Why does Hollywood like Dick so much?

And I mean “Philip K. Dick” of course. Get your minds out of the gutter, people.

I’m a huge fan of written SF and have been for years. I’ve read a couple of Dick’s novels, or tried to read them, and man, they’re awful stuff. It’s not so much that they’re inaccessible as that they are pathological. I think Dick was a borderline paranoid schizophrenic, at least, that’s what his novels read like. I don’t understand why Hollywood gobbles 'em up like jujubes when there are so many much better writers in both SF and fantasy whose stories would make great movies.

Now we have “Through A Scanner Darkly” about people who can’t tell drug real from real real. Imagine that. THAT’S certainly a refreshing new tack for Dick.

I think Hollywood should just get over Dick. He wasn’t that good a writer, he had one idea (what is reality, man?) and otherwise his stuff is a big pile of dog poop. Think about all the success George Lucas has had exploring the mythic elements of SF, specifically the Galactic Empire myth. Why not do a few “Galactic Empire” stories like Lucas has? Hey, Star Trek is basically a Galactic Empire myth, too, and Star Wars and Star Trek are the two biggest SF franchises goin’. Think there might be a REASON for that?

There are a LOT of incredibly imaginative and well thought out visions of galactic empires out there. The Polesotechnic league. Niven’s future history. Asimov’s Foundation civilization. Cherryh’s Chanur stories. Iain Banks Culture worlds. The dying galactic empire of Keith Laumer’s Retief novels.

Hey you stupid Hollywood cows, SF writers have laid out quite the banquet for you to feast on, if you had the brains to see it. Stop slurping down that thin gruel that Dick provides, you morons. It’s not very good for you.

Using an author’s work for a movie has little to do with the author’s talent for writing and everything to do with an author’s talent for creating an idea that sells.

‘Pathological’ ain’t necessarily awful. Sometimes in fact, it’s Awesome!
You, Evil Captor are obviously under the mistaken impression that the date is 2006, rather than 70 AD.
Let in the pink beam, and transmigration will follow upon anamnesis.
Meanwhile, Hollywood will continue to rake in THE BIG BUCKS with what often turn out to be very popular pictures.

-Hebephrenically yours, Squink
[sub]p.s. Keep an eye on your brown loafers. They’re trying to kill you![/sub]

Evil Captor:

I feel your pain. One movie which, no doubt, will never be made is one based on Christopher Priest’s Inverted World. The opening scene alone would be worth the bucks to make the movie, but the story doesn’t have enough blood, sex, and other gimmicks to interest Hollywood.

And remember Scanner (was that the name of the movie)? I was hoping it would be something based on the short story by Cordwainer Smith.

Nah, Hollywood has its own universe and there’s naught we can do about it short of not buying their stuff.

Evil Captor. I need some help here. I’m not a big SF fan when it comes to books, so I guess you could say I don’t know Dick about the genre.

Help me out here. What are you mad about that I might relate to? Is it a secret to those that are SciFi fans? What is the issue?

Evil Captor believes that Philip Dick was a crummy writer, and wishes that Hollywood would make movies from books by those he believes are better writers.

Given what Hollywood does with any science fiction they get their hands on, I would not expect better results.

He’s mad, as am I, because Hollywood has spent millions to make movies from novels that are crap, and are ignoring some of the most innovative, breath-taking, original works out there. Or they just pay for a title and make their own shit under the name (I’m looking at you, Verhoeven!) He cited some of the easier works to adapt.


Pffft. Dick is recognized as one of the best Sci Fi writers of the 20th century. Dick’s writing gave us Blade Runner, in any case. That’s more than paid for anything else that Hollywood might butcher.

Fairly mild rant, science fiction and Hollywood…off to Cafe Society.

Not true. As Dick himself said several times, he had two ideas: (1) what is reality? and (2) what is humanity?

And, with the possible exception of The Man in the High Castle (which hasn’t been made into a movie, to my knowledge), his short stories are on the whole better than his novels anyway.

Hey, at least The Prestige, based on Priest’s novel, is due out either late this year or next year, with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in the lead roles.

Dick evidently agreed with you. From his Wikipedia entry:

In general, even the best of Dick’s novels are more like the ingredients for a great novel than like a great novel. (The one exception is The Man in the High Castle, where for once he put it all together and created a completely coherent story.) There are people who claim that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a great novel, since Bladerunner is made from it, but it’s not really. It’s full of great ideas, but they don’t fit together well in the novel. The makers of Bladerunner understood what ideas to take from it.

It’s hard to say what the problem was. Perhaps Dick was simply incapable of creating completely coherent novels. Perhaps it was the fact that during his most prolific period he was doing speed so that he could write fast enough so that he and his family wouldn’t starve. Still, the fact that he had such good ingredients for a novel is enough to make him appealing to filmmakers.

Interestingly, there are still aspects of Dick’s work that haven’t made it to the screen even in the best film adaptations of his works. Dick’s heroes were little people who were somehow able to make the crucial difference in a big cause and then have to go back to their low-level status after their victory. The changes that even as great a film as Blade Runner makes to the character of Rick Deckard shows how most filmmakers misunderstand this point. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Rick isn’t a divorced ex-cop who’s asked to return to duty, but a working policeman in a failing marriage. He has an affair with an android who dies at the end of the story. After he kills all the escaped androids, he goes back to his job and his troubled marriage. In Blade Runner, on the other hand, Rick is the lone gunslinger who comes out of nowhere and rides into the sunset at the end, having acquired a girlfriend in the process.

But, anyway, perhaps slightly flawed novels make better movies than great novels, and perhaps the powers that be in Hollywood realize that. Furthermore, which movie projects get greenlighted depends as much on what names will be used to sell the film as how good the screenplay is. Given a good screenplay from a novel by Dick and a good screenplay from a novel by some writer who hasn’t had anything adapted from his works yet, of course they’re going to think that it will be easier to sell the public on the film adapted from Dick’s work.

You’re correct, I assumed knowledge on the part of folks reading this thread that might not exist.

The issue is that a LOT of Dick’s novels have been made into movies, far more than is generally the case with SF writers, and I think Dick was not a particularly good SF writers. (To be fair, there are others who DO think he was a topnotch writer, so much so that there’s a major SF writing award named after him, widely known as 'The Dick Award."

To be specific, the IMDB lists no less than 13 movies and 1 TV series based on Dick novels and short stories. 14 total. 14!

By contrast, the IMDB lists just 11 projects for SF great Robert Heinlein, and two fo them are clearly spinoffs from Voerhoven’s “Starship Troopers” movie. Isaac Asimov has 23 projects listed, but then again, he was an enormously prolific writer, and half a dozen of those listing were from a single British TV series (“Out of thie World”). If Dick were given credit for every ep of “Total Recall 2077”, the TV series based on his short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” Dick would have more like 35 listings, as there were 22 eps. There are a total of 9 projects associated with Arthur C. Clarke’s writings.

So, Dick holds his own or even beats out the three Big Names of SF. And despite having an award named after him, he was never all that big a name in SF. I don’t think his books sold all that well. He was more like a cult thing.

And like I said, his stuff is one-note crap and it stinks. When you compare Dick with his contemporaries, the difference gets more noticeable. Take the writers mentioned in my OP. C.J. Cherryh, whose “Downbelow Station” is a better SF novel than Dick could ever dream of writing, is not represented in the IMBD, period. Poul Anderson has just one listing. Iain Banks has two listings. Larry Niven has three credits.

All of these writers are as well known as or better known than Dick among SF fans, and arguably MUCH better writers than Dick. He has gotten attention all out of proportion to his talent. I don’t understand the appeal that his stories have for Hollywood types. All I can guess is that he appeals to people who don’t really like SF, because to me his books read like literary SF – stylistic stuff that really doesn’t work that well.

Does that help?

…In your opinion. I’m assuming that goes without saying, but I just wanted to clarify.

If I may chime in, I thought Total Recall (inspired by Dick) was an incredibly dumb movie, while I, Robot (inspired by Asimov) was an okay movie that could have been better without Will Smith in it.

In contrast, I liked Blade Runner (by Dick) but not Nightfall (1988 version, by Asimov). Hollywood is wildly inconsistent when it comes to adapting science-fiction. Dick’s stories can get funded because his paranoia translates reasonably well to the “lone man against the world” cliché that Hollywood is so fond of (they even threw it into I, Robot, even though it’s completely absent in Asimov’s stories), while Asimov’s “technology is great and anti-technology humans are idiots” doesn’t impress them as much. Asimov himself wrote at length about Hollywood anti-science clichés (mad scientist, computer gone amuck, “there are things man was not meant to know”, etc.) He and Hollywood just didn’t get along.

I’m just now finishing Kim Robinson’s Red Mars. I don’t see this getting turned into a movie anytime soon. Too political. Not enough car chases.

I’ve only seen the Dick-adapted movies, but there’s something about his techno-paranoia that really appeals to filmmakers these days. I think it makes sense that that would be of interest in the world we’re inhabiting.

If you think of SF as being all about spaceships and lasers, Philip Dick is obviously going to disappoint. (Whereas Downbelow Station won’t. It’s an above-average space opera, and a good enough read in its way, though I think Cherryh’s done better.)

If you think of SF as a form of literature that explores unusual and challenging concepts, then you have to admit that Dick’s is one of the more influential voices in it. Certainly, most of his mature work is concerned with those two main questions, but (a) they’re sure as heck important questions, and (b) Dick comes up with some very interesting possible answers.

I’d take a certain amount of issue with Wendell Wagner’s assessment of Dick’s novels - I can think of several that are (IMHO) soundly constructed, even if they do take some unusual twists and turns. Things like Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said fit together perfectly well as stories, and even more ambitious books (like Ubik, which some regard as his best work), odd though they may appear, reach a convincing resolution in the end.

I’d also add that Dick makes his skewed-reality worlds approachable to the reader, and populates them with well-rounded characters … which is, I think, no mean feat; it takes skill, as a writer, to do that. (Compare and contrast with less successful products of the New Wave, for example Brian Aldiss’s Barefoot in the Head, if you have the stomach for it. Actually, if you read Barefoot, you may well find yourself returning to Dick with a profound feeling of relief. I know I did.) Part of the reason Dick’s novels are so weird and unsettling is because he’s deliberately creating that effect - and he has the technical ability, as a writer, to communicate that effectively.

Yes, Dick’s writing is, at times, deeply weird. Yes, his approach to it is coloured by the drug abuse and mental illness that affected him. (I like the guy’s writing, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be him.) It’s fair to say that Dick is not everyone’s cup of tea … but I think, by any reasonably objective assessment, he is a unique talent, a highly skilled writer, and generally an important figure in the SF field. You might not like his writing, but it’s unwise to dismiss it.

I’ve got no objection to space operas set in galactic empires, per se, but I like to read Dick’s high-concept high-weirdness, too … and a lot of people, evidently, feel the same way. Dick’s books sell. Movies based on his books sell. He’s achieved the non-particularly-common feat of attaining literary respectability and popularity. I guess it’s a shame he’s not around to see it (and collect the royalties.)

As has been pointed out, it’s not so much the stories themselves, it’s the ideas in them. Dick is full of great (and very cinematic) ideas.

As for Scanner, it’s not one of Dick’s best. In fact, I think from Valis onwards there’s a falling away in Dick’s work. I’ll take Clans of the Alphane Moon, Counter Clock World, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch instead of pretentious rubbish like Scanner, Transmigration, etc. Dick becomes so self-obsessed in his later books that he almost disappears up his own asshole.

I also have a long-standing beef with Hollywood producers that they haven’t filmed any of the works of the great Jack Vance: books like the Demon Princes series, the Dying Earth, would make absolutely amazing movies (if they’re done properly, of course, and on second thoughts, maybe it’s better for my blood pressure that Hollywood doesn’t take on Vance - I still sometimes find a quiet corner and scream and punch the wall remembering what they did to Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.)