Looking back over my previous posts, I see I’ve been waiting for an adaptation of The Man In The High Castle for over four years. It was first announced as being adapted by Ridley Scott for the BBC in 2010, but after disappearing into the netherworld of development hell, it was then announced as an Amazon series last year, and the first episode of it has now appeared as part of their latest pilot season.
The big question, then, is was it worth the wait? On the evidence of this pilot episode, yes it was, and also worth the (hopefully shorter) wait for it to return as a full series. His involvement may not be quite so hands on this time, but Ridley Scott has shown yet again how to adapt a Philip K Dick novel. Just as Blade Runner used the characters and themes of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? but was prepared to deviate from the plot, so does The Man In The High Castle. There’s an understanding that a book and a TV series tell stories differently, especially one that’s being told through the multiple levels of Dick’s imagination. In short, I would definitely recommend watching it, whether you’ve read the book or not. Spoilers for the book and the adaptation follow, so read on at your own peril.
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I wrote a few years ago about the BBC’s plans to adapt Philip K Dick’s classic novel The Man in the High Castle
for TV. As with so many TV projects, it seems that fell through but news has now come out that while we’re not in the universe where it got made by the BBC, we may be in the one where it gets made for Amazon TV.
Sadly, it appears that while Ridley Scott’s production company is still involved, the script is no longer being written by Howard Brenton. As I wrote four years ago, one worry I have about any adaptation of The Man In The High Castle is that it’s very easy to see it as just a relatively simple what-if story about the Axis winning the Second World War and how the US would be if it was divided between a victorious Germany and Japan. While Dick does create an interesting story about that, as with many of his books, the more interesting part of The Man In The High Castle is its exploration of the nature of reality. It’s a tale of three different worlds: the world where (most of) the book is set, the world Abendsen writes about in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and our world, with the question as to which one is really real and how the I Ching links them all. Stepping back, there’s also Dick’s belief that we are living in a flase reality and ‘the Empire never ended’ – our reality is possibly a hallucination of a Roman-dominated world.
There’s been plenty of interesting new TV that’s willing to take risks in the last few years, and the online services are definitely willing to try something new, so perhaps Amazon will be willing to contemplate getting their viewers to question the nature of reality. One lesson from most previous Dick adaptations is that the complex philosophical discussions of the nature of reality are the first thing to be jettisoned in favour of the high concept, but maybe we’re in a reality where that sort of TV is possible now.
Some very interesting TV news has come out today – it’s been announced that the BBC are to produce an adaptation of The Man In The High Castle, produced by Ridley Scott from a script by Howard Brenton.
While there’s some justifiable excitement about the director of Blade Runner returning to work on a story by Dick – though just as a producer this time – I find the idea of Brenton writing it very interesting. Responsible for some of the best early episodes of Spooks, he’s that vanishing breed, a very political writer working in British TV and should provide a very interesting take on the original work.
The trouble with many adaptations of Dick’s stories and novels is that they take the surface elements and ignore the deeper meanings. It’s somewhat understandable in that those surface elements do tend to have more originality packed into them than the entire annual output of several channels, but as a long-time fan of Dick’s work, it’s sad to see his examinations of the nature of reality and the question of just what it means to be human thrown aside in favour of a few more explosions and a good chase scene. Having a writer like Brenton on board gives me hope that the adaptation will be more than just ‘what if the Nazis and Imperial Japan ruled the US? Wouldn’t that be weird?’ The reason why the novel is so well-regarded is that it works on so many levels, and it’d be a shame for the adaptation to lose any of them.