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Philip K. Dick Book to Film Adaptations

Philip K. Dick book to film adaptations to warp your mind.

By James T. WhitlockPublished 10 years ago 17 min read

Philip K. Dick's work has transformed the way we view science fiction, not only through literature, but through film, as well. He published 44 novels and over 100 short stories, twelve of which have been made into films. Philip K. Dick's influence extends even to present day. The best Philip K. Dick books, such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, are amongst the numerous titles that have been re-released in graphic novel form, made into movies, and inspired television series.

Philip K. Dick (PKD) often broke down the wall between reality and illusion in many of his stories, leaving his audience to figure out what is and is not real. He touched upon deep philosophical issues, as well. What does it mean to be human? What is an identity? Can I trust my own memories? Philip K. Dick's novels have left a monumental impact on the world of science fiction and given Hollywood ample material for years of sci-fi entertainment.

The 2002 Philip K. Dick book to film adaptation Minority Report is based on a short story of the same name. Like other PKD works, Minority Report is a neo-noir science-fiction thriller that presents a world without crime. "Pre-cog" psychics are employed by law enforcement to predict crime before it happens. Precog Captain John Anderton, played by Tom Cruise, is accused of committing a murder in the near future. The film follows the captain as he tries to prevent his seemingly inevitable crime. Whether or not Minority Report is a prescient warning of the future remains to be seen.

The short story "Minority Report" is an exploration of free will versus determinism. If precogs can predict the future then do our actions have any meaning? Although it seems the precogs can only function in a deterministic world, there need to be multiple futures for them to function. Otherwise, when they predict a murder it would inevitably occur, even with police intervention. The precogs predict an unpleasant future which is then prevented by the precrime unit; they can function because alternate realities are possible. However, free will and determinism are always clashing. Even with multiple futures, only one path becomes reality.

Both Philip K. Dick book to film adaptations of Total Recall are loosely based on PKD's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale." The original Total Recall was released in 1990 and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid in the year 2084. The Terran construction worker dreams about Mars every night and feels compelled to visit the Red Planet. He becomes so haunted by his dreams that he enlists the help of a company called "Rekall," where a person can pay a fee to have false memories of a vacation implanted in their brain. But Quaid has a violent reaction to the implant and from there, the life he knew begins to fall apart around him. In this film, Quaid loses all sense of his identity and can no longer trust his reality as he struggles to figure out what happened since his failed memory implant. The original Total Recall was so successful that the movie was remade in 2012 and stars Colin Farrell as Quaid.

PKD's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" has a different conclusion from the movie adaptations but employs the same themes. In many of Dick's works, he questions the divide between memories and reality. It's impossible to know whether memories are representative of reality or fabrications we have created, or perhaps someone else has manufactured them. PKD wants his reader to inspect their memories and ask, "is my own life just a dream?"

Screamers is a 1995 dystopian science-fiction film based on PKD's short story "Second Variety," and is also considered one of the scariest sci-fi movies of the 90s. In the year 2078, the planet Sirius 6B is ravaged by civil war between the Alliance and the New Economic Block (NEB). Alliance scientists create "screamers," autonomous self-replicating machines used in war to hunt down soldiers. When they attack a soldier, the machines emit a high pitched scream, hence the name. The film puts forth the same premises found in Philip K. Dick's novel but the film is considered less pessimistic than Dick's book. Screamers has earned a significant cult following for its grim and realistic depiction of the future.

Through "Second Variety," Philip K. Dick illustrates a world ravaged by nuclear war. He investigates themes such as conflicts within society, machines that rebel against their creators, and the distinction between reality and illusion. In the book the machines replicate themselves without any human oversight, and near the end of the book the machines are manufacturing themselves for the sole purpose of killing other machines. The machines operate in a world where humans are no longer needed to conduct war. Perhaps PKD was predicting the rebellion of future machines in our own world.

The Adjustment Bureau is a 2011 Philip K. Dick book to film adaptation loosely based on the short story, "Adjustment Team." In the film, Congressman David Norris, played by Matt Damon, meets Elise Sellas, played by Emily Blunt, and falls in love with her. However, their love is a mistake and alters the course of the predetermined reality set forth by the Adjustment Bureau. Throughout the film, Norris and Sellas try to escape their fate by fleeing from the bureau but at every turn the men in black are waiting for them.

Philip K. Dick spent his life questioning whether he was just an actor on a stage or free to make his own choices. His short story "The Adjustment Team" creates a world where even mundane existence is directed by manipulators operating behind the scenes. What if free will was just an illusion and every event in your life was dictated by a puppeteer pulling your strings? Would it matter? Philip K. Dick regularly struggled with existential concerns of autonomy and freedom which are explored in works such as "The Adjustment Team."

Radio Free Albemuth is a 2010 Philip K. Dick book to film adaptation of Dick's posthumously published novel of the same name. In the film, Berkeley record store clerk Nick Brady, played by Jonathan Scarfe, begins having visions from an extraterrestrial entity he can only call VALIS. With the help of his best friend, who happens to be Philip K. Dick played by Shea Whigham, and a strange woman named Silvia, played by Alanis Morissette, Nick discovers that uncovering the mystery of VALIS has lead him into the center of a political conspiracy that extends beyond the realm of the cosmos.

Radio Free Albemuth is the first part of the VALIS trilogy of novels, which were Dick's attempt to rationalize a series of strange visions he experienced in 1974. Dick began hallucinating following the removal of a wisdom tooth. At one point, he was convinced that he was living two lives at the same time, one as himself and the other as a persecuted Christian in the 1st century AD. It is through this train of thought that Philip K. Dick's VALIS analyzes religious destiny. He believed he was receiving communications from "the transcendentally rational mind" which he called "VALIS." Radio Free Albemuth is a semi-autobiographical novel, as is every other book in the VALIS trilogy, which was a way for PKD to examine his hallucinations.

A lesser-known Philip K. Dick book to film adaptation, Confessions D'un Barjo is a 1992 French film adaptation of Dick's novel Confessions of a Crap Artist. The French film stars the eccentric Barjo, played by Hippolyte Giardot, whose naive personality causes him to burn down his house. He is forced to move in with his twin sister but that does not stop Barjo from keeping up with his habits: inventing bizarre apparatuses, collecting science magazines, and noting observations about humans around him in his notebook. The movie follows Barjos' descent into madness. "Barjo" translates into "nutjob" or "nut."

Dick only wrote a dozen non-science fiction novels and Confessions of a Crap Artist is the only one published during his life. The book contains minor elements of science fiction and mysticism. As with many of PKD's stories, the main character is portrayed as mentally ill and many characters around him request he seek psychiatric help. Although the main character is viewed as mentally ill by those around him, he is the most productive character. The protagonist is surrounded by destructive characters who attack each other emotionally and refuse to leave each other because of social taboos. The novel is considered an accurate portrayal of what it was like to live in California during the 1950s.

A Scanner Darkly is an animated thriller based on Dick's book of the same name. In a near-future dystopia, a drug epidemic has pervaded the country. The war on drugs is lost thanks to Substance D, a hallucinogen which distorts reality and one of the most interesting fictional sci-fi movie drugs. To combat the drug, law enforcement creates a network of undercover agents to arrest users. Keanu Reeves plays detective Bob Arctor who's charged with infiltrating the drug underworld but soon loses himself to Substance D's addiction. The more he uses, the more reality around him crumbles. By the end of the film, the audience struggles to distinguish where reality begins and Arctor's mind ends.

Philip K. Dick's novel, A Scanner Darkly, is a semi-autobiographical account of 1970s drug culture in Orange County, California. Dick regularly filled his house with people from the streets, similar to the house Bob Arctor occupies in the story, and was surrounded by drugs. At one point in his life, Dick became dependent on amphetamines and ceased writing completely. In the afterword of the novel, PKD dedicates the book to all of those he knew involved in drug culture. According to Dick, the novel is about "some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did."

The 2003 sci-fi thriller film, Paycheck, is a Philip K. Dick book to film adaptation based on the short story of the same name. Michael Jennings, played by Ben Affleck, is a reverse engineer hired to recreate technology developed by competitor companies. To ensure he protects his clients' intellectual property rights, and himself, Jennings undergoes a memory wipe but, upon awakening, he is placed under arrest for the murder of a physicist. He escapes custody and discovers that mundane objects in an envelope can be used to evade detection. Jennings discovers that he worked on a machine that can predicts the future before his memory wipe and the company plans to use it to become successful but such events will lead to the apocalypse. Hence, the mundane objects. Jennings prepared himself before the memory wipe. By using the objects in the envelope he can prevent the company from destroying the world.

In the short story "Paycheck," Dick questions the value of everyday objects. One day a key may be worth one dollar but what happens on the day that key means the difference between life and death? If someone knows the future and how mundane objects might be used for personal gain he may choose a bus ticket over one hundred dollars. By knowing the future the value he assigns to objects shifts.

Next is a 2007 Philip K. Dick book to film adaptation loosely based on the short story "The Golden Man." Cris Johnson, played by Nicolas Cage, has the precog ability to see into the future but he can only see two minutes into the future. His abilities come to the attention of the FBI who want to use them to stop a terrorist attack. Throughout the film, Cris is pursued by terrorists while doubting whether or not his abilities can actually help the FBI considering their limitations. As much as he tries to escape the crises he's continuously drawn back by his prescient powers and those around him.

Dick's inspiration for the story "The Golden Man" revolved around his skepticism of a mutant class. He viewed humans with extraordinary gifts as a danger to people, fearing how they would view "ordinary" people. Perhaps super evolved people wouldn't want to lead mankind and instead destroy it? If a man such as Cris Johnson in Next can see into the future, doesn't he change the future every time he looks?

Blade Runner is the most influential Philip K. Dick book to film adaptation. The neo-noir dystopian film is based on Dick's book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and loosely follows the plot of the story. In the post-apocalyptic world, androids are manufactured to perform dangerous and menial tasks on the colony of Mars. Some try to escape their fate by fleeing to Earth. Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter charged with decommissioning Androids hiding out in the city of Los Angeles. The film was monumental at the time of its release because of its revolutionary special effects and foreboding atmosphere.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is Philip K. Dick's investigation into what it means to be human. The protagonist, Rick Deckard, hunts androids by administering an empathy test because they are incapable of expressing feelings for others. Throughout the book, Deckard struggles to determine whether he's taking a "life" or decommissioning a lifeless imitation. Is an electric sheep just as valuable as a living sheep? The meanings of humanity, morality, and empathy are all brought into question throughout the novel. At the end of the book, we're left with more questions than answers.

10 Philip K. Dick Books that Should be Turned into Film

With so many great works, fans of Phillip K. Dick need not worry about the future of film adaptions. Beyond his novels, there is a wealth of short stories and treatments throughout the media industry that at all times are being considered for feature films. Here are some of the works we wish would become Philip K. Dick book to film adaptations.

The basic idea of this story is fiendishly clever — it's a world run by quasi-Buddhists, who have developed a technology that actually allows you to see your next reincarnation. This gives you a chance to improve your karma before you die, so you can avoid being reincarnated as something foul. But the main character, Sung-wu, realizes he's doomed to be reborn as a fly because of a youthful indiscretion. He's doomed to die of a plague before he has a chance to cleanse his karma — unless he allows some outlaws to smuggle in some illegal drugs that could save his life. Should he accept his fate, or break the rules of his society (thus worsening his karma even more) to get the drugs that could give him decades more to improve his next incarnation?

It's the sort of dilemma most science fiction never even considers — and it might make for a weird, compelling film, along the lines of Scanner Darkly.

It takes place in a future world in which the mankind has sided with extra-terrestrial race, the Starmen, against another group of aliens, the Reegs. The protagonist is Eric Sweetscent, the personal doctor of the head of a major corporation who takes a hallucinogenic drug that can transport the user through time. The drug-taker ends up in alternate timeline versions of his own world's past or future, where his experiences provide valuable information as to which side the Earth should continue to take in his reality's war. The Earth is trapped in the crossfire of an unwinnable war between two alien civilizations. Its leader is perpetually on the verge of death. And on top of it all, a new drug has just entered circulation—a drug that haphazardly sends its users traveling through time.

Dr. Eric Sweetscent has questions: is the Earth on the right side of the war? Is he supposed to heal the Earth’s leader or keep him sick? And can he change the harrowing future that the drug has shown him?

A great psychological thriller and science fiction film can be made from this novel. While the future and space-travel are important elements, the focus is on the emotional traumas of the main characters: Eric and Kathy in an unhappy marriage and Gino Milonari with his incomprehensible political strategies.

In this story, the protagonist Victor Kemmings regains consciousness during a failed attempt at cryosleep on the board of a spaceship. The ship's artificial intelligence cannot repair the malfunction and cannot wake him, so Kemmings is doomed to remain conscious but paralyzed through the ship's entire ten-year-long journey. To maintain his sanity, the AI replays Kemmings' memories to him. But when this goes awry, the ship's AI asks Kemmings what he wants most, the answer being Kemming wants the trip to be over and to arrive at his new home. The AI constructs such a scenario for Kemming and plays it to him over and over for the next ten years. When the ship finally arrives at its destination, Kemming cannot accept the reality and believes his arrival to be yet another construction.

Like most of Philip K. Dick's work, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon involves a questioning of what it is to be human and of what the reality is, which would make it a thrilling Philip K. Dick book to film adaptation. The story also has a theme of guilt, as the memories of the passenger are spoiled by the guilt he retains about his past actions.

On an arid Mars, local bigwigs compete with Earth-bound interlopers to buy up land before the UN develops it and its value skyrockets. Martian Union leader Arnie Kott has an ace up his sleeve, though: an autistic boy named Manfred who seems to have the ability to see the future. In the hopes of gaining an advantage on a Martian real estate deal, powerful people force Manfred to send them into the future, where they can learn about development plans. But is Manfred sending them to the real future or one colored by his own dark and paranoid filter? As the time travelers are drawn into Manfred’s dark worldview in both the future and present, the cost of doing business may drive them all insane.

It would be interesting to see in a film this intricate story that is told in this novel: each character comes into contact with the others in a variety of different ways, in different contexts. Also, to contemplate themes like income inequality, depression, questions of the value of education, and disassociation from reality.

Time Out of Joint is Philip K. Dick’s classic depiction of the disorienting disparity between the world as we think it is and the world as it actually is. The year is 1998, although Ragle Gumm doesn’t know that. He thinks it’s 1959. He also thinks that he served in the World War II, that he lives in a quiet little community, and that he really is the world’s long-standing champion of newspaper puzzle contests. It is only after a series of troubling hallucinations that he begins to suspect otherwise. And once he pursues his suspicions, he begins to see how he is the center of a universe gone terribly awry.

Which actor would you like to see in the role of the protagonist who is an arrogant, stubborn, down-on-his-luck proletariat with a persecution complex, someone with a bruised ego who nonetheless in a sort of Ayn Rand way knows he is right, and ultimately the center of the universe? Yes, Robert De Niro is one of my favorites for the lead in this potential Philip K. Dick book to film adaptation, too.

While sightseeing at the Belmont Bevatron, Jack Hamilton, along with seven others, is caught in a lab accident. When he regains consciousness, he is in a fantasy world of Old Testament morality gone awry—a place of instant plagues, immediate damnations, and death to all perceived infidels. Hamilton figures out how he and his compatriots can escape this world and return to their own, but first they must pass through three other vividly fantastical worlds, each more perilous and hilarious than the one before.

With breathtaking insight, Philip K. Dick utilizes vividly unfamiliar worlds to evoke the hauntingly and hilariously familiar in our society and ourselves. It's perhaps the purest distillation of the "creating your own reality" trope, and a story that would be easy to update for today's audiences.

This novel represents Philip K. Dick’s best use of eclectic characterization. The work focuses on a community of people struggling to survive after a nuclear war. Set in Berkeley and northern California, the group of characters maintain a semblance of community. Though references to off stage barbarism color the action, the writer provides his readers with a lesson in hope for humanity and, more than just survival, an idea that man as a social and communal animal may even learn to thrive.

Audience would be attracted by several concepts they may identify to. The brutality of humans in a post-apocalyptic future is the main concept of the story. Also the idea that some people don't really start living their dreams until their whole world is destroyed. Another concept is that some people live unhappy existences simply because they want to keep up social appearances. It also explores the idea about human societies and how they came to be formed.

In the overcrowded world and cramped space colonies of the late 21st century, tedium can be endured through the drug Can-D, which enables users to inhabit a shared illusory world. When industrialist Palmer Eldritch returns from an interstellar trip, he brings with him a new drug, Chew-Z. It is far more potent than Can-D, but threatens to plunge the world into a permanent state of drugged illusion controlled by the mysterious Eldritch.

The surface story itself, if it were made into a movie, could be cast and produced in a similar fashion as the Bruce Willis film The Fifth Element – it’s over the top, bizarre, absurd, and yet all fits together. Philip K. Dick’s underlying commentaries on religion and the drug culture are both erudite and socially informed. The author also applies a generous portion of irony and outrageous circumstance to an already volatile mix, like evolution of humans into a neo-bug-like thing. The film would leave you with spirally eyes and a whirring brain.

Jason Tavener woke up one morning to find himself completely unknown. The night before he had been the top-rated television star with millions of devoted watchers. The next day he was just an unidentified walking object, whose face nobody recognized, of whom no one had heard, and without the ID papers required in that near future.

When he finally found a man who would agree to counterfeiting such cards for him, that man turned out to be a police informer. And then Taverner found out not only what it was like to be a nobody but also to be hunted by the whole apparatus of society. It was obvious that in some way Taverner had become the pea in some sort of cosmic shell game - but how? And why? Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said touches upon many of Philip K. Dick's recurring themes - artificially enhanced humans, the malleability of personal identity, the fluidity of reality, and the suppressive state control. Those are a great basis for a paranoid thriller.

The novel takes place in the "North American Confederation" of 1992, where civilians regularly travel to the Moon, and psi phenomena are common. The novel's protagonist, Joe Chip, is a debt-ridden technician for Glen Runciter's "prudence organization," which employs people with the ability to block psychic powers (like an anti-telepath, preventing a telepath from reading a mind) to help enforce privacy. Runciter runs the company with the assistance of his deceased wife Ella, who is kept in a state of "half-life," a form of cryonic suspension that gives the deceased limited consciousness and the ability to communicate.

The novel, which involves corporate intrigue, shifts in reality, time travel, and telepathy, has kept filmmakers at bay, though it hasn’t been for lack of trying. "On his face, a feral, hateful expression formed, giving him the expression of a psychotic squirrel." We are excited to see who will play that expression!

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About the Creator

James T. Whitlock

Science fiction enthusiast ever since he first saw 'Star Trek.' Enjoys writing about all things sci-fi related and is studying Web Design at Rutgers University.

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