“For everyone lost in the endlessly multiplicating realities of the modern world,” wrote Terry Gilliam, “remember: Philip K Dick got there first.”
It’s apt that Gilliam should blurb PKD because they’re so alike, two ideas men whose work challenges and redefines the limits of reality. The heroes of Dick’s novels and short stories are similar to the Jonathan Pryce character in Brazil, meek little clerks who have a very good reason to be paranoid about the faceless authority figures they know are out to get them.
It’s a crying shame that Gilliam never got to adapt PKD because the former Python could really bring out the humour in Dick’s work. Dick was, first and foremost, a screamingly funny writer whose satirical jabs mean his books are so much more than “mere” science fiction.
If you only know Dick from the big budget adaptations of his novels, though, you might think that he writes stories about tough talking men of action who get into chases every few minutes. Hollywood doesn’t really “get” Dick but even though the results are wildly inconsistent, that’s never stopped them from adapting his work to the big screen.
Here are the ten most famous adaptations, ranked best to worst.
10. Total Recall (1990)
What’s remarkable about Total Recall is how well it expands PKD’s 1966 story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale into a blockbuster that in spite of its colossal budget (and then record number of product placements) still remains faithful not just to the source material but the spirit of its author.
The hero is Dick’s usual working schmuck but even though he’s played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the script still finds room for all of Dick’s usual obsessions: voluptuous but treacherous females, paranoia, psychotic episodes and conversations about what represents reality. The main plot of a supposedly innocent man discovering his whole life has been a lie is in keeping with PKD’s work, no matter how bloody or outlandish the onscreen shenanigans become.
There’s also a sequence where Arnie shoots his wife and says, “Consider that a divorce”, which makes this one of the greatest movies ever made.