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The Grasshopper Lies Heavy
October 3, 2012 4:59 PM   Subscribe

How Philip K Dick transformed Hollywood, who could be Hollywood's next PKD and how PKD could change your life.
posted by Artw (74 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmm. I think Ted Chiang has a great claim on that title; short stories, each based around a mind-blowing concept. Not necessarily easily filmable though - "Understand" for instance has the structure of a classic action story leading up to a climactic confrontation, but that confrontation takes place almost entirely in the characters' heads.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:40 PM on October 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


No, you could do the climax of Understand kind of like the "realizing" sequences of the recent Sherlock Holmes movies.

That movie would probably suck, unlike all other Hollywood versions of quality SF.
posted by DU at 5:52 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not necessarily easily filmable though...

Since PKD's arguably only been 'filmed well'* twice, I'd say Ted's got a good shot.

Anyway, "Hell is the Absence of God" could actually make a halfway decent flick, with the right director.

--
*for values roughly equivalent to 'closely adapted'
posted by lodurr at 5:55 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of hoping for a Big Spaceships /Space Opera revival that's all Banks and Reynolds.
posted by Artw at 5:59 PM on October 3, 2012 [14 favorites]


To me the 'next PKD' would need to be someone writing strange (so Ted Chiang is a great candidate); but if you take the appelation literally, it should also be someone who gets badly mis-adapted most of the time. Which I really wouldn't want to wish on Ted Chiang. People tell me he's a pretty nice guy, and he's a heck of a writer.
posted by lodurr at 6:01 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I will never forget reading my first Philip K Dick novel. I was 12, and I read "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep." It was the first book I ever really loved.

Harrison Ford made Empire in 1981, then Raiders in 1982, and then in 1983, he made the R rated Blade Runner. And my parents would NOT let me see his new movie. But, they had no idea that Blade Runner was based on a book, and they were always encouraging me to read. My mother was happy to see me with any book, and I felt like I was getting one over on them.

And, that book totally blew me away. The book is so much better than the movie. Philip K Dick changed my life - he made me into a life-long avid reader. He is one of the greats in my book.
posted by Flood at 6:01 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


The most PKDish movie I've ever seen is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Not even the adaptions come close and ESSM has a whole lot more Charlie Kaufman than PKD.
posted by wobh at 6:01 PM on October 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


yes, correct me if I'm wrong.

Blade Runner (unqualified success)
Scanner Darkly (not bad)

...
trying to think of another PKD adaptation that didn't disappoint ...
posted by philip-random at 6:03 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Radio Free Albemuth is apparently a pretty close adaptation, but from what I've seen it's likely not very good. (I'd be quite pleased if someone argued otherwise, as my wife would really like to see it.)
posted by lodurr at 6:05 PM on October 3, 2012


PKD rules Hollywood because he deals in themes of identity and reality, and how they're not as we imagine they are. This resonates in a deep, deep way with actors, directors, producers and screenwriters, who deal with those same issues daily in their professional and personal lives.

I don't see any other writer coming close... maybe Gibson with his obsession with cool and obsolescence, but, really, Johnny Mnemonic proves that showbiz doesn't get it the way they got it with PKD.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:05 PM on October 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Total Recall is definatly the pulp version, but I think does a reasonable adaptation of Wholesale and adds a satisfying third act.

Screamers is kind of okay but a little cheap looking now.
posted by Artw at 6:09 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


PKD rules Hollywood because (no offense to PKD) his stories largely make no sense on a plot level. Which is great for Hollywood, because they love nothing better than presenting a bunch of unconnected images while alternating between Significant Music and Huge Explosions. (cf The Matrix).
posted by DU at 6:12 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


(By "Significant Music" I mean effects, largely audio but not totally, that make you think what you are looking at or the dialog you are listening to is Majorly Profound when if it were a sentence in a student's paper and you were an English teacher, you would make it bleed.)
posted by DU at 6:14 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I worked as a cashier at a now-defunct bookstore between semesters one year in college. I needed cash so I happily traded shifts with my coworkers who didn't want to work the late shift on Friday and Saturday nights. Between 10pm and 11pm, pretty much no customers came through, so I read a volume of Dick's short stories. By the end of my third late night shift, I'd earned enough to buy the book. That experience was one of my favorite "falling in love with fiction" moments.
posted by deathpanels at 6:22 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Vangelis made Blade Runner great. We don't need a new PKD, we need a new Vangelis.
posted by michaelh at 6:37 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of the candidates mentioned in the io9 link, John Brunner is the most likely "next PKD." They were contemporaries and iconoclasts, both inhabiting a similar slightly off-centre place in the genre. And that Forteana Blog linked from io9 describes some Brunner novels that would make incredible movies. Here's No Other Gods But Me:
No Other Gods But Me (1966, expanded from A Time to Rend, 1956). The protagonist of this novella discovers that his life is being screwed up, deliberately and systematically, by a shadowy religious cult called the Real Truthers... who in turn are being manipulated by a despotic ruler in a parallel universe. The hero shifts between the two realities, and is told that originally they were one and the same: "Our suspicion is that the reality of the pre-animate cosmos differed from its present reality; to put it in the most extreme terms, the universe may well be a figment of the minds of mankind. Certainly the massed minds of the race constitute the only force known to be powerful enough to change it. You are to accept that long ago -- perhaps ten thousand years -- it was changed."
posted by Kevin Street at 6:38 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't Brunner too far in the past?
posted by grobstein at 6:41 PM on October 3, 2012


It's unlikely that some Hollywood producer will come across a Brunner novel and decide to option it, but looking at the candidates mentioned in the blog he's probably the best fit.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:42 PM on October 3, 2012


Vangelis made Blade Runner great. We don't need a new PKD, we need a new Vangelis.

1) We still have our old Vangelis. From all accounts, he's as awesome as ever.

2) Trent Reznor has been making some pretty significant inroads where movie scoring is concerned. Maybe that's where we should be looking.
posted by hippybear at 6:45 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Considering the record being dead may be a plus.
posted by Artw at 6:47 PM on October 3, 2012


Minority Report was a success in the same way Children of Men was- both created its own enthralling vision of the future that was both more interesting than the actual storyline and had little to do with the original sci-fi work it adapted from. For that reason, MR should be considered in the same category as Blade Runner and Total Recall as adaptations that skimmed from PKD's ideas and went off with their own wild future setting.
posted by Apocryphon at 6:56 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]



Since PKD's arguably only been 'filmed well'* twice, I'd say Ted's got a good shot.

Twice ? I have yet to see A Scanner Darkly, and while, God knows, Bladerunner was a cool movie -- beyond a handful of plot elements, it bore no resemblance whatsoever to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
posted by y2karl at 6:59 PM on October 3, 2012


PKD was somebody I read in junior high in the 60s (starting with The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch) whom nobody else had ever heard of-- whom nobody else ever wanted to hear of-- and who did change my life by inducing an existential vertigo along several more independent axes, and many times more powerful than "He Built a Crooked House" or "All You Zombies" ever could have.

When selected letters came out in the 80s, I had very confused feelings when it became clear to me that he was insane, and had been insane when he wrote the things that meant the most to me.

His mind was in eternal torment and he was a tortured soul; his letters brought tears to my eyes over the agonies of delusive and yet so seductive ontologically evil ideation he endured on an hourly basis over many days, and yet they removed all doubt about the authenticity of his work. He was no 'master illusionist with his frack-tails flying' putting one over on you as you did your best to try not to see through the trick. PKD drove you insane. Most of his readers survived the crash and walked away, as I did, though he did not.
posted by jamjam at 7:13 PM on October 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


In Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner it talks about how the first versions of the script were a lot more faithful to Dick's novel, but Dick himself kept shooting them down, refusing to sell them the option to the book. He didn't trust anyone from Hollywood, thinking they were going to grift him somehow. Ridley Scott was still a music video director when this process started, but while it was going on he did The Duellists and Alien, which impressed everybody so much they had to get him for the project that would become Blade Runner. So sometimes having a prickly living author to deal with can have unexpected benefits.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:16 PM on October 3, 2012


Hippybear, Reznor is a good candidate. Daft Punk is another I thought of. Neither have hit the mark for me yet.

As for Vangelis I see him as having done his best work; happy to hear it's not the case but can you recommend anything specifically?
posted by michaelh at 7:23 PM on October 3, 2012


Hollywood keeps adapting PDK's short stories and mostly ignoring the novels. He wrote more than thirty novels but they've only filmed Androids, Scanner and Radio Free Albemuth (which doesn't seem to have ever been released). I think that's because they can take the little core of the short story and then tack on a standard action plot.
posted by octothorpe at 7:43 PM on October 3, 2012


Phillip K. Dick was so humble, he LOVED Blade Runner. He thought it would make him a lot of money though he passed away before it could. But he publicly stated that he thought the movie was better than the book.

The crazy thing is how GOOD even an average action movie based on a PKD story is. Freaking PAYCHECK is amazing. Minority Report is not bad. Total Recall is so good. That one with Nicholas Cage where he can turn back time 30 seconds. The best part is there are SO MANY of them. (PKD did a lot of speed).

I don't know who could be the new PKD but Reznor totally has dibs on the score or Clint Mansell.
posted by kettleoffish at 7:46 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for Vangelis I see him as having done his best work; happy to hear it's not the case but can you recommend anything specifically?

Well, this recent FPP featured a pretty interesting (I think) album. It is from over 20 years ago...

Also the Mythodea concert was pretty great, IMO. From 2001, based on a concert/concept which he developed and staged originally in 1993.

I'm eagerly awaiting more information about his Qatar concert from Doha in December of last year. There are snippets and glimpses online, but apparently there will be an official release soon.

The thing about Vangelis is, he doesn't release much, although he apparently records all the time. I keep hoping there will be a massive release of what he's holding back, but aside from a couple of very little known movie soundtracks, he's been pretty much mute for the past while. (Aside from the Qatar show.)
posted by hippybear at 7:47 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


That io9 article is awesome for two reasons: 1) giving me several suggestions for sci-fi authors to check out; 2) alerting me to the existence of the Nextwave comics.

Also: Vangelis' score for Blade Runner is fantastic, but no way is it the only thing that makes that movie great.
posted by mediated self at 7:55 PM on October 3, 2012


Minority Report is my favorite PKD adaptation. Not sure why it gets the hate.

I wish Cat Rambo would be the next PKD. Or Genevieve Valentine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:01 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Phillip K. Dick was so humble...

I am Alive and You Are Dead...
posted by ovvl at 8:44 PM on October 3, 2012


Yea but at least he wasn't bragging about it...
posted by kettleoffish at 8:57 PM on October 3, 2012


Guys, Imposter.
Not the best movie evar but had a great sense of the classes of "Citydwellers" and "Kippledwellers" and some cool vehicles.

I'd put it up there with Total Recal as a fun ride.

and let us never mention Next, based loosely on"The Golden Man", ever again
posted by djrock3k at 9:05 PM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Neat way to phrase it, DU.

MetaFilter: Alternating between Significant Music and Huge Explosions
posted by Anything at 11:03 PM on October 3, 2012


For sheer weirdness, I'm loving the fractal books of Hannu Rajaniemi. Probably unfilmable though.
posted by zoo at 11:23 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


So the point is, of all the currently published SF authors, who does the most speed?
posted by vanlal at 12:06 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Guys, Imposter.
Not the best movie evar but had a great sense of the classes of "Citydwellers" and "Kippledwellers" and some cool vehicles.


Huh, I've never seen that one. Thanks for the recomendation.
posted by homunculus at 12:16 AM on October 4, 2012


I also thought Impostor was pretty decent and interesting. It's definitely undervalued. The ending (which I won't spoil) also had a much bigger emotional impact than I'd expected.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:30 AM on October 4, 2012


I liked Imposter. I've like pretty much every PKD adaptation I've seen. Not generally true to the plot, but true to the feeling, the atmosphere.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:40 AM on October 4, 2012


I vote for Ted Chiang or Iain M. Banks.
posted by flippant at 3:30 AM on October 4, 2012


Peter Watts or Hannu Rajaniemi

or Iain M Banks but all the things that make his books great seem hard to film. Like, how could a movie of Use of Weapons possibly keep the ending as a surprise?
posted by memebake at 6:30 AM on October 4, 2012


Ted Chiang interview
posted by Artw at 6:34 AM on October 4, 2012


Minority Report is my favorite PKD adaptation. Not sure why it gets the hate.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I hate it because I found its "action" incredibly boring, and that's about all there was to it. Total waste of an adaptation.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:01 AM on October 4, 2012


I thought it took a story that was a neat little puzzle, thought it could better the ending, failed at that and along the way padded the hell out of it with largely irrelevant chases. See also Paycheck.
posted by Artw at 7:06 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's probably a PKD out in the wilds of the interweb somewhere but I'm fairly certain there's not a mainstream sf writer who takes enough drugs / is mentally ill enough to take up his mantel
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:13 AM on October 4, 2012


Grant Morrison is too successful.
posted by Artw at 7:17 AM on October 4, 2012


Grant Morrison is too successful.

If you're not eating dog food you're not a proper cult sf writer
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:29 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Minority Report the story had a really cool picture of how precognition would work. The story was basically written around (and titled after) a crafty little gimmick. The movie completely abandoned that idea. I still like the movie, but it's not much of a PKD Movie.

I liked Paycheck more than I probably ought to. The Adjustment Bureau was the biggest let-down, I'd say. They took the Final Destination movies and turned them into a romantic comedy.
posted by painquale at 7:35 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Discounting Blade Runner (because, I mean, Blade Runner), my two favorite PKD movies are Total Recall and Impostor, despite the latter looking more like a SyFy Original than a feature film and being padded out with some irrelevant chase stuff (according to IMDB it was originally a 30-minute portion for an anthology film). They both feel more like PKD stories than any other movies based on his stuff, even A Scanner Darkly, which was just kind of a go-nowhere mess, although I enjoy it for the ambience.

That IMDB tidbit makes me think, though, that PKD movies should all be anthologies, presenting three or four stories in short film form.

I mean, if you have to make them at all, which, why?
posted by adamdschneider at 8:01 AM on October 4, 2012


I can't speak for anyone else, but I hate it because I found its "action" incredibly boring, and that's about all there was to it. Total waste of an adaptation.

Weird, since I find Blade Runner to be a total snooze (and I love Androids). I thought the setting of Minority Report was really well-rendered which gave the action a lush quality that I liked. The way the precogs were revealed was awesome, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:15 AM on October 4, 2012


Someone needs to make Sid Meier's Civilization scenarios out of The Man in the High Castle. That is all.
posted by Bwithh at 8:39 AM on October 4, 2012


Weird, since I find Blade Runner to be a total snooze (and I love Androids). I thought the setting of Minority Report was really well-rendered which gave the action a lush quality that I liked. The way the precogs were revealed was awesome, too.

Just goes to show there is zero accounting for taste, as I found Minority Report's worldbuilding rather silly.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2012


Just goes to show there is zero accounting for taste, as I found Minority Report's worldbuilding rather silly.

Huh. It felt very palpably plausible to me, much like the worldbuilding in A.I.--a future that could conceivably come to pass extrapolated out from our own world. I didn't think that, sayBlade Runner really did that (I don't think it even captured what I liked so much about the setting of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep). What seemed silly about the worldbuilding to you?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:05 AM on October 4, 2012


Heh, I liked the worldbuilding in Minority Report, but wasn't particularly taken by the story (didn't hate it, but didn't like it as much as BR or some others).

I found Blade Runner interesting in that it went for quite a different world from Androids: all crowded and hi-tech and shiny and futuristic, whereas Androids was kinda second-rate and rubbish - depopulated and full of kibble, and post-nuclear war so you had the fallout-damaged "chickenheads".
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:13 AM on October 4, 2012


Kipple!

Kipple was the best thing about Androids, and probably my favorite PKD concept, period.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:14 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd disagree about Bladerunner looking shiny and new - outside of Tyrel corp everything is dirty and run down. TBH I think the thing I like in the book most that's not in the movie is the Empathy Box.
posted by Artw at 9:22 AM on October 4, 2012


Gotta love that they included Mr. Stross on the next PKD list!
posted by Mister_A at 9:23 AM on October 4, 2012


...also the scene in the desert with the spider. I don't know, it's not like a detour into Mercerism would really work in the movie or make it better, but it's a core part of what makes the book special to me.
posted by Artw at 9:24 AM on October 4, 2012


Darn, I missed the edit window...yeah, kipple. Don't know if it's my favourite PKD idea - Androids alone has the mood organ ("I don't want to dial the desire to dial the mood organ" [paraphrase]) and the empathy box/Mercerism, but it's great.

On preview: ok, maybe not shiny - but big and futuristic and flashy (the buildings, flying cars, the advertising) - it looks realistically lived-in, but there's a sense of technological progress.
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:25 AM on October 4, 2012


The "who’s next" list just made me realize how much I haven’t kept up with SF. Through my teens and 20’s that’s all I read. It’s hard to believe that no one’s made Butler’s "Parable" books into a movie though.
posted by bongo_x at 9:40 AM on October 4, 2012


I actually find most of Butler's short stories (save "Bloodchild") to be kind of weak and certainly not cinematic. The Parable books and Lilith series would make great television, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:43 AM on October 4, 2012


On the off chance you've not read all Of Ted Chiang's stories - read all of Ted Chiang's stories. There's not that many of them and they are all great.
posted by Artw at 9:43 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


What seemed silly about the worldbuilding to you?

I have no specific recollections, sadly, since I saw it a decade ago and never again (nor will I, I'm sure; too much stuff, not enough time).
posted by adamdschneider at 10:04 AM on October 4, 2012


Dick's books have a way of making things in my mind vibrate that I would as soon be kept still. Uncomfortable, but I want to examine them. A Scanner Darkly kept up most of that sensation for me, as did Blade Runner. Neither of the Total Recall movies worked that way, on account of how the cuteness and over the top special effects kept stealing the scenes. Minority Report slid off the table after making a very neat entrance. Why does it always end up with chase scenes? Dick's notion was just the opposite. When they have you by the balls, they don't need to chase you around.

Gibson's visions are engrossing, but I have to work a bit more to let the pathos sink in--the notion that it happens to them and not me sort of causes the milieu be less engrossing, I guess. Maybe I can see myself in PKD stories, but not in Gibson's.

I'm open to the notion that OFS (old-fart syndrome) keeps me at arm's length from Gibson. Anyhow, I guess he won't measure up to PKD on account of how he's not crazy, and he doesn't do enough of the right drugs.

Let them fuck up Chiang's stories for a change.
posted by mule98J at 11:15 AM on October 4, 2012


In the first week of my freshman year of college, I immediately made friends with two guys who talked about the Ubikutous Conspiracy. I read Ubik. Then I read everything else he wrote. 1970.

There are two other authors I'm been similarly obsessed with: Kafka and Murakami. I have noticed that Murakami and PKD have the same sort of young neurotic dark enigmatic woman in many of their novels. Not that I'm willing to share my love life with the Web, but...this may be part of my obsession.
posted by kozad at 12:45 PM on October 4, 2012


Speaking of Ted Chiang, my organization published this great conversation between him and Vandana Singh. It's a brief interview and he talks about some things that I've never heard him talk about, like artificial intelligence, Asimov, and his relationship with race.
posted by johnasdf at 3:00 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Linked above :-)

Good on you guys for doing that - interviews with him seem pretty rare.
posted by Artw at 3:03 PM on October 4, 2012


I love the idea of a showing the Dick adaptations back to back.

Why are they all so different?

I actually have this theory that Dick gives directors just enough structure and "a twist" to work with, but also enough of a blank slate for characters that you can pretty much cast whoever you want or give the movie whatever vibe you want.

Especially the male characters are super wooden-- and they have been played pretty well by Arnold, Ben Affleck, Keanu Reeves.

I would love to see one of his early works adapted, where he talks more about his obsession with a certain kind of woman. Like the French version there supposedly is of Confessions of a Crap Artist. This overbearing dominating sort of female character he has in some of his books would make an AMAZING role.
posted by kettleoffish at 5:01 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I bought a digital collection of Ted Chiang's stories because of this thread. They're amazing.
posted by painquale at 6:53 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi: "Minority Report is my favorite PKD adaptation. Not sure why it gets the hate."

It has its moments but its tone jumps all over the place. It's got some great scenes with Spielberg pulling out all the stops, like the spider scene in the hotel, and then some just bizarrely wrong scenes like the eye surgeon part.
posted by octothorpe at 7:28 AM on October 5, 2012


Lots of cheap Dick on Amazon.
posted by Artw at 10:23 AM on October 7, 2012


y2karl [in re. PKD being 'filmed well' only twice]: Twice ? I have yet to see A Scanner Darkly, and while, God knows, Bladerunner was a cool movie....

A Scanner Darkly is a pretty close adaptation; I happen to like it a lot, but I know a lot of purists who don't; YMMV. But the second I was referring to was Radio Free Albemuth, and the 'arguably' was a reference to the fact that the trailer is not encouraging.
posted by lodurr at 6:05 AM on October 14, 2012


Hannu Rajaniemi: how could I forget him?

He's one of the few new-ish writers I've read in the past half-dozen years that really impressed me.
posted by lodurr at 6:18 AM on October 14, 2012


Ted Chiang has one attribute that doesn't suit him well for this mantel: he's a lucid thinker and a careful writer. One upshot of that is that he isn't very productive. Which is probably fine, since it could well be why his work seems so lucid and careful.
posted by lodurr at 6:20 AM on October 14, 2012


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