Sci-fi master’s dark world ex­plored

A new se­ries brings to the screen sto­ries from the writer of Blade Run­ner, Mi­nor­ity Re­port and The Man In The High Cas­tle, writes Michael Idato.

Waikato Times - - Entertainment - ❚ Philip K. Dick’s Elec­tric Dreams be­gins stream­ing on Light­box from Oc­to­ber 18.

As a sci­ence fic­tion an­thol­ogy se­ries, shot on two con­ti­nents, with dif­fer­ent writ­ers, direc­tors and ac­tors each week, Elec­tric Dreams might sound like a tough pitch for tele­vi­sion were it not based on the works of one of the genre’s great mas­ters, Philip K Dick.

His name may not be recog­nis­able, but some of his sto­ries – he wrote around 120 dur­ing his pro­lific ca­reer – have al­ready been adapted for the big and small screen, with no­table ti­tles such as Blade Run­ner, To­tal Re­call, Mi­nor­ity Re­port, A Scan­ner Darkly and The Man In The High Cas­tle. For a guy the av­er­age cin­ema­goer prob­a­bly hasn’t heard of, Philip K Dick isn’t do­ing too badly in the box-of­fice stakes.

‘‘It’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion why so much of his ma­te­rial has been suc­cess­fully adapted into sort of iconic pieces of cin­ema,’’ Elec­tric Dreams pro­ducer Michael Din­ner says. ‘‘There is an ex­ter­nal qual­ity to a lot of his writ­ing, it al­ways kind of plays a lit­tle bit like a movie in your head, at least I find as I read it.’’

Un­like some writ­ers who in­ter­nalise the nar­ra­tive in the mind of the pro­tag­o­nist, Din­ner says, Dick has a style which nat­u­rally lends it­self to vis­ual ex­pres­sion.

‘‘Some writ­ers are inside of a char­ac­ter’s mind, and it’s very much about their emo­tions and their in­ter­nal psy­chol­ogy. Dick is more ex­ter­nal, how the world is im­pact­ing the char­ac­ter and how the char­ac­ter re­acts to that.’’

Devel­op­ment on the new se­ries – fully ti­tled Philip K. Dick’s

Elec­tric Dreams – be­gan al­most six years ago, when Dick’s es­tate, Elec­tric Shep­herd, ap­proached Din­ner with a view to de­vel­op­ing a pro­ject. ‘‘They said, ‘why don’t you read the sto­ries and pick one’ and I called them up and said, ‘how about all of them?’’’ Din­ner says.

As a child, Din­ner says, he had a par­tic­u­lar fas­ci­na­tion with the sci­ence fic­tion and hor­ror-lite an­thol­ogy se­ries The Twi­light

Zone. ‘‘Even though my par­ents didn’t en­cour­age me to do so, I’d sneak around and watch it. I thought, it would be great to do this great an­thol­ogy from one of the great Amer­i­can genre writ­ers.’’

From there Din­ner con­nected with Ron Moore, as both had a re­la­tion­ship with the Sony stu­dio, where Moore was pro­duc­ing Out­lander. A genre veteran, Moore’s most no­table sci­ence fic­tion cred­its are two of the many it­er­a­tions of Star Trek, The Next Gen­er­a­tion and Deep Space Nine.

Dick’s re­cur­ring themes are dystopian fu­tures, fragility of iden­tity (or worse, false iden­tity crafted by third par­ties) and al­ter­nate uni­verses – but Moore is cau­tious about us­ing those themes as a win­dow into Dick’s mind.

‘‘That’s very hard. He was a very com­plex, very com­pli­cated man and I don’t even know that his writ­ing re­ally il­lu­mi­nates him com­pletely,’’ Moore says. ‘‘He’s left an enor­mous legacy in terms of his out­put but I couldn’t be­gin to tell you very much about who the man was, just based on his ma­te­rial.’’

Dick did have a ‘‘re­mark­able cre­ative in­stinct,’’ Moore says. ‘‘A lot of it was deal­ing with his own demons and his own sub­con­scious and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in var­i­ous ways and screwed up things in his own life. He ex­pressed it through his work, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of work that then leads to an easy def­i­ni­tion of the man.’’

Din­ner adds that Dick’s ob­ses­sions were univer­sal: ‘‘Who are we? Where are we going? How did we get here? What does it mean to be a hu­man be­ing? What does it mean to be an in­di­vid­ual faced with the bulls... you’re faced with in the mod­ern world? What’s the na­ture of re­al­ity? And that’s all fil­tered through his point of view,’’ he says.

The big­gest chal­lenge of the se­ries is that, as each episode restarts with a new set­ting, char­ac­ters and nar­ra­tive, each of the 10 episodes ef­fec­tively be­comes a 60-minute movie. And they come with a stun­ning pedi­gree of cast, in­clud­ing Bryan Cranston (who also co-pro­duces), Anna Paquin, Ter­rence Howard, Steve Buscemi and Greg Kin­n­ear.

‘‘Some take place to­day, some 30 years into the fu­ture and one takes place 1000 years in the fu­ture on a space­ship,’’ Din­ner says. ‘‘It pre­sented a lot of chal­lenges be­cause we’re start­ing from scratch with ev­ery one. That’s also part of the fun of it.’’

The se­ries was also filmed on two con­ti­nents, in Bri­tain and the US. ‘‘We made it com­pli­cated [that way] and I don’t know that we’d ever do that again,’’ Din­ner says. ‘‘Two film cul­tures, dif­fer­ent points of view, tak­ing this ma­te­rial, fil­ter­ing it through dif­fer­ent direc­tors’ and writ­ers’ eyes. It’s all been both dif­fi­cult and re­ally, re­ally great.’’

Dick’s works are in some ways an­ti­thetic to the more op­ti­mistic world of Gene Rod­den­berry’s Star Trek, where Moore worked for many years, though even Star Trek dab­bles with dark­ness, no­tably in its ‘‘mir­ror uni­verse’’ sto­ries and in Deep Space Nine‘ s Fed­er­a­tion-at-war nar­ra­tive. The au­di­ence’s ap­petite for light and dark is to some ex­tent in­formed by their sense of the world in which they live, and Moore be­lieves it is our nat­u­ral in­stinct to look to a place con­tra­dic­tory to our own. ‘‘I think that wher­ever you are, your fan­tasies, and your en­ter­tain­ment tends to be about where you’re not,’’ Moore says.

The original Star Trek se­ries, he notes, was born in the mid1960s, a time of so­cial con­flict.

‘‘The Viet­nam War is at its height, the civil rights move­ment is on the march and so­ci­ety is tear­ing it­self apart in a lot of ways,’’ Moore says. ‘‘What Rod­den­berry did was say, ‘you know what, it’s all going to be OK, we’re going to sur­vive, we’re going to con­quer war and poverty. The fu­ture is bright’.’’

In the 1980s, in stark con­trast, dur­ing the US Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion, when the coun­try was in a more op­ti­mistic mood, Moore says, the au­di­ence’s ap­petite turned to movies like Rambo and Blade Run­ner. ‘‘[At such times] we sort of have the lux­ury of think­ing those darker thoughts,’’ he says.

And 2017? ‘‘I don’t know where the hell we are,’’ Moore says.

‘‘I’m not sure if this is a good time, [or] a bad time,’’ he adds. ‘‘It’s a deeply con­fus­ing time, so I don’t know what we’re look­ing for in en­ter­tain­ment.‘‘

Two jaded space tourism em­ploy­ees take up an el­derly woman’s re­quest for a trip back to Earth in The Im­pos­si­ble Planet, in the Philip K Dick’s Elec­tric Dreams se­ries.

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