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Adapting Philip K. Dick’s Ubik

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Of all the great science fiction films ever made, it could be argued that a significant percentage of these were influenced directly or indirectly by the works of the writer Philip K. Dick. Early this year we saw Universal Studios release the theatrical adaptation of the short story Adjustment Team, which starred Matt Damon and was subject to much praise.

This week saw Dick’s daughter Isa Dick Hackett reveal more information about the draft screenplay for one of Dick’s most famous novels Ubik. She gave an update to Empire Magazine about some decisions being made on the adaptation, stating,”It’s taken a long time because it’s non-linear and metaphysical, but I love Michel Gondry’s work and I think he’s a great fit. It’s insane: crazy good!”

One of the great things I found about this particular book was its darkness; it’s also fairly action-orientated especially in the beginning. The main character is called Joe Chip, and he’s a rather nervous employee of an organisation specialising in training people to be able to block psychics from reading the thoughts of others, much like the White Queen from the X-Men comics.

Running this company are a married couple, Glen Runciter and his wife Ella, who is in a state of half-life, and therefore can only be contacted by visiting her unconscious body. Half life is the name for a state of mind in which someone who is technically dead, but able to be contacted through the use of technology. After the group are bombed by a rival called Ray Hollis, and their leader Mr Runciter is killed, things takes a turn for the mysterious. First products of daily life such as food and drink like beard start to age quicker, but this is just the start, with Joe and his team soon receiving message from there apparently deceased boss as well as seeing his face on coins.

This represents just a taste of what the kind of story we’re dealing with here, and thus an indication of why I think sci-fi fans worldwide should be excited that it’s even being given the green light. The after-life debate that the film could spark might even to cross into the mainstream much like Inception asked questions about the possibility of influencing dreams, and Blade Runner asked less specific questions about the meaning of life.

 

Ubik is essentially an ideas book, like old fashioned sci-fi films that concentrate more on theories and speculation about the future than on special effects. If we we’re to compare Ubik to any film of the last twenty years, then perhaps Source Code is the closest fit, with Duncan James’s films looking at similar themes like life after death.

There has been some displeasure voiced about the selection of director Michel Gondry (The Green Hornet, 2011) to get this project underway. But people are quick to forget that Gondry brought us the simply magnificent Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In fact in wouldn’t be such a bad idea to cast Jim Carrey as Joe Chip; Gondrey has a proven record of bringing out the best in the usually comic Carrey. I know that people didn’t like The Green Hornet, but star Seth Rogan was part of the writing process, which I”m sure didn’t help the situation.

With Ubik enjoying such a loving following, it’s also important to note that the novel is considered by many to be the most accessible of Dick’s works. “This is a good book if you have never been introduced to PKD’s work,” says one review on Amazon. If done correctly, Ubik has the potential to appeal to the masses.

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