything like Philip K. Dick books. Still, it captures his style in a flawed, but heartfelt, way.

Of course, there’s other Dick to watch, some of it worse than others. Hell, some of it has even been remade. But if you want to get the “best of Philip K. Dick,” I recommend the three above.


  1. Mark, don’t push your book reading on me

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