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Spoiler Alert, seriously. You should make the effort to read Ubik if you haven’t already, and then come back and skim this, the usual stuff. It’s actually a pretty quick read, and this is coming from somebody who rarely meanders onto the printed page. It must have taken me three months to read Childhood’s End, but Ubik was only a matter of three days.

Ubik is the most maddening, perplexing, fascinating, and mind-blowing novel I’ve yet to read. It feels, essentially, like a funny PKD short story like “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” but blown up to 200 pages. That’s not a bad thing, but it does present one crucial problem. There’s a punchline to the novel, and it feels like a giant joke, in some way, that Philip K. Dick is dictating to us with his usual wit and entertaining prose. That’s fine, except that I didn’t feel nearly as much sympathy for the hero of the aforementioned short story as I did with Joe Chip or Glen Runciter – or even Pat Conley, who’s involvement in the narrative took me the most. When the characters are victims of some massive farce by the end of a phildickian short story, it’s the story itself that sticks with us; the characters are just vessels by which the story’s punchline gets through. In the longform medium, the paradigm shifts, and the length and complexity of the journey undertaken by the characters engages us on a higher level with those characters.

And yet, Ubik ends with the short story kick, which, by the time I reached the About the Author section and gazed upon it with wild eyes, caused me to emit a sound not unlike a groan, but more like a yelp. I was shocked, but this feeling was both amplified and frustrated by emotions gathered in the immediately preceeding chapter: disgust, mostly. When Jory was revealed I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to reveal how hero Joe Chip would resolve this larger-than-life conflict in the last twenty or so pages, meanwhile ticking away in my mind about how the scenario depicted is like The Matrix (or Inception, if you’d rather) but so much more fucked up, unbelievably so.

In the novel’s final moments, I was constantly reminded of how close to death Joe Chip was, how horrible this death would be, how irreversibly screwed he was, and how no matter what satirical 1992 future he lived in where life and death operate on a strange new level – he could never escape it. My mind was churning with these dark, intense thoughts, and after I put the book down one last time I experienced something very rare.

Usually in science-fiction I really fall in love with, I find myself thinking about the themes and ideas explored long after the title has expired, and usually I relate them here on this website. After Ubik, I was literally thoughtless. My mind was actually blown, taken up to a height unprecedented by an author with golden wings and dropped at the turn of the final page onto hard pavement. The disturbing nature of half-life and of Jory shook me, carrying me with jolting unease through the rest of the novel, where my mental discomfort paralleled hero Joe Chip’s frantic and shattering struggle to regain control of his body – inside his mind.

Based on what Wikipedia has to offer, and the scrawling I’ve found on the inside covers as penned by the book’s previous owner, the eponymous Ubik has been interpreted as God, something that heals us and is everywhere. The argument is that Ubik restores our faith in ourselves, makes Joe Chip believe that he can win the unwinnable fight against Jory. But in the end, he cannot. Eventually things run out – everything ends, and in the Ubik universe, things seem to end with Jory. So is Dick in this way criticizing God and our faith in him? The ending makes me think so, which essentially says that we can’t be sure of anything, not even God or his healing powers, but death is a constant for everyone, no matter how far we get into the future.

I don’t know. Philip K. Dick would go on to write more blatantly theological novels, yet Ubik isn’t considered one of them. It is however, very phildickian, and one clear tell is the inclusion of the dark-haired girl. This time it’s a character named Pat Conley, who indeed is malevolent and a force of destruction. For me, she’s also a force of more discomfort – I really didn’t take to the idea that she was eaten by Jory, that just didn’t sit well with me. Otherwise she was an interesting character among a cast of interesting characters, and I can’t help but wonder how Philip K. Dick manages to balance so many well-rounded elements in one novel, considering how fast he put these and the short stories out.

There’s a lot to be said about Ubik, but I don’t have the capacity to say it. I’ll leave this one up to you, dear reader, because I think what we have here is something of a personal journey to be undertaken, and I can only point you in the Dickiest direction.

And how could you not? As much as I know I’ll enjoy the film when it hits theatres in October, I know it won’t last long or be well-recieved or good. It’s just not a movie that needed to be made, but I look forward to it anyway as a fan of the John Carpenter original, a fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and a guy who saw and enjoyed somwhat the Howard Hawks original original. The Who Goes There? story template is great, and even without that key casting I’d still look forward to it, even if it is seemingly just another in the line of horror remakes following the Wes Craven reboots of recent times and Friday the 13th and all that.

Horror is such a shitty genre nowadays that remakes don’t faze me. If original material turns out to be garbage like The Strangers, then I welcome familiar faces and ideas. I’ve come to peace with the fact that The Mist is the product of a brilliant filmmaker who probably won’t continue to dabble in horror (unless it’s Stephen King), and that M. Night Shyamalan is making some terrible, terrible choices years after his incredible Signs. Maybe it’s just fine by me because horror isn’t one of the genres I look for. I like horror/comedy, but I haven’t seen too many of those I’ve disliked. From Return of the Living Dead to Slither, the horror/comedy has been good throughout the ages, but I didn’t even like a horror classic like The Exorcist so how am I supposed to like its inevitable remake?

It’s a difficult genre, and I guess that’s why these filmmakers do it. Nothing is sacred, as people are bound to say, but I really don’t care about that. They’re not actively working to ‘ruin’ the original film, and the constant theory against the naysayers is that maybe attention will be brought to the old one with the release of the new one. Who knows? And that’s right – on some level John Carpenter’s The Thing was a remake, and it’s a classic, as is The Fly remake. Who’s to say that this new one won’t be? Aside from history and the formula it seems to be following…

In fact there are other things that concern me about this new movie. A long time ago I got into some farcical argument with a ’30 year old woman’ on, and it was on the video for The Thing 1982 trailer. Maybe you can still find it, I don’t know – I’m HeroOfCanton99, like Jayne and 1999 combined, the year I wanted people to think I was born in. Basically this lady’s stance was that she was uncomfortable with a girl being cast in the movie, because some seriously horrific things tend to happen to people in The Thing. I said “Damn it, I’m agreeing with you, you freaking moron,” but she didn’t really realize and continued to argue out loud to herself. It was surreal. Wonder what’ll happen when she finds out about the women in Gears of War “Curb Stomp Downed Enemies” 3?

I don’t feel entirely comfortable with it because I’m aware of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s history – three horror flicks, one where she gets killed, probably gruesomely. She’s assumedly not afraid of it, but I am. I don’t want to see that. I wouldn’t want to see it if it was anybody else, not just Mary Elizabeth Winstead, though that certainly doesn’t help. In The Thing, it’s not the character deaths that are actually gruesome: people die when they burn by flamethrowers. The terror comes out of the creature’s mutations, where faces split open and heads tear off slowly and painstakingly while tongues lash around and it’s the most horrible thing you’ve ever seen done to a human body. So awesome. God just typing that makes me want to watch the movie again. Really ingenious horror, and really cool sci-fi – the perfect blend captured here in this totally underrated flick.

If Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s head falls off and turns into a spider I might just vomit, but I’ve made a speculation as to what happens in this new movie:

The Swedish guy at the beginning of The Thing was a guy, not a girl. That means that she either dies in the helicopter explosion, dies earlier, or escapes to the mainland. I think that she’ll escape and leave the male hero to chase the dog and magically become non-foreign. Maybe that’ll pave the way for sequels… which is an odd thought. Hm, if they made a Thing remake trilogy, that would mark one of the strangest movie series ever.

That’s only a guess. Chances are she gets killed by a massive Thing monster, because I hear that we’ll see different forms of the creature, which is a good change of pace. Maybe one form will be Frankenstein’s monster, like the 1951 movie. HRRRNGGG

Another issue I have is an idea resulting from a filmmaker’s passion for the original movie. When McG, a big fan of the Terminator movies, made a Terminator movie, he had a lot of visual call-outs to the earlier films, particularly the first. I didn’t mind; I thought it was cool because I share his sentiment that those two movies are totally sweet. But if the director of The Thing (I’m not going to try to spell his name) also does this visual homage deal and has similar things happen, for some reason I don’t see it as working, perhaps because of the proximity to this story to the 1982 one.

In other words, won’t it be silly if the crew of the 2011 had a blood test scene if only days later a different crew did? Eh it’s a nerdy complaint, but that’s why it’s an issue and not a problem, I guess. Also, will this movie take place in 1982? Or will it be like Casino Royale (2006) and take place in the future of the 60’s Bond films, despite its chronology as first in the series?

So that’s it. If Avatar and Machete were the most anticipated movies of years previous, well, that’s not a good track record, so The Thing better work out because I definitely look forward to it more than… Captain America? If they do things similar to the 1982 movie I don’t see much margin for error, but that’s probably what was said about The Phantom Menace. Well, that’s definitely what was said.

Like Ridley Scott, Mamoru Oshii is an unsung hero of science-fiction in film. He became a name among nerds in America in 1995 with the global release of Ghost in the Shell, a film that touted itself as the next Akira, as I suppose every anime movie does or should. It was based on a manga by Masamune Shirow, but having read quite a bit of the source material myself (ten pages?), I can tell you that the movie is definitively a product of Oshii.

We can also see this as true because another Shirow flick, Appleseed, is child’s fare intellectually compared to Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. The man has a style, he has obnoxious signatures, but above all, he’s willing to use the medium of film to do what so few other science-fiction filmmakers dare to do – explore. Whether it’s ideas of personal or metaphysical philosophy or new and profound imagery, Oshii always has something fascinating to say, and an equally fascinating way to say it.

I think I’ll paraphrase a quote used to compliment The Fountain – something like it’s a film that’s as deeply felt as it is imagined. That’s a beautiful criticism, and for a cerebral, thoughtful science-fiction film, I can think of no higher accolade. Such an accolade can easily be applied to movies like Ghost in the Shell, Innocence, Avalon, Patlabor 2 (though I really didn’t like that one), and even Jin-Roh, though he didn’t direct that one (it’ll still be covered here). Sure, his movies lack the emotional depth of The Fountain, but they make up for it in science-fiction themes generally unique to the director.

His visuals are matched by their ideas, and in this was he’s a director who fills out what I believe to be the height of science-fiction film. If the greatest, most important sci-fi flick is Blade Runner, this is because it makes us think, maybe it scares us into thinking but I like to think it moves us to do it as well, and dazzles us with visuals that spark our imaginations.

That is what I ask of sci-fi filmmakers to do, because I personally find that to be the best, most engaging experience I can have watching a movie. The images and thoughts of Oshii linger in my head long after the Major’s joined the Sea of Information, long after Ash has joined the Sea of Information, long after Batou has… walked off with a dog.

I also got some of his older stuff in the mail, two of which I haven’t even seen. Hopefully they’re good, because that’s what we’re starting with…

Before we get into the pieces of Blade Runner I’ve found myself interested in, let’s go over the two men at the heart and soul of the film, Ridley Scott and Philip K. Dick. Consider this, in addition, a prelude to another Dreck Fiction series, which I may or may not simply call: DICK.

Ridley Scott

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never been a fan of Ridley Scott. Body of Lies, Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down – these movies range from mediocre to terrible, and I haven’t seen a movie of his after Gladiator that I’ve liked. At the same time, he’s got this holy trinity of films that I absolutely love: Alien, Gladiator, and of course, Blade Runner. He struck gold with these, and each of them are deep in visual, literary, and filmic ways.


Ridley Scott’s tale of Rome and its power players is both an epic and a personal story; it’s very much about one man set against a massive backdrop, and the scale of the film is handled well within the narrative’s solid structure, which effects quick pacing and consistent storytelling. It’s classic revenge saga, and it’s very old fashioned. There is positively no gray in this movie – Maximus is the flawless hero, and Commodus is the gross villain. We want to see one kill the other really badly.

The character’s journey is incredible, and Maximus’ reveal to the Emperor is one of the great cinematic moments in history. The movie isn’t even entirely stupid, which one might gather as it’s called Gladiator, and seemingly is all about gladiators fighting. It’s a movie about politics and society and power, but through it all it’s about heroism and fighting for what’s right. It’s a movie that gets you amped up, and if I had only one complaint, it’s one that developed over the years – it’s not nearly as violent as I remembered. I guess I’ve come to be a gorehound, unfortunately.


The most famous science-fiction horror film of all time, Alien leads the charge with The Fly, The Thing, and The Mist in that very, very small genre. I enjoyed Alien when I saw it many years ago, but oddly enough, I’ve only ever seen it that once. It’s bizarre to me because it’s place in science-fiction canon is known to all in the Kingdom of Nerds, but I always opt to rewatch Aliens.

Much has been said of the set pieces – the facehugger attack, the spacejockey, the chestburster, the final showdown – these are all memorable, and I saw them a dozen times before and a dozen times after viewing the movie in full. There’s not much I can add. I can say that I’m entirely too thankful for the story brought about by O’Bannon and Hill, which was a universe big enough to carry on in three more great movies, and small enough to stay mysterious, scary, and compelling.

Philip K. Dick

My exploration into the world of Philip K. Dick has been greatly augmented by Internet research: online various essays and speeches of his can be found, and very cheaply his titles can be purchased through Amazon. In addition to that is commentary spanning all mediums, including The Greatest Movie Ever Podcast, which occasionally touches upon the many film adaptations of Dick’s novels and short stories, all of which released after his death in 1982.

Philip K. Dick is one of the most interesting characters in science-fiction, as his writing is thoughtful and profound, dark and hilarious. Moments in A Scanner Darkly made me laugh out loud, and they were paired with moments that made me extremely bummed out – in a good way. I have so much to experience that’s written by Dick, I’m sure my realtive virgin status is envied by many of his fans. He definitely strikes me as one of those authors whose books necessitate multiple readthroughs, but the first will always be the most powerful journey.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

When I think cyberpunk, a few key titles come to my mind: Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, Blade Runner, Neuromancer, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. These titles established their own worlds, populated these worlds with characters, and explored ideas characteristic of cyberpunk. I see metal men, man/machine interfaces, AI, detectives, assholes, femme fatales, metropolises, future weapons, hackers – it’s all good stuff.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? stands out for me because it’s such a depressed novel. It builds a haze of depression that translates well into the smog that’s killed all the animals and is seen in Blade Runner. Cyberpunk works since have all had sad worlds, but there’s something about this particular world that really works on a deeper literary level. It is out to get the main character Deckard, and it’s always there to bring up questions of morality, humanity, and of course, reality.

Ridley Scott and Philip K. Dick. One of them I’m very interested in. I can’t quite call myself a Dickhead in reference to reading his body of work, but I’m certainly intrigued and would like to know more. I think now I finally have the time to get some serious science-fiction reading in. Ridley Scott on the other hand is a director who hits and misses, but when he hits goddamn is it spot on.

Put these two together and you’ve got the start of Blade Runner. Of course, you can’t not mention Hampton Fancher and David Peoples and Douglas Trumbull… But I guess “Ridley and the Dick” sounded funniest to me.

For more on Blade Runner, check out The Blade Runner Directory

For those who read this site, there’s another to read instead – the, who have recently lifted their four or five year hiatus. Christ, that was a long wait, especially since I just found out about them right after they stopped putting out posts and recording podcasts. Well, they’re back posting, and everything’s totally cool. To celebrate their return, I figured I’d steal from them, and recycle a feature that I always liked from their site. The main guy wrote up reviews for each of his 100 favorite movies, and his culmination in Once Upon a Time in the West is what spurred me into renting that particular film, because it was such a high recommendation from a trusted source. And goddamn that movie is awesome.

Somewhere on the site there’s a secret Top 100 List of my own, but I’ll go in-depth with them ten at a time. I don’t have all that much to say about some of these movies, but I’m still young, and ten years from now, this whole list will be gutted. I haven’t even seen The Shawshank Redemption yet. And that reminds me – somewhere high on this list would usually be The Mist, but it actually slipped my mind. Wow. One of my favorite horror movies ever, and I just completely forgot it. So somewhere along the way I’ll have to make a note of where that would’ve been, and this will then become a Top 101 List.

So no this isn’t a Top 100 Greatest Movies Ever list, because nowhere will you find garbagio like Sunset Boulevard. This is a personal list, and hopefully it’ll serve the purpose of recommending in short some cool movies, or maybe making you look twice at some title you thought earlier was crap.

100. Slither, Dir. James Gunn

This movie freaking tanked, man. According to the profesh, and anyone with a sense of logic – it was that classic case of ‘too scary to be funny, too funny to be scary,’ that shied audiences from Grindhouse and I guess Snakes on a Plane. It’s true; the movie trailers for this one both freaked me out and made me laugh, but since back then I was a pussy (back then, that’s right), I didn’t want to see it. I think Grant Grant’s final form gave me the creeps because of the mouth. Even today, that’s a pretty wicked design. But don’t do what I did back in the day when I was a pussy, go check this one out, because it’s more than just another zombie movie. And in terms of genres, horror/comedy is my second favorite, and Slither is certainly a wonderful entry. Nathan Fillion is the man, man.

99. The Mummy, Dir. Stephen Sommers

Yeah this movie is garbage, and so is its sequel, and so is its spin-off, but I love all three. Well, I like The Scorpion King, but I really like The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. Both of them have a great sense of adventure akin to Raiders or Jurassic Park. The first one especially is pretty well paced, and the visual effects and creature designs always stuck with me when I was younger. Every set piece was different, but they were mostly all cool, and always had a cool new monster. A guilty pleasure, probably, but it’s only the first, as we’ll see very soon.

98. Doom, Dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak

While not a big fan of the original video-game – I was more of a Halo guy myself – this movie is a surprisingly high quality video-game adaptation, and if that wasn’t the most apologist way to begin a review, well just show me Ebert’s various Tron reviews, I guess. I’m a sucker for space marines, because I like it when big guys with big guns run down hallways and shoot aliens. And let me tell you – these guys are big, and they sure do run down hallways a lot. Screw the Spartans from 300 – if I want burly dudes doing manly things, it’s gotta be Doom, or DOOM, rather. This movie is so balls stupid, but a lot of fun. The creature effects were done in part by Stan Winston, so even though the notion of a genetically engineered demon is… idiotic… it’s a great visual action picture with sci-fi trappings that are sadly lost on America. Holdin’ out hope for Scott’s The Forever War

97. Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Dir. Shinichiro Watanabe

I actually saw this before viewing the series, which is possibly the most well-known anime of all time, at least in America, as it is quite western, genre-mixing noir with sci-fi with… jazz, with spaghetti westerns with blaxploitation with crime drama – it’s basically the best show ever this side of Stand Alone Complex. If I wasn’t such a GITS fanboy I’d say on the whole it’s probably better, and the movie is a great little reward for all those fans jonesing for more adventures with Spike and Jet. This movie is actually downright philosophical, and makes for an interesting watch.

96. Pitch Black, Dir. David Twohy

I’m glad I didn’t have to put The Chronicles of Riddick on this list because as much as I love it, it really, really sucks. Pitch Black on the other hand, is a genuinely solid sci-fi thriller starring Vin Diesel, of all people. It’s got a good premise, cool action, cool monsters, and – much to my surprise – a strangely poigniant arc for our future-super-double-unkillable-badass Riddick, who turned out to be a terrible character. Let’s try to remember when he was still good…

95. Appleseed, Dir. Shinji Aramaki

I used to think that this movie was just straight garbage, but I enjoy the visuals way too much, and even if the story is just a bootleg Ghost in the Shell, there are worse things to be. The action scenes in this movie are spectacular, and they make me realize that as much as I love the 80’s action genre, it’ll never quite be the same as a bunch of crazily designed robots shooting up the place.

94. Chasing Amy, Dir. Kevin Smith

Never thought a romantic comedy starring Ben Affleck would be… good. Well, The Town was a romantic comedy, but no, that was crap, so never mind. Chasing Amy on the other hand is a great Kevin Smith movie about people sitting around talking about sex. God, nothing I can say makes it sound good, so you really have to just see it. Once again this was a movie that the Genrebusters recommended, citing the friendship between the two main dudes as one of the most organic and best written.

93. 12 Monkeys, Dir. Terry Gilliam

People who talk about Brad Pitt have a lot of good performances to draw from: Fight Club, Seven, 12 Monkeys… I didn’t like those first two, but 12 Monkeys is the first Terry Gilliam (and last) I’ve seen – I’m still waiting on Brazil and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, aside from Holy Grail, I think? It’s bizarre and feels like something by the Jeunet/Caro team, who had paid homage to Gilliam with their Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. It’s a high concept story based off of a short film called La Jetee, and if you’re looking for a totally wacked-out experience, look no further.

92. 2010: The Year we Make Contact, Dir. Peter Hyams

Hard science-fiction is hard to come by in film, which is why all of it that I’ve seen is further on this list – Silent Running, Sunshine, and of course 2001: A Space Odyssey. The oft trashed on sequel, which has kind of a Terminator 3, Godfather 3, Mad Max 3 complex – exactly how do you follow that up? Well, you take the straight approach. This isn’t a cerebral, philosophical journey into both our minds and the deepest reaches of the universe, it’s a space story without the lasers, and an interesting drama with slightly overwrought political overtones, but the message is positive and not too Avatarized, if you catch what I’m sailing out there.

91. Grindhouse: Planet Terror, Dir. Robert Rodriguez

This was originally The Rock. That it is now Planet Terror is a testament to the fact that all these movies up here are kind of… shaky. I like them all, but The Rock just doesn’t match up, and so instead of bumping the whole list, I’ll just take it off. It’s still with us in spirit, at #102. Planet Terror on the other hand is a Rodriguez through-and-through, chock full of guns, explosions, blood, zombies, goo, and Tom Savini being thrown into a car made out of tin foil. It’s great fun, and has an excellent cast and a damn good script.

Tune in next week for 90-81, easily the best of the 100. Well, probably not.

Science-fiction in particular is heartily impacted by the scourge of the film adaptation. I guess that’s just one of the reasons why I didn’t hate Battle: Los Angeles as much as I should have: it was an original story, albeit a poorly told one, and essentially the Marine version of Independence Day. Sounds good, right? Save your money. But anyways, film adaptations really piss me off because it makes the medium of film just a vessel for stories we’ve already experienced. It’s a storytelling recycler, and that’s not cool. With science-fiction in the modern times, we have the superhero comic adaptations. This year will see the release of Thor and Captain America. I prefer a movie like Battle: LA because both types of movies use ridiculous amounts of money, but Battle: LA shows me something cooler and bigger. Instead of a superhero and a supervillain fighting in New York (Toronto), we get soldiers fighting aliens in the mid-apocalypse. Chaos – we see very clearly where the money went.

But I don’t want to generalize with adaptations. Indeed Blade Runner, the greatest science-fiction film of all time, is an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, though rather loosely. So today I’m not gonna go on an anti-adaptation rant – that’ll come later – rather, I’m going to celebrate the approach to storytelling with some of the better ones, and the various methods filmmakers undertook.

Case 1. Star Trek (2009)

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the screenwriters behind J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the second biggest franchise in science-fiction, wrote basically a better version of an earlier script: Transformers from 2007. Transformers has a great script with awful dialogue. It accomplishes so much: pleased old fans while introducing the world to new ones, combining old mythos with new story elements, introducing a new, human, character, and set up solid set pieces, letting the infamous director run wild with spectacle. It didn’t accomplish the most basic aspect of the screenplay in my opinion, but that’s just where Star Trek one-ups it. The script for Star Trek was funny, dramatic, and even poigniant, while also doing most of what Transformers did.

As a movie, Star Trek is great for its visuals, its story, and the casting: Karl Urban is totally the man and gets overused as the stereotypical macho man. Simon Pegg was great as usual, and Zoe Saldana never once said “You will never be one of the People.” I also really dug the villain, even if his motivations were the only true weak part of the movie. I think he worked not because he was sympathetic or hardcore, but because he set the events in motion and perfectly brought together the characters, which was the point of the origin story.

Relative to the series and movies, Star Trek is an excellent adaptation, easily the best Trek flick I’ve thus far seen (Wrath of Khan and Star Trek 2009). It’s classic pulp adventure but strikingly modern without taking the Battlestar Galactica approach and making everybody sulk around. Science-fiction and space here offers us some interesting ideas, and no, Roger Ebert, this movie wasn’t about Roddenbery science, but it had just enough genre tropes to keep the hardcore fans satisfied without boring the mainstream. Pleasing everybody was clearly Star Trek‘s goal, because Star Trek is damn good at doing what it does.

Case 2. A Scanner Darkly (2006) [Spoiler Alert]

There are portions in the book that are lifted scene for scene on the silver screen in Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, himself already a decicated fan of Philip K. Dick as demonstrated in his earlier A Waking Life. My favorite would have to be the conversation in the truck where Barris reveals he’s set up a surprise for any intruders, which is hugely paranoid in the book and sends our hero Arctor reeling mentally, playing over scenarios and hypotheses, but in the movie, it’s just a funny scene. The adaptation here was both incredibly faithful, and completely smart.

Scenes were translated, but more importantly the main ideas were. The narrative in A Scanner Darkly the book is diluted by side stories and reminiscings – the movie is more direct and the story comes across clearly over an arc that’s more consice. The end is paced rather quickly, where Arctor is finally broken down by the revelation that yes, he is Arctor, and the preceding movie, which is more spread out and slow, builds up the pyschological decline.

The exploration into the deadly world of drugs is enhanced by a dreary vision of the future, and both stories underscore darkness and literary genius with humor. Both the novel and the movie are very funny, and this makes the tragedy of the various characters’ ends that much greater. The visuals of course have to be mentioned – take a look at a single frame of the movie. Indeed that is how the entire movie looks all the way through; it’s a labor of extended effort from a film crew, under the supervision of a passionate filmmaker in love with great material.

Case 3. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

This is the story of a great film coming from an okay source material. Masamune Shirow is big on cool ideas, but also big on making things ‘funny.’ Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is the most humorless movie I could think of, well, except for Innocence: Ghost in the Shell 2. So it drops the comedic elements and goofy characters but retains the story and the philosophical elements. Themes of technological invasion reaching even into our bodies and minds are heightened by the film, brought to new levels of horror. The visuals in Ghost in the Shell the movie are also beautiful and helped out by motion and sound. Spider tanks, exploding women, market shootouts, rainy subtext ladled montages are all vibrant and contribute to the movie’s status as groundbreaking in the medium of anime.

Case 4. Blade Runner (1982) [Spoiler Alert]

Another Philip K. Dick movie, which is strange for an author of such hallucinatory and wacked out material. Blade Runner is a great adaptation because all the positives of the original novel are intact, but more good stuff is piled on in addition to an already solid base, thanks to a final script by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is about nazis. At least, that’s what it was inspired by, thanks Philip K. Dick was interested by how inhuman nazies were in their various historical activities, and wrote a story about dehumanization and paranoia starring a world populated by androids and those who hunt androids.

Those who hunt androids, who I believe are just policemen, have a character named Rick Deckard in their number. He’s got a new job that he took to pay for a real animal, not an artificial one. The job gets complicated when he tangles with romance and then questions of humanity and reality. It’s a good story, but from what I recall, it was the filmed version that introduced the theme of life and death that I fell in love with.

Roy Batty, the leader of the Replicants in Blade Runner, seeks out Tyrell on Earth (where he is in danger) in order to live longer. There’s nothing more sympathetic than that, and yet he’s the villain. His character arc offers a tragedy that highlights the end of the film, where his eventual acceptance of death sees the rescue of our dehumanizing hero. It’s now up to Rick Deckard to turn his life around, and in the Director’s Cut and the Final Cut, might just do that with a future romance with Rachel.

Case 5. Apocalypse Now (1979) [Spoiler Alert]

And finally we reach the only non-science-fiction film on the list, though if you weren’t too up on your history, you might mistake it as fantasy. Apocalypse Now is, from what I’ve seen, the best film adaptation ever made, and certainly one of the best movies ever made. Pure, powerful filmmaking at its finest, a magnum opus to be reckoned with. But it’s a great adaptation because the story, Heart of Darkness, was perfectly translated onto film and was enhanced by the Vietnam War.

This movie edges out Blade Runner because of its brilliance in conception. Blade Runner became brilliant over time, a long ass time to be sure. Francis Ford Coppolla’s pairing of the Vietnam War to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was a stroke of genius, indicting the conflict while positing ideas on the human condition. I have not read the Conrad novella, but I am familiar with the story – it’s a classic, one of those that you hear about before reading the book, like The Count of Monte Cristo and Romeo and Juliet. Basically what you have is an exploration in madness, and what better way to do this than through the Vietnam War, a conflict of confusion and chaos, a war fought about the biggest nothing in history, as one character remarks.

The end of the movie sees Col. Kurtz talking about how the horrors of war drove him to do terrible things in the name of victory, which is so important to the American mentality, as previously established by Kilgore. It’s the actual factual American politics that back the idea that war is fucked up, and this is embodies wholly by the Conradian elements of insanity and the darkness in the hearts of men.

A book is not very visual, no matter what images it evokes in your brain. Apocalypse Now embraces the visual medium of film with passion – the beauty and horror of the beach invasion set to the Valkyries music makes for an intense experience that both shocks you into blankmindedness, but leaves you with so much to think about. The faces moving in and out of shadow recreate the themes of the movie in a cleverly visual way, and the war scenes are staggering without being documentary-styled, which has defined how one shoots war in a post-Saving Private Ryan world.

Honorable Mentions: The Thing (1982), They Live, Serenity, The Dead Zone

The Bad Adaptations: Memoirs of a Geisha, Dune


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