- 20 Sep 17
As a new Channel 4 series celebrates the work of Philip K Dick, Ed Power looks at the influence on television and cinema of science fiction’s most singular voice.
Philip K Dick died poor and obscure in February 1982. Six months later Blade Runner – Ridley Scott’s gorgeously glum adaptation of Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – was released. Overnight, a marginal science fiction writer became famous and fashionable. Ever since he has been Hollywood’s go-to dystopian novelist, the questions his work poses about the nature of existence becoming ever more relevant in a world in which what is real and what is not can seem interchangeable. With the emergence of the internet and the post-9/11 surveillance state, in particular, his writings have taken on the aspect of a prophecy. The Matrix was heavily influenced by Dick’s view that human experience was very possibly an elaborate fraud; Christopher Nolan’s Interception, with its folding cityscapes and dream logic, channelled the fretful surrealism of the author’s work.
Dick was also the predominant influence on Black Mirror, the Charlie Brooker Netflix smash about the dark side of the tech era. And now the writer is to have his first dedicated television series, Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams, featuring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston with Ronald D Moore (responsible for the Battlestar Galactica reboot) show running. Ten Dick short stories will be adapted, with Anna Paquin, Steve Buscemi, Jack Reynor and Janelle Monae among those starring. The settings range from far future to distant past. What all have in common is the sense that nothing is truly as it seems and that the walls of reality – or what passes for “reality” – could tumble in any moment. This will be followed by the release in October of Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the Ridley Scott classic.
People cannot put their finger anymore on what is real and what is not real,” said Paul Verhoeven, who directed one of the most successful Dick adaptations, 1990’s Total Recall (from the short story ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’). “What we find in Dick is an absence of truth and an ambiguous interpretation of reality. Dreams that turn out to be reality, reality that turns out to be a dream. This can only sell when people recognise it, and they can only recognise it when they see it in their own lives.”