Movie Adaptations

The Golden Man

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in If Apr 1954

The DCA is in charge of rounding up and euthanizing all mutants, afraid that if any of them were allowed to thrive they could eventually take over the human race. Most mutants are destroyed when they are young, except for Cris Johnson, who has made it to the age of eighteen before he is caught. Johnson has the ability to see the immediate future before it happens. Beyond that he is not really a human at all, but survives only on instinct like an animal. He uses his other mutant trait, golden skin and hair, to seduce Anita Ferris after he is captured so he can escape. The DCA men realize Cris is the true homo superior, since he is the one they will never be able to kill.

In 2007 “The Golden Man” was adapted as the movie Next starring Nicholas Cage. Instead of hunting mutants, the FBI chases after the human Cris Johnson, who can see two minutes into the future, because they need him to help stop some terrorists from detonating a nuclear bomb that will wipe out Los Angeles. It’s illogical and forgettable. Jessica Biel plays a mystery dream girl and five years later would play another mystery dream girl in the equally bad Total Recall remake.

Cast of characters

  • Cris Johnson – a golden-skinned precog mutant
  • Nat Johnson – Cris Johnson’s father
  • Jean and Dave Johnson – Cris’s sister and brother
  • George Baines – a DCA man hunting Cris Johnson
  • Ed Wisdom – Director of DCA’s North American branch
  • Anita Ferris – George’s fiancée and Director of the Semantics Agency 

The Great C

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Cosmos Science Fiction #1 Sep 1953

In a post-apocalyptic, far-off future an artificial intelligence responsible for the Earth’s nuclear destruction demands a yearly sacrifice from the planet’s surviving humans. A youth from one of the tribes makes the long trek out to speak to the Great C to attempt to stump it with three questions. The Great C easily answers these questions (where does rain come from, what keeps the sun moving through the sky, and how did the world begin) and the youth is dissolved in a vat of acid providing fuel for the Great C for another year.

Both Tibor and Pete encounter the Great C in Dick’s Zelazny collaboration Deus Irae, although in that book the Great C is more of a trickster trying to feed on passerby.

In 2018 Secret Location released a VR movie based on this story that also borrows the idea of the computer’s female avatar from Deus Irae

Cast of characters

  • Walter Kent – the tribe leader
  • Tim Meredith – that year’s sacrifice to the Great C
  • Bill Gustavson, Anne Fry, John Page – members of the tribe

The Crystal Crypt

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Planet Stories Jan 1954

Before the last Terrans flee Mars ahead of an outbreak of hostilities a group of three saboteurs shrink down a major city and trap it in a small glass globe. In the last outgoing ship the humans are able to evade the Martians’ lie detector with some semantic trickery (they didn’t ‘destroy’ the city, they just captured it), but they get overconfident when they think they’ve escaped and confess to a Martian posing as a fellow traveler.

A low-budget short movie based on “The Crystal Crypt,” which I have yet to see, was released in 2013. Find out more here.

Cast of characters

  • Bob Thatcher – Martian posing as a Terran 
  • Mara, Ralf Erickson, Jan – the three saboteurs 

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale

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First published in Fantasy & Science Fiction Apr 1966

“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” might be my favorite title of any PKD story.

Douglas Quail dreams of an exciting trip to Mars, but since he can’t afford it on his Earth salary he settles for the next best thing, a session at Rekall, Incorporated which promises to implant a memory of a visit to Mars indistinguishable from the actual experience. During the procedure we find out he’s already been to Mars as an undercover agent after which his memory was wiped. Once aware of the truth he has to deal with the Interplan officers who want him dead.

Anyone who has seen Total Recall knows the premise. The Schwarzenegger movie, another of Dick’s best-known adaptations, heads off in a different direction from the telegraphed ending of the short story. I understand the interest in an updated film that differs from the Paul Verhoeven 90s time capsule, but watching the 2012 remake starring Colin Ferrell is a boring chore.

Again (as he did in The Penultimate Truth) Dick makes use of the real-life address of his literary agent at 580 Fifth Avenue in New York, this time as the main barracks of Interplan.

Cast of characters

  • Douglas Quail – our protagonist
  • Kristen Quail – Douglas’s wife
  • McClane – Rekall, Inc. supervisor
  • Lowe – Rekall, Inc. technician

The Minority Report

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First published in Fantastic Universe Jan 1956

With the help of three precog mutants, a precrime police agency eliminates major crimes in society by arresting people before they actually break any laws.

When precrime commissioner John Anderton is tagged by the precogs for killing a man he doesn’t know, he assumes he is being framed by the newcomer Ed Witwer who wants his job. What he doesn’t know is that the Army, rendered toothless by the precrime division, wants to return to power.

The precogs saw a future where Anderton kills the Army General Kaplan after their power grab. We find out that the precrime system relies on a majority report from two precogs who agree on an outcome in the future, which means the remaining precog generates a minority report where no crime is committed. When Anderton doesn’t kill Kaplan, Kaplan uses this to try to shut precrime down under the assumption that Anderton was about to be arrested based on a minority report that won’t come true. Anderton then chooses to kill Kaplan after all to renew public trust in precrime by proving that it does work after all.

It’s a great twisting story, and Spielberg’s 2002 movie is probably Dick’s most well-known adaptation. It alters the plot somewhat with a result that is a bit too convoluted and contrived, although it is second only to Blade Runner in its groundbreaking vision of a future based on Dick’s work.

A sequel to the movie aired as a TV adaptation on Fox for one season in 2015. I can’t say much about it other than it had poor reviews and I barely even remembered it existed.

Cast of characters

  • John Anderton – precrime commissioner
  • Ed Witwer – Anderton’s new associate
  • Lisa Anderton – Andertons wife and an official executive of precrime
  • Leopold Kaplan – an Army general and the man Anderton is supposed to kill
  • Fleming – an Army major working for Kaplan
  • Jerry, Donna, Mike – the three precogs
  • Wally Page – Anderton’s assistant

Adjustment Team

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First published in Orbit Science Fiction #4 Oct 1954

On the edges of reality an adjustment team constantly tweaks the known world in order to nudge things in a certain direction. Ed Fletcher accidentally sees behind the curtain when an adjustment team clerk misses his cue and allows Ed to arrive at work late. After Ed witnesses the terrifying spectacle of the adjustment team in full-on adjustment mode he is taken before The Old Man, a godlike figure in charge who eventually lets Ed return to his life as long as he promises not to tell anyone what he has seen.

I really like the 2011 movie, refashioned as The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. It takes just the basic idea and turns it into a love story (which admittedly doesn’t feel all that phildickian) that deals with predestination and free will.

Cast of characters

  • Ed Fletcher – our everyman protagonist
  • Ruth Fletcher – Ed’s wife
  • Nathan Douglas – Ed’s boss
  • The Old Man – in charge of the whole shebang