Future Imperfect by Jason Vest

Mike Pursley

Dickian, like Kafkaesque, is shorthand for events that share the mood of the author’s oeuvre. In Dick’s case: paranoia, fried existentialism, and way-down-the-rabbit-hole reality shifts.

Future Imperfect

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Subtitle: Philip K. Dick at the Movies
Author: Jason Vest
Price: $17.95
Length: 248
Formats: Paperback
ISBN: 9780803218604
US publication date: 2009-03

Orwellian. Kafkaesque. Dickian? Any writer whose surname becomes an adjective must be idiosyncratic, overanalyzed, and zealously revered. So yes, Dickian. In reference to one Philip K: a pulp sci-fi mastermind who died in 1982 and in years since has achieved the growing readership and academic consideration that was unfortunately lacking during his lifetime. Dickian, like Kafkaesque, is a bit of cognitive shorthand for events that share the mood of the author’s oeuvre. In Dick’s case: paranoia, fried existentialism, and way-down-the-rabbit-hole reality shifts.

So why was Dick once dubbed a hack and now considered a heavy? His prose, for one, was an unadorned, noir deadpan that was clearly the product of deadline-fanned efficiency. His characters, particularly female ones, could be tragically one-sided as well. Not as poor as some claim, and indeed sometimes capable of hard-hitting purity, Dick’s prose served his ideas above all else. And it is Dick’s ideas about reality, identity, and the universe that have attracted new readers and led to a serious reassessment of his career.

Countless film adaptations of his work have also been helpful. Some like, Blade Runner, are science fiction classics. The likes of Paycheck and Next are tired misses. Similar to the oft-adapted work of Stephen King, films based on Dick’s writing run the quality spectrum from top to bottom. (At least poor film adaptations of Dick’s work allow film critics the fun of riffing on his name, a la “not knowing Dick”.)

Future Imperfect: Philip K. Dick at the Movies is Jason P. Vest’s assessment of Dick on film, specifically concerned with how effectively the author’s themes transition to the big screen. It’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking study. Originally a hardback published by Praeger in 2007, Future Imperfect offers a chronological overview of films adapted from Dick’s fictions. Lee Tamahori’s Next, based on the short story “The Golden Man”, was released in April 2007 and only gets a brief nod in the concluding chapter.

While quick to take to task on merits of acting, direction, and cinematography, Vest’s final determination here is based on accordance with Dick’s vision. This explains how for a dud like Screamers, Vest can allow, “its serious themes and political story line make the movie worthwhile viewing”. Worthwhile for Dick’s themes, but otherwise irredeemable, Vest’s take on films like Screamers risks leading unsuspecting readers into choking Netflix queues with sub-par sci-fi.

If Dick’s literary output only produced sci-fi dregs cinema, understanding what he means on film would be easier. Fortunately, for every Screamers there is a Blade Runner or Minority Report, and these films, plus a few others, make dismissive, broad-brush rulings impossible.

In Vest’s assessment, Blade Runner -- the first Dick film to be adapted for screen -- remains the most successful. Although he didn’t live to see his ideas hit the big screen, Dick did comment on the Blade Runner script and Vest wisely includes the author’s insights. It’s a bittersweet touch that Dick fans are sure to welcome, but unfortunately he was only able to see, and judge, only one of his works under development.

Interestingly, the majority of these adaptations are sci-fi action films based on short stories instead of novels. Again we return to the perceived limitations of Dick’s prose as merely a vehicle for wild ideas. Spielberg’s Minority Report, for example, uses the concept of Precrime only as a foundation. Tom Cruise’s character’s domestic issues and Precrime’s corruption add thrills and chases, providing a proper Hollywood experience. Total Recall is another example of the short story to sci-fi action metamorphosis. Vest does a fine job extracting meanings from the futuristic bloodbath, which he calls “a curiously successful adaptation”.

One of the more unique adaptations is A Scanner Darkly which is adapted from a novel, isn’t an action film, and employs much of Dick’s dialogue verbatim. From Dick’s expansive written universe, consisting of over 40 novels and more than 100 short stories, none of his “Gnostic” or mainstream (non-sci-fi) works have been developed for screen. A Scanner Darkly may loosen the mold, and allow a deeper study of Dick’s work to appear on screen. His stories may one day be more than grist for the sci-fi action mills.

Vest’s concluding chapter examines films that share the writer’s themes. These are numerous. The Matrix, The Truman Show, Vanilla Sky, Fight Club, Dark City, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are just a smattering of films deeply indebted to the shaky realities found in his fictions. Future Imperfect isn’t for Dick newcomers and will be less useful to readers who have not seen the films. That said, the narrow demographic for which this work is intended will find Vest to be a capable and insightful guide through the strange realities of Philip K. Dick on screen.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.