The Best And Worst Philip K. Dick Adaptations

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Ever since Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982, the writings of Philip K Dick have been a rich source of inspiration for Hollywood. Brimming with paranoia, mind-bending concepts, unpredictable and surreal imagery; his counterculture generating novels and short stories have often proved alarmingly prescient for modern audiences.

Now, as the Sci-fi anthology series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams streams on Stan., here are the best, and worst, adaptations of the author’s greatest work.

Blade Runner (1982)

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Source: Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep (1968)

Ridley Scott’s troubled, but brilliant, sci-fi classic was the first film to be based on the works of Philip K. Dick. With eye-popping towering cityscapes, Vangelis’s score filling the ears and a brilliant turn by Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a world-weary cop on the trail of four Nexus-6 replicants (genetically-designed artificial human beings, intended as slaves for Earth’s off-world colonies), Blade Runner depicted a gritty and grimy dystopian future that was, at once, believable and terrifying.

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

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Source: A Scanner Darkly (1977)

Richard Linklater’s animated sci-fi thriller about a near-future dystopia where society is under constant threat from intrusive high-tech surveillance after losing the war on drugs, especially Substance D, which causes its users to develop split personalities. Visually stunning with added animated Keanu, A Scanner Darkly shows the dark side of flower power and stands as a warning to the kids… Don’t do drugs!

Total Recall (1990)

Image: Supplied

Source: We Remember It For You Wholesale (1966)

Originally to be directed David Cronenberg (Scanners, Videodrome) with Richard Dreyfuss taking the lead, this more cerebral approach was ditched when the project took a left field turn into action film territory. Robocop helmer Paul Verhoeven took the directorial reigns and Teutonic action man Arnold Schwarzenegger played the everyday construction worked with a super-hot wife (Sharon Stone) who tries to escape his life by going on a holiday to Mars in his brain. So far so good. Until he discovers his memories from his faux sojourn are in fact real. Much brain scratching ensues.

Minority Report (2002)

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Source: Minority Report

Hollywood Blockbuster power couple Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise turned their PKD adaptation into a big-budget sci-fi spectacle. Largely remembered for the visual trickery that took Dick’s futuristic ideas about “PreCrime” - a specialized police department, arrests criminals based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics called "precogs" - and tossed in groovy facial recognition programs and hand-waving interaction, Minority Report is bristling with Dick’s heady concepts and earnest Cruise stuntwork.

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams (2017)

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Source: Various

With an all-star cast that includes Bryan Cranston (who also acts as Executive producer), Timothy Spall, Steve Buscemi, Essie Davis, Anna Paquin and Terrence Howard; this boundary pushing anthology takes ten of Dick’s short stories and transforms them into intelligent and dazzling television. Much like Dick, the show’s premises are fascinated by the minutiae of future-tech. What the show adds is a focus on the fragility of life and the strength of the human spirit, not matter how adverse the situation.

The Man In the High Castle (2015)

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Source: The Man In The High Castle (1962)

Asking a question that is both terrifying and fascinating in equal measure, The Man In The High Castle proffers a truly terrifying “what if” scenario. What if Hitler’s Nazis and the Japanese won World War II. Set in a dystopian future where the United States is split into two puppet states: the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States; the TV show veers away from its source material but greatly benefits for the freedoms now offered up by streaming.

Screamers (1995)

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Source: Second Variety (1953)

Written by Dan O’Bannon of Alien fame, Screamers is less pessimistic than its more sombre source material turning the bleak destruction of mankind by a machine of its own making into a kick-ass action film. The story of a remote mining colony, protected by Robocop star Peter Weller, from a hoard of blade-wielding, self-replicating killing devices called screamers is still a rip-roaring ride but it’s not going to expand your intellect.

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

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Source: Adjustment Team (1954)

With a cast that boasts Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Mad Men’s John Slattery, The Adjustment Bureau, very loosely based on its source material, is a snappily dressed and nicely acted adaptation that could have worked wonders if the filmmakers had to been brave enough to explore the implications of its storyline. What we do get is Matt Damon in a nice hat taking a huge leap of faith, falling in love with Emily Blunt and potentially changing the very fabric of time and space. All the while being chased by the henchman of the chairman. Who may, or may not be God.

Paycheck (2003)

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Source: Paycheck (1953)

The last film to be directed by Hong Kong action legend John Woo (The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, Face/Off) on US soil, Paycheck, starring a snoozing Ben Affleck, took a novel idea and dumbed it down. Affleck plays Jennings, a reverse engineer who travels forward in time to analyse his clients' competitors' technology and recreates it, often adding improvements beyond the original specifications. To protect his clients' intellectual property and himself, Jennings, with the aid of his friend Shorty (Paul Giamatti), undertakes a memory wipe to remove knowledge of his engineering.

Next (2007)

Image: Supplied

Source: The Golden Man (1954)

A disappointment for all involved. Directed by Kiwi Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) and boasting a supporting cast including Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel and Peter Falk, this should have been a slam dunk. But then they cast Nicolas Cage in the lead. The ever-eccentric thespian plays Las Vegas magician and actual clairvoyant Cris Johnson. His ability allows him to see into the very immediate future, to see what happens “next. His gift makes him a target not only of a highly motivated and heavily armed group of terrorists, but also wanted by the FBI to help them fight them. It’s all very silly, especially when a hand-waving Cage has his visions.


David Michael Brown is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Filmink and Empire Magazine where he was senior editor for nine years.

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