Tag Archives: Philip K. Dick

BLADE RUNNER (1982) & BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)

When s Blade Runner 2049 was released this Fall, many were surprised that it did not meet box office expectations. Nor did it’s father, s Blade Runner (1982). Having seen the original on its opening weekend, I’m among those who witnessed its initial weak box office evolve into a cult phenomena. ‘s The Thing, released the same year as Blade Runner, also took off slow amidst lukewarm reviews, yet both became examples of visionary science fiction, joining a small cluster of classic films from the last half century that includes Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Alien (1979), E.T. (1982), Videodrome (1983), Back to the Future (1985), The Fly (1986),  A.I. (2001), Minority Report (2002), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Children of Men (2006), and Prometheus (2012) (and of course a few others). Like ‘s aforementioned Close Encounters, competing edits of Scott’s Blade Runner (my advice: go with “The Final Cut”) didn’t hinder its eventual cult status.

Based on ‘s novel “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?,” the iconographic texture of Blade Runner was apparent mere moments into its release, despite the awkwardness of the silly studio-mandated Phillip Marlowe narration (supplied by star Harrison Ford as Deckard) and a happy ending that was woefully unconvincing for a film that practically defined dystopian noir. Thankfully, Scott was able to restore the film and added to it considerable by omitting those executive errors (while excising five minutes).

With his “Final Cut,” Scott cemented Blade Runner as his second (and greatest) of three unquestionable science fiction classics (the first being Alien and third being its belated prequel Prometheus—which of course will provoke futile debate). The cast is uniformly excellent. Despite its initial weak box office performance, Blade Runner made a brief star of antagonist , whose characterization of the replicant Roy is far more haunting and aptly hammy than its source material. The same could be said for Sean Young; she’s magnetic as Rachel, in her chic 2019 shoulder pads and -inspired bob, diaphanously exhaling a smoky-treat. Darryl Hannah as Pris (with lethal thighs), Brion James as Leon, and the eternally underrated Joanna Cassidy as the snake-wielding Zhora make a trio of memorable replicant villains, more poignantly human than most of the humans. Apart from Ford’s Deckard, who—as has been noted and debated endlessly—is possibly a replicant himself, the human exceptions are Joe Turkell as doomed Dr. Tyrell and William Sanderson as the pathos-ridden toymaker Sebastien. Both remain etched in the memory.

Still from Blade Runner (1982)There’s little need to rehash Blade Runner’s plot or dive into the polemics it has inspired (i.e. the significance of the origami unicorn). What we can assuredly agree upon is that it is an innovative production of its time—MTV does German and Continue reading BLADE RUNNER (1982) & BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)

235. A SCANNER DARKLY (2006)

“I think it was probably the strangest script I ever read.”–Robert Downey Jr.

“I was very confused by the script at first, it’s a bizarre kind of story…”–Woody Harrelson

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Rory Cochrane

PLOT: In the near future, an estimated twenty percent of the American population is addicted to a drug called “Substance D.” “Fred,” an undercover agent, is posing as Bob Arctor, hanging out with a small-time group of users, hoping to locate a high level supplier. Fred, who is becoming more and more addicted to substance D and is being watched closely by police psychologists concerned about possible brain damage, grows increasingly paranoid, especially when one of Arctor’s roommates goes to the police and accuses the plant of being a terrorist.

Still from A Scanner Darkly (2006)

BACKGROUND:

  • Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) was a fascinatingly weird figure, a counterculture science fiction author and the man responsible for the stories that were adapted into movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and others. He was also a heavy user of amphetamines (and, some say, LSD) in his youth; in his later years he became paranoid, and may in fact have been living with some form of mental illness. In 1974, after taking sodium pentothal for an impacted wisdom tooth, Dick began seeing visions involving pink beams of light, the sense of having lived a previous life as a persecuted Christian in the Roman era, and communication from a super-rational intelligence he dubbed “VALIS.” To Dick’s credit, he never surrendered to these delusions altogether; he remained rational enough to write coherent (if paranoid) novels.
  • Dick’s novel “A Scanner Darkly” was written in 1977 and set in 1992. It was based on the author’s own experiences as a drug addict, and was dedicated to casualties of drug abuse (the author’s roll call of those “punished entirely too much for what they did” is included before the movie’s end credits).
  • wrote an unproduced adaptation of “A Scanner Darkly,” and  was also reportedly interested in the property.
  • The animation technique used here is rotoscoping, where actual footage is filmed and then “painted” over by animators (in this case, with the aid of computer software, although in the earliest days of the technique a team of artists would hand-paint each individual frame of film).
  • Filmed in a brisk 23 days, but post-production (i.e. the rotoscope animation) took 18 painstaking months to complete.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The “scramble suit,” the undercover cloaking device of the future which is “made up of a million and a half fractional representations of men, women and children.” These “fractional representations” flicker across the surface of the suit, masking the the wearer’s identity by changing him into a “vague blur” of constantly shifting identities. The effect is eerie and disorienting, but unforgettable.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Aphids everywhere; scrambled identities; alien presiding at a suicide

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A Scanner Darkly is a paranoid, dystopian meditation on self-destruction—both personal and social—told as a sci-fi parable about an addictive, mind-rotting hallucinogen. For extra weirdness, the entire movie is rotoscoped to create a squirmy, synthetic reality.


Original trailer for A Scanner Darkly

COMMENTS: Hollywood has long been attracted to the works of Continue reading 235. A SCANNER DARKLY (2006)

CAPSULE: RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH (2010)

DIRECTED BY: John Alan Simon

FEATURING: Jonathan Scarfe, Shea Wigham, Katheryn Winnick, Alanis Morisette, Hanna Hall

PLOT: In an alternate-reality America, a music producer receives psychic dream transmissions from a mysterious entity known as VALIS (“Vast Active Living Intelligence System”), who provides advice for overthrowing the President of the United States, a crypto-Communist dictator.

Still from Radio Free Albemuth (2010)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The paranoid plot is pretty damn peculiar, but the presentation isn’t unhinged enough for weird immortality.

COMMENTS: A tale of pink, pro-rock n’ roll aliens beaming hallucinatory political advice to subversives from a satellite orbiting earth, Radio Free Albemuth is totally baffling if you don’t know the backstory behind it. It may be even stranger if you do. If you want to be confused and astounded by a weird little story (and don’t demand the highest production values), you might skip this review and just take a chance on Albemuth. But if you want context, here it is. Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) was a counterculture science fiction author, the man responsible for the stories that were adapted into movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, and others. He was also a heavy user of amphetamines and LSD in his youth; in his later years he became paranoid, and may in fact have been living with some form of mental illness. In 1974, after taking sodium pentothal for an impacted wisdom tooth, Dick began seeing visions involving pink beams of light, the sense of having lived a previous life as a persecuted Christian in the Roman era, and communication from a super-rational intelligence he dubbed “VALIS.” He described these experiences in a semi-autobiographical novel set in an alternate history timeline titled—you guessed it—“Radio Free Albemuth.” To Dick’s credit, he never surrendered to delusions altogether; he remained rational enough to suspect that the alien epiphanies he experienced may have been hallucinations. The novel, on the other hand, present VALIS’ revelations as gospel. To confuse matters, “Alebmuth” included a science-fiction writer character named Philip K. Dick, but the ecstatic pseudo-religious experiences were attributed to a different protagonist, a music producer who schemes to promulgate VALIS’ revolutionary message through subliminal messages hidden in rock records. Dick’s publishers rejected the novel, and he reworked it into a more palatable story titled “VALIS” (which became the first book in a trilogy). Dick’s original novel, of which this movie is a faithful adaptation, was posthumously published in 1985.

The insane origins of this story may help the uninitiated reader understand why the movie Radio Free Albemuth feels a bit—off. It is, almost literally, the work of a mad genius. This adaptation, made for about three-and-a-half million dollars, has production values comparable to a TV miniseries. The acting is uniformly competent—Shea Wigham’s stoic Dick probably comes off the best, and (ironically) singer-songwriter Morisette isn’t as bad as you might fear. The CGI hallucinations—wormholes, alien cathedrals, angels made of pink electricity—definitely betray their budget, but are acceptable. There is little stylistic zing to the production; the novice director lets Dick’s ideas speak for themselves, in all their delusional grandeur, and what keeps the movie watchable is waiting for the appearance of the crazy, delivered in the voice of one apparently sane. Albemuth is, at the same time, one of those goofy hypotheses that posit a sci-fi explanation for ancient religious ecstatic experiences (a step more sophisticated than UFO cults) as well as an anti-authority allegory (rock n’ roll as carrier of the torch which will incinerate American conformity). It is a weird, though not wholly satisfying, artifact from a unique mind.

None of this will mean much to the hardcore Dick aficionados (I fully realize that some of our less mature readers will titter at the preceding phrase) who are the movie’s target audience. They likely have their minds already made up, and either unconditionally support a faithful adaptation, or believe it’s sacrilege to even try to realize the author’s vision on this meager budget. Casual Dick fans (more titters) may find this either a fascinating introduction to the reality-bending postmodern wormhole of the author’s late works, or an oddity to gape at askance.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…resembles a weird artifact from the early days of science-fiction television… this lifeless adaptation only proves that making entertaining movies out of hard-to-swallow ideas is as challenging as you might think.”–Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)