Monday, May 13, 2013
Thoughts on the Upcoming Syfy Miniseries, "The Man in the High Castle"
When I first learned a few weeks ago about plans to film Philip K. Dick's classic 1962 alternate history novel, The Man in the High Castle (about the Nazis and Japanese winning World War II and dividing the U. S. between them), I was initially very excited. Especially with director Ridley Scott and X-Files writer/producer Scott Podnitz being involved.
But now I'm also having some second thoughts.
Why couldn't the novel be brought to the big screen instead of cable TV? Dick's fiction has been turned into plenty of Hollywood films (Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, Paycheck, etc.) -- some more successful than others. But I would have thought The Man in the High Castle would have been perfect as a cinematic epic. Apparently no such luck. It's the same feeling I had when I saw Fatherland as an HBO film (1994) -- good enough, but could have been better with a larger budget.
One reason there hasn't yet been a film version of The Man in the High Castle is undoubtedly related to its challenging counterfactual elements. How Syfy plans on portraying them remains to be seen. It's one thing to show Japanese and German troops patrolling the streets of American cities. That's the easy part (though it will be hard not to have such scenes descend into clichés, if not outright camp, if not done carefully). It's something else, however, to film Dick's ontological ruminations about the nature of reality. How do you film reality becoming fiction and fiction becoming reality, after all? (Tagomi's famous hallucination of San Francisco's Embarcadero freeway intruding into his world of rickshaws will be challenging to portray). Hopefully the Syfy budget will be generous enough so that the producers don't take the cheap and easy way out by turning the book into a conventional (rather than allohistorical) drama.
I'm wondering, finally, whether most of the miniseries will follow the novel and take place in California, or whether there will be expanded attention (barely hinted at in the text) about the course of events on the Nazi-occupied east coast. It will be tempting for the producers to indulge the American viewing public's fascination with all-things-Nazi by filming scenes of stormtroopers marching down Pennsylvania Avenue and the like. But it would violate the integrity of the novel to do so. Still, I'm betting some of these scenes get smuggled into the series.
It may be quite a while before this production hits the little screen, but I look forward to reviewing it once it does.