Why Philip K Dick’s canon is so often plundered

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We recently signed up for Amazon Prime.

Amazon are not one of my favourite companies. Any global big business that has such a massive slice of a particular market – that has changed the way the world shops – is doing something right in monetary terms, whilst simultaneously doing something very wrong for every independant bookshop / high street retailer.

And that’s before we even approach the topic of authors’ pay, the way the company has tried to hold both publishers and authors to ransom in order to prioritise their own profits … 

A could go on, but it’s Sunday and I’m sure you have family to spend time with and dogs to walk, so I’ll shut up before I scare you away.

So why, might you ask, have I allowed this beacon of capitalism into my home? Well, you see, I live with an enormous film buff. Allow me to rephrase that. He’s not enormous – it’s the scale of his filmbuffery that’s huge. Where I squirrel away books, stealthily slipping them into the house under my coat, he does the same with DVDs. Our shelves are a mosaic of brightly coloured cardboard, paper and plastics.

Fulfilling his need for celluloid (no, I know – pixels then) used to be simple. We’d got to the cinema (we were the young couple who, early in our relationship viewed a late night double bill of The Exorcist and some schlocky horror I can’t remember – for a Valentine’s Day treat). And for home consumption there was Blockbuster.

Ah, Blockbuster. I still recall the dusty shelving, the slightly sticky carpets, the caged popcorn (two sacks for the price of one!), and their line in surly, dishevelled just-got-out-of-bed-at-11-am staff members was second to none.

What those guys couldn’t be bothered to tell you about film wasn’t worth not listening to.

Their stores may have had the air of neglected charity shops, but for a reasonable sum, you could rent any recently released DVD on the market.

Of course, Blockbuster has pretty much gone the way of Woolworths, ra-ra skirts and pedal pushers – extinct, never to be resurrected. Which has left the other half in a quandry when it comes to accessing filmage. We’ve tried Netflix, but he exhausted their range a while back, hence the move to Amazon Prime.

And on Amazon Prime we found The Man in the High Castle.

The quality of the dialogue isn’t the highest – you can almost hear the cogs grinding, it’s so clunky. And the acting … Well, there’s a lot of staring into space looking pensive and the main female character only has two expressions – shocked and blank. But it’s a high-concept, alternate history thriller, set in a 1960s America in which the Axis nations won the Second World War and the States were split between Germany and Japan – nuance is not what we’ve tuned in for.

The most surprising thing for me about The Man in the High Castle is that it’s based on a novel by Philip K. Dick. I suppose I associate Dick with full on flying car, Mars settlement, implants in the brain sci-fi .

I’m sure I’m wrong, but it seems everything that tripped from Dick’s typewriter or slipped from his pen has been adapated for the big screen: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, A Scanner Darkly, the rummaging through his canon for cinema fodder knows no bounds.

Which made me wonder which author holds the record for the most adaptations of their work on the big screen.

Well, I did a bit of googling and although there’s some debate on the subject, there are some names you’d expect to see – and some you really wouldn’t.

Shakespeare and Dickens are first and third – no great surprise there. Ian Fleming makes an appearance for the James Bond books, of course, along with Stephen King, Arthur Conan Doyle, Stan Lee and Robert Louis Stephenson – genre books make great movies after all.

Surprises? Well, according to this list, Anton Chekov is in at number 2. Seriously? You don’t generally see versions of The Cherry Orchard rubbing shouders with the latest Avengers movie down the local multi-plex. Moliere is also there, with 208 writer credits according to IMDb – apparently.

So, what have we learnt from this list? 

That having a long career and writing a ton of successful genre fiction is one way to adaptation success. Being a dead literary giant helps. But sometimes just writing one really good yarn – say Don Quixote if your Cervantes (101 adaptations, mainly of this one text) – can be enough.

And the other thing I’ve learned? That not all Philip K Dick adaptations are equal.

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Have you been watching The Man in the High Castle? What do you think? Do you agree with the Slate list? Who do you think is the most regularly adapted author?

 

 

 

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