Philip K Dick is one of the most prolific science fiction writers ever. He is probably most famous for his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s future noir masterpiece, Blade Runner. Yet, aside from novels Dick also wrote a huge number of short stories, many of which have made their way to the screen as well. Dick threw out mind-bending ideas with seemingly effortless ease, as can be seen from the volumes of short stories compendiums.
However, by themselves these short stories are often not sufficient for an entire movie but when incorporated into a richer and deeper fabric they create truly inspiring works of sci-fi. Although not all of the films based on his works live up to the standard set by Blade Runner, they nevertheless all posses the spark of genius from one of Sci-Fi’s most inspired writers.
1. Total Recall (1990)
Based On: We can remember it for you Wholesale
Douglas Quaid is a typical blue-collar worker on Earth, who every night dreams of the excitement of travelling to Mars and becoming a secret agent, before awakening every day to his mundane existence. As a means of fulfilling his dreams he visits REKAL to buy false memory implants. As the process takes place it becomes clear not only that Quaid has already been to Mars but also that he is a highly trained, extremely dangerous special agent. After agreeing to more memory implants to keep his identity and mission a secret, it is revealed that he is a hero in more ways than one. In one of his most mind-bending stories, Dick explores the philosophical idea that we can never really tell what is real from what is simply our imagination.
Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall stayed true to its source material for at least the first twenty minutes before bursting into the world of big explosions, cheesy one-liners and three-breasted prostitutes. One of the most expensive movies of its day, starring one of the greatest action movie heroes of the day, may not be as cerebral as the original story but it certainly succeeds in bringing the Dick’s fascinating concept to the big screen. Although basically just another amnesiac-hero flick; with Arnie leading the charge it is also the perfect combination of sci-fi and high-octane action.
2. Screamers (1995)
Based On: Second Variety
Second Variety is set on the post-apocalyptic Earth, after the war between the Soviet Union and United Nations has eradicated almost all life and what remains of the government has transferred its base of operations to the moon. The UN has effectively won the war due to the invention of the Claws, these churning sphere of blades and metal run below the surface and ambush any warm bodies they encounter. UN troops are immune to these attacks due to special radiation-emitting wrist tabs. Within just a few years the Claws have learned not only repair themselves but also to design new varieties which are even more deadly as they become ever harder to identify. As the story progresses the protagonists fall prey to mistrust and paranoia as they try to identify the Second Variety.
The film adaptation, starring Peter Weller, was given more of a science fiction feel by being transported to the mining planet Sirius 6B in the year 2078, where the warring factions are the Alliance mining colony and their employers the New Economic Block. The death robots are also given a more cinematic appeal as they are now called Screamers due to the high-pitched wail they emit as they attack. Although it didn’t have a huge budget, Screamers is probably one of the he best adaptations of a Philip K Dick novel since it works as an interesting science fiction film and also manages to stays faithful to its source material, exploring the central theme of artificial intelligence and how its evolution threatens mankind.
3. Impostor (2001)
Based On: Impostor
Impostor is set in the future when Earth is living in a state of paranoia and on-going war, under the constant threat of an Outspacer attack. On his way to work at the Project on morning, scientist Spence Olham is arrested and informed that he is not really himself. He is actually an android replica, completely undetectable from the real Spence Oldham with the one difference being he now has a bomb inside him ready to explode when he hears the activation phrase. Unable to know whether he is or isn’t a robot, the story explores one of Dick’s recurring ideas of what it means to be human, and also of how we can really know what we think we know.
The 2001 film version of Impostor starring Gary Sinise was originally planned as a thirty-minute short before the decision was made to make a full-length film. Probably one of the most faithful adaptations of a Philip K Dick story, the premise would have benefitted, as have many of the other of the other adaptions, from some embellishment to give it a more complex story. Sci-fi fanatics will already be used to the rather low-budget feel of the movie and will certainly appreciate its vision of the future and technical explanations as to why a replicant cannot be identified.