“Dick week” is in full swing here at Screened in honor of this Friday’s release of The Adjustment Bureau--a romantic drama said to take great liberties with the Philip K. Dick short story, “The Adjustment Team.” Significant artistic license is really par for the course when it comes to the nine movies that’ve been based on Dick's work. I’ve always found it a little ironic that an author with such an aggressive counter-cultural bent has come to be a source of so much mainstream entertainment but, in reality, the lion’s share of these adaptations only resemble the basic premises of the stories they draw from, if even that.
Just for fun, why don’t we do a breakdown of some of the major movies and how they differ?
BLADE RUNNER (Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
Dick’s novel is a much more sprawling narrative. It casts a broader thematic net that covers religion, consumerism, schizophrenia and even pet worship. The most central differences revolve around Deckard’s bored wife who stays at home in a listless addiction to a mood machine that can literally make her feel any specific emotion on command; even the desire to use the machine itself! She badgers him about getting a real pet instead of an artificial one (alluding to the electric sheep in the title) because animals are scarce in their future that's been ravaged by "World War Terminus" and, thus, owning a creature is actually a status symbol (this is briefly alluded to in the movie with the Tyrell corporation’s owl.) Indeed, since many humans are infertile due to widespread radiation, animals are valued highly enough as to be practically worshiped with a PETA-like zeal. Her time at home is also largely preoccupied with a strange media personality everybody follows incessantly and a mysterious religious figure everybody worships blindly--you know, just to put the commentary on media and religion on top of everything else already going on with identity and robots.
An unused scene I want to single out concerns Deckard getting arrested by an all-replicant police force that appears to exist in another section of LA. My mind's still unraveling from the knots that part twisted it into. Needless to say, the novels far more complex and much weirder than the movie.
MINORITY REPORT (Based on a short story with the same title)
Anderton is an out-of-shape, balding working stiff in the short, while in the movie... he's Tom Cruise. As a rule, the leads of these flicks are much fitter and better-looking than any of Dick’s worn-out, plain protagonists. All of the non-lethal weapons and the PreCrime fieldwork scenes were invented for the movie, as were the origins of Anderton and the PreCogs (who’re actually deformed, retarded mutants in the short.) The most significance difference, perhaps, lies in the conclusion. The short actually argues in favor of PreCrime as Anderton discovers that his false murder accusation is actually both wrong and right because of a convoluted order of divination. It works out that one PreCog will see a future, that the second PreCog will then see the outcome of people learning of that prediction, then the third PreCog will see the future where people learn that outcome... or some such. It was honestly a bit confusing. Either way, Anderton exonerates himself and PreCrime gets to continue, even without any weird little metal spiders and sticks that make you blow chunks.
A SCANNER DARKLY (Based on the novel with the same title)
Aside from a few omissions and some updates to keep fashions and technology more contemporary, this is the most faithful adaptation of a Dick story, hands down. Watching it is basically the same experience as reading the novel (forgetting the magic of reading and imagining it all yourself, natch) and some sections are even quoted verbatim. Oddly enough, the afterward where Dick lists the names of all his friends who've suffered or died from drug abuse was updated for the movie to include him, as well.
TOTAL RECALL (Based on the short story “We Can Remember It for You, Wholesale”)
The book-to-film resemblance is definitely the weakest here. When the producers say this is loosely based on the P.K. Dick story, they ain't exaggerating. There’s no Kuato, Benny, Richter, Cohaggen or any triple breasted whore in the short. Basically, the Quaid character (who isn't described as anything close to an Austrian bodybuilder) flees back home when the Rekal staff finds out that he totally is a secret agent and, after he finds evidence in his home supporting their claims, he willingly accepts to have his memories suppressed again. Ignorance is bliss and all of that. Of course, once the shadowy techies begin the final memory procedure, they discover that there’s a cover story on top of a cover story and that there's actually a unit of paramilitary alien elves residing inside the dude's body.
Yes. That's the original end of the story.
As for the others... Screamers has the same broad-strokes as "Second Variety," except it replaces the Soviet angle with a more-generalized futuristic cold war and then puts a happier ending on the whole bloody mess. Paycheck put an actual plot on what was essentially a cute thought experiment that more-or-less ended with the main character throwing a fishing lure into the past to help his "items dropping" scheme. I haven't read the short story Impostor’s based on, so I can't vouch for that. While I haven't seen Next, the trailers bore little-to-no resemblance to "The Golden Man," a short story about a gold-skinned, genetically-engineered Alpha Male who's advanced enough to seemingly see into the future and who possesses enough command of animal attraction to control women's minds. Well, maybe that is Nic Cage in real life, after all. And I have nothing to say about Confessions of a Crap Artist--though I'd love to hear what anyone has to say about either the story, or the movie.