Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The weirdness of prescience

I saw Paycheck last night.

The film by John Woo from a short story of the same name by Philip K Dick.

When I read it, very recently, I had the strong feeling that someone would make this into a film, there are many potential films in Dick's extraordinary output.

These were my impressions.

I thought the Hollywoodisation was not so extreme in this production. Compared to how "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" bared so little relationship to "Blade Runner" (even though I like the film in it's own right). Or worse the relationship between "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" and "Total Recall". Most of the key issues in the original story actually come out in the film. Something they were not going to leave out, the story does actually have a happy ending (rare for Dick) where the protagonist gets his girl (even more rare).

What I found a bit patronising was how the story was dumbed down. The scene setting that Dick did not require and the the reason behind what was going on, leaking into the plot far earlier than it did in the original. Were the scriptwriters worried that the audience could not understand? Maybe this is the difference between a feature film and a short story, the need for padding.

It is the differences between the film and the story that I find interesting, and wonder what they tell us about our time, or at least American culture.

The story was set in an America that was a fascist dictatorship with an omnipotent police (a common theme of Dick's), while in the film, the protagonist was merely being chased by the FBI. Have democratic America's FBI become the police of Dick's fears? I am sure there are some that do. This made me think of an interesting article I found on delicious, Hunger for Dictatorship and 14 identifying characteristics of fascism.. Make up your own mind.

Where the story primarily diverged from the film was in what the danger was, the danger to the State.

In the film, the Rethrick Corporation had technology to view the future and in viewing the future you could see what the result of society being able to view the future was going to be, it was terrible. Society knowing something would happen, would ensure that it did happen.

I found this very interesting, from a personal point of view ... my first girlfriend dabbled in the Tarot, we inevitably lived out their predictions -- expecting them to come true -- to the detriment of the relationship.

This danger, itself a very Dickian theme, therefore had a strong resonant impact on me, one which I thought at least ameliorated what was lost, the danger to the State as portrayed in the original story.

In the original, Rethrick represented a corporation that was surviving secretly, in opposition to the State, so that one day it could assist the people to rise up and overthrow an oppressive government.

This for me was a telling omission. Even though I found the theme's replacement satisfying for my own reasons, the original was a sad loss. Especially as the story is turned around to make the FBI the good guys.

Overall, I would say I enjoyed the film, (at least Uma Thurman did not get her swords out).

On the whole it does represent the more interesting side of Dick's novels in an accessible way, such themes that still make him an acquired taste, even today. (Read "Foster, You're Dead" in the light of modern America's paranoia and tell me honestly that the hair did not rise on the back of your neck).

There are several of Dick's stories in production at the moment, I wonder what they hold in store?

And if you are asking, no, I won't sign an NDA that allows you to erase my memory on delivery !!!

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