TV Critics Psyched About Amazon’s Philip K. Dick-Adapted Pilot, The Man in the High Castle

January 15, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

Amazon, which has established itself as major player in Hollywood with its Golden Globe-winning series Transparent, debuted 13 new pilots on Amazon Instant Video Thursday. Which one(s) blossom into full, scripted series is partially up to you, but there’s one pilot that critics are particularly excited about, The Man in the High Castle.

The title, executive produced by Ridley Scott, written by X-Files‘ Frank Spotnitz, and directed by Heroes’ David Semel, will be familiar to any loyal Philip K. Dick reader. It’s an adaptation of Dick’s 1962, Hugo Award-winning novel of the same name, in which Dick imagines the then-present day America if the Allies had lost WWII. In this fascinating alternate history, the Nazis control the “Greater Reich,” which includes New York and the East Coast; the Japanese rule the “Pacific States” on the West Coast; the rest of America is the “Neutral Zone.”

Like most of Dick’s novels, it’s easy to see why the premise folds into a great cinematic experience. But where a lot can be lost in translation, this particular project seems promising. The A.V. Club writes:

The pilot pulls back some on the mysticism of Dick’s work, but still finds time to mention the I Ching and offer hints that the novel’s metaphysical plotline is still basically intact. Whether or not that plotline can support an ongoing series remains to be seen, but this first episode is as strong start, deftly introducing a small group of leading characters, building the world around them, and then, in the final moments, brutally twisting the screws.

The announcement comes the same week of the third annual Philip K. Dick Film Festival in New York, so ANIMAL reached out to festival director Daniel Abella for his thoughts on the adaptation should it expand into a series. He wrote via email:

The challenge with any Philip K. Dick adaptation is not to turn it into a superhero/action based drama. PKD’s characters are everyday people struggling with their problems. In the Man in the High Castle there is no resolution; the Nazis and Japanese have won the war and the people now live under occupation.

Hopefully the focus will be based on the characters, and how they retain their dignity and humanity under
those circumstances and not turn it into an overarching plot to defeat the Nazis/Japanese as in the case of the other famous novel adaptation Fatherland.

Wired does indeed describe the pilot as “character-rich,” an instinct Abella hopes that any subsequent series would follow. He continued, “The Man in the High Castle never comes to a satisfying conclusion regarding the resolution of the moral dilemma facing the characters. Philip wanted it that way. Let’s hope the show follows his example.”

(Photo: Amazon Studios)