Phillip K. Dick’s most subtle and hypnotic book–and that’s saying something–was never meant to be a movie, much less a TV series. But look at the beautiful thing that Amazon has made.
If you haven’t read Phillip K. Dick’s remarkable and haunting classic of alternate history, The Man in the High Castle, then stop reading immediately and click here to buy the paper or photonic version. You absolutely will not regret it. The story of a ragged, defeated North America after the Axis wins World War II and splits the continent down the middle is brimming with unforgettable characters, dream-like scenes, and most of all ideas. It doesn’t matter that it was written more than fifty years ago, or that Dick himself has been dead for decades. This is a book that–just like the New York Times has said–still resonates.
Amazon’s forays into episodic TV have been…interesting, to say the least. But even though they’ve handled unusual subjects like the politics of a classic orchestra or a family drama centered on a patriarch who’s also a transvestite, the storytelling and the visuals have been, for the most pretty straightforward. Their timid tip-toe into the fantastic, like Chris Carter’s deservedly aborted The After, just haven’t pulled together. But now another X-Files alum, Frank Spotznitz, has not only produced the best piece of spec-fic out of Amazon so far, he’s produced one of the best sf adaptations ever. No, like ever.
Here is the opening sequence that eloquently, wordlessly, describes the alternate world of 1962. And yes, we know, that’s not a real German melody; it’s a song from Rodgers and Hammerstein. Which just makes it even more ironic.
You can see the entire pilot on Amazon for free, right now. Of course there are changes from the novel; there have to be and there should be. But the ineffable quality of Dick’s original work is perfectly expressed, even enhanced, in this iteration. And for all his bleakness, the production design and cinematography are absolutely beautiful. If Amazon doesn’t approve this for a full series, then there is clearly no God. Which would be kind of Dick-like in that irony, too.
The original book jacket copy (one of us actually owned a crappy Book Club edition for years; it’s worth at least $45 now) was actually right this one time: “Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.” And producer Ridley Scott and writer Frank Spotznitz have succeeded in offering the same.