Philip K Dick: The Movies

by Alan Rapp on July 6, 2006

in Top Tens & Lists

From the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic comes alien technology, metaphysics, simulacra (artificial life forms designed to mimic humans), soothsaying, philosophy, alternative universes and futures, and death.  Not the happiest of universes I’ll grant you, but one that bursts with a distinct vision resulting in original and uncompromising tales.

Several of Philip K Dick’s works have been translated into film.  We’ll have the review for the latest, A Scanner Darkly, tomorrow.  Today though we take a look back at how Hollywood has translated Dick’s different worlds onto screen over the years.  Enjoy…

Aaron and I have a few arguments that won’t seem to die.  Is Daredevil or Hulk a better comic book film?  Who’s the better filmmaker – Kevin Smith or Wes Anderson?  Which is the better romantic comedy – Garden State or Eliabethtown?  The one important to this discussion involves a Philip K Dick short story which Stephen Spielberg made into a film of the same name – Minority Report.  Let’s just say we disagree strongly on Spielberg’s result.

But hey, that’s only one of five Philip K Dick films we’ve got a look at here, so without further delay…

Must See

Blade Runner

The most successful and appreiciated of all of Dick’s works turned to film.  The Sci-fi noir film is an adaption of Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and weaves a tale about a detective (Harrison Ford) tracking down four replicants (human looking robots) who have hijacked a ship and returned to Earth seeking their maker (William Sanderson, without his brothers Darryl and Darryl).  Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edwards James Olmos, and Daryl Hannah also star in what most agree is one of the finest Sci-fi films ever made.

Total Recall

Wait a minute, Spielberg and Tom Cruise can’t get a Dick story right, but Paul Verhooven, Ahnold, and Sharon Stone can?  Whoa!  Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is a average guy with a beautiful wife (Stone) until he visits Recall for implanted memories of a vacation as a spy on Mars.  Quaid discovers his mind has been messed with before, that he really is an spy, and his wife wants to kill him.  Travelling to Mars he meets a woman from his past (Rachel Ticotin), the reasons and mastermind (Ronny Cox) behind his erasure, a mutant leader, and the remains of a great alien technology that lies hidden at the core of the planet.  How much is real and how much is a dream?

We Disagree

Minority Report

The “film version” of the story takes place in the near future when crimes are prevented by pre-cogs (3 mutants who can see the future).  As the story begins the department chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is charged with murder of a man he never heard of.  He runs from the law, later learning the whole thing is an over-elaborate set-up to get him out of the way.  There’s also a subplot about Anderton’s wife and missing son helping to throw red herrings all over the screen.  In the end Anderton chooses free will and decides not to be a slave to fate proving the system flawed and himself not a murderer.


With a budget two and a half times less than Speilberg got director Gary Fleder gives us a superiror film focused on Dick’s paranoia full blast in the story of a engineer (Gary Sinese) who becomes hunted by the very people he works with when they suspect he might be an android sent by an alien race to replace the real Dr. Oldham and kill important world leaders.  Vincent D’Onoffrio has a nice turn as the bloodthirsty maniac hunting down and killing anyone he suspects might be androids, who are made to truly believe they are human but are set to explode when there target appears.  Not great, but pretty good and in my opinion far better than Minority Report.

Not Worth Your Time


Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) wakes up.  He has signed away his millions for a small envelope of relatively unimportant everyday things.  Jennings is an engineer who does top secret work and is required to have his short-term memory erased after each project, but what happened?  A great premise is lost in a murky and underwhelming script as Jennings, hunted down by the FBI who accuse him of treason, uses the various items to get himself out of dangerous and deadly situations to find a lost love (Uma Thurman) and a telescope that can see into the future which has the ability to destroy human civilization.  Not Affleck, or director John Woo’s, best.

We agree that Blade Runner and Total Recall are films are definately worth checking out.  Both are available on DVD and are well worth your time.  Blade Runner is a classic sci-fi that fans of the genre, including us, both love and Total Recall just might be Arnold’s greatest film.

We differ on Impostor and Minority Report.  Aaron felt Impostor was incomplete and cliched and resembled more of a expanded short or Made-for-TV film than a feature.  And I hate Minority Report with a fiery passion for the “liberties” taken which rip-out the heart of the story.  Spielberg and screenwriter’s Tony Frank disregard much of the story to do their own film by taking away the great internal conflict of the main character and the dark ending by lightening up the film and adding on soap opera subplots and blockbuster action scenes to distract people from noticing the story is so changed the name of the film doesn’t even make sense anymore.

As for Paycheck it may be worth a look for die-hard Dick or John Woo fans, but it wastes a great premise with some really dumb dialogue and ridiculous action sequences.  If you accidently rent Payback with Mel Gibson you’ll get a better film.

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