Jacket Copy

Books, authors and all things bookish

« Previous Post | Jacket Copy Home | Next Post »

What's not Dick-ish about 'The Adjustment Bureau'?

March 7, 2011 |  5:00 pm

AdjustmentbureauThis weekend, the Matt Damon-Emily Blunt film "Adjustment Bureau" took second place at the box office. It's just the latest in a string of big Hollywood films adapted from the work of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, as Kenneth Turan -- who was once, they tell me, co-editor of the L.A. Times book section -- writes in his review.

Once neglected, now lionized, the legendary science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick speaks more to our time than he ever did to his own. Starting with 1982's "Blade Runner" and including "Total Recall" and "Minority Report," close to a dozen features based on Dick's work have generated more than $1 billion in revenue. Now "The Adjustment Bureau" is poised to add to that total.

What makes Dick so appealing to our wary, distrustful state of mind is, in novelist Jonathan Lethem's words, his "remarkably personal vision of paranoia and dislocation." Never a great prose stylist, Dick had a visionary's gift for mind-bending ideas about the nature of reality, a gift "Adjustment Bureau" and its notion of unseen forces stage-managing our lives embraces.

This film, however, is Dick with a difference. 

The screenplay, written by director George Nolfi, was based on Dick's 1954 story "Adjustment Team" -- but Nolfi added a significant love interest to give it a twist. Our must-read sibling blog Hero Complex talked to Nolfi about bringing the story to life.

“Dick was really interested in the line between reality and some mental construct that could be illusion or could be another level of existence,” Nolfi said. “I really wanted to take that and turn it on its head and ask, ‘What happens if you see behind the curtain and it’s unequivocally clear that is the truth?’ What you’ve seen before is only a tiny part of reality, how do you deal with that?”

Unlike most sci-fi films with a deeper-reality revelation, Damon’s character doesn’t spend much time doubting his sanity. The struggle is instead with the forces of the universe that tell him he isn’t supposed to be in love with the woman, the dancer played by Blunt, who has captured his heart....

“The really tough part of the process was cracking the story I wanted to tell,” Nolfi said. “The short story was sitting on my shelf for five or six years with me gestating ideas and taking notes on yellow pads.”

It's the romance, Turan says, that Nolfi added to Dick's original story that distinguishes this film. But sci-fi die-hards io9, which describe the original story as "a tightly wound little nugget of paranoia and weirdness, which explodes in your face and then ends," wondered, when they first heard about the added romance, if the filmmakers weren't "missing the point by several light years."

Dick's "Adjustment Team" was first published in Orbit Magazine in 1954 and has appeared in various anthologies since. It's currently available as a 99-cent ebook short story for the Kindle.

-- Carolyn Kellogg