Life | 6 years ago
From Blade Runner to Adjustment Bureau - our top five Phillip K. Dick adaptations
'Based on the work of Phillip K. Dick' is seen by many sci-fi fans as a guarantee of quality and imagination. Ahead of this week's Adjustment Bureau, we pick our top adaptations.

'Based on the work of Phillip K. Dick' is seen by many sci-fi fans as a guarantee of quality and unbridled imagination. Ahead of this week's Adjustment Bureau, we look at the late writer's adaptations.

By Emmet Purcell

Maybe you don’t know Dick, but late American science fiction novelist and short story writer Phillip K. Dick's (1928-1982) work lives on today on the silver screen, from undisputed classics (Blade Runner) to the movie with the worst Nicolas Cage hairstyle we've ever seen (Next).

In fact, nine Phillip K. Dick movies have been made since the author’s death, the tenth and most recent being this weekend's The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

With K. Dick firmly in the spotlight once more (not to mention news this week that Warner Bros’ plans to release either a Blade Runner sequel or prequel, possibly both), we thought we’d run down our favourite adaptations from the famed writer.

5. The Adjustment Bureau

George Nolt, a scriptwriter on The Bourne Identity, puts Matt Damon through his paces once more, as the Hollywood star gets chased by Mad Men’s Roger Sterling (John Slattery) in a re-working of sci-fi short story Adjustment Team, first published in Orbit Science Fiction in 1954.

Damon stars as David Norris, a US Congressman seemingly destined for national stardom, that meets a beautiful ballet dancer, Elise, played by the ever-reliable Emily Blunt. Damon soon discovers that dark forces appear to be conspiring to keep the two from becoming romantically involved, and endeavours to discover why.

After recent misfires from K.Dick’s back catalogue (the aforementioned Next and Ben Affleck in Paycheck), Adjustment Bureau is gaining favourable reviews, with Quickflix’s Simon Miraudo saying he believes the film is the “best sci-fi rom-com about magic hats that I’ve seen in at least three months”. Sorry Affleck and Cage, Damon gains the fifth spot for us.


4. A Scanner Darkly

Surprisingly, no purely rotoscoped movies have been released since A Scanner Darkly

The original A Scanner Darkly was a BAFTA-winning 1977 novel set in the then-future of 1994 as an undercover police agent battles his addiction to the futuristic Substance D drug. However, Darkly's film adaptation is best remembered for its exceptional rotoscoping technique, in which computer animators traced over the live-action footage in a painstaking 15-month process.

While director Linklater’s style wasn’t to every critic’s taste, the Keanu Reeves-starring dystopian tale is now regarded as one of the most faithful adaptations of K. Dick’s work.

3. Total Recall

Otherwise known as the movie with the four-boobed alien girl (google it, you pervert). Basking in the adulation of 1987’s Robocop, subversive Dutch director Paul Verhoeven teamed with the-then biggest movie star in the world for arguably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most thoughtful and challenging work – the 1990 sci-fi release Total Recall.

Arnie stars as construction worker Doug Quaid, a seemingly average joe in 2084, who discovers that he’s actually a secret agent who’s had his memory erased. Sure, Recall is a little preposterous (forget the Mars colony stuff, how could an gruff construction worker bag a ridiculously hot circa-1990 Sharon Stone?), yet still holds up as a mind-bending action picture that encourages viewers to keep up.


As you’d expect, the original 1966 short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, lacks the ambiguity and wall-to-wall action scenes of Verhoeven’s adaptation, which could be a relief for certain readers. Recall is set to return to the silver screen next year, with Colin Farrell taking the reins of a Len Wiseman (Die Hard 4.0) remake.

2. Minority Report

Tom Cruise and Samantha Morton literally go head-to-head

One of the most underrated sci-fi releases of the last ten years, Minority Report challenges the very nature of crime, free will and the correct procedure for collecting replacement eyeballs from a fridge.

The hook behind Minority Report is ingenious – Tom Cruise’s ‘PreCrime’ unit stop crimes before they take place in 2054 Washington D.C. With startling and increasingly accurate visions of the future (gesture-based technology, targeted electronic advertising), Spielberg’s 2002 take on K.Dick’s 1956 short story is vastly different from its source material (no space colonies in the movie version), and arguably for the better.

1. Blade Runner

Set in 2019, Ridley Scott’s iconic Blade Runner followers Harrison Ford as Rick Dekard, a retired member of a police officer corps called ‘blade runners ‘ as he hunts down replicants, engineered organic robots, on Earth. A sci-fi epic that has produced numerous alternative cuts, Blade Runner was originally a box office bust in 1982, but gradually garnered a huge following post-release.


For a sci-fi movie released in 1982, Harrison Ford's fashion choices hold up pretty well

For a work that debates the very nature of being human, K.Dick couldn’t have picked an odder or more brilliant title for the 1968 novel that inspired director Scott – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Perhaps hoping Blade Runner fans wouldn’t notice, post-1982 editions of the novel were given the film title instead – saving a lot of hassle but obviously creating a much less entertaining book cover, we’re sure you’ll agree.

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