After reading James Lileks discussing its production design, late last night, I watched Amazon.com’s pilot episode for The Man in the High Castle, based on an early novel by Philip K. Dick. Here’s a quick description of the episode from Entertainment Weekly:
Creator: Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files)
Premise: An alt-history saga adapted from the Philip K. Dick novel of the same title imagines America in a world where the Axis powers won World War II—by beating everyone else to the bomb and nuking Washington D.C. The year is 1962, and the United States is split in two, à la Berlin. The Nazis control the East, the Japanese control the West, and the cold war between the former confederates threatens to explode, pending the outcome of political instability in Germany: Hitler, it seems, has Parkinson’s, and not long to live. Against this backdrop, we meet a variety of characters suffering or surviving each oppressive culture. Two of them in particular—Julianna (Mob City’s Alexa Davalos), investigating the murder of her sister, and Joe (Luke Kleintank of Pretty Little Liars and Bones), a newcomer to the resistance—are on a collision course, drawn to each other by the mystery of illicit newsreels depicting a different, better history, one where the Allies carried the day. The films are rebel art, producing an Anonymous-like subversive known only as “The Man in the High Castle.”
Prospects: Depends. If you’re tired of high-concept dystopian fantasy and Nazi bad guys, this is a pass. If you’re a fan of high-concept dystopian fantasy done right and are at least agnostic about Nazi bad guys, this is for you. Directed by veteran helmer David Semel, this well-cast, well-acted, swell-looking pilot is by far the most polished of the group. It’s engrossing despite its stately pace, and a triumph of world building. The Man in the High Castle could be Amazon’s first successful attempt at big saga TV.
If you’ve ever seen the mid-1990s HBO adaption of Robert Harris’ seminal novel, at first glance The Man in the High Castle appears very much to be Fatherland: The TV Series, albeit set in an alternative America rather than Berlin of 1962. (And as the sci-fi Website IO9 notes in their review of the pilot, nothing has ever made a simple shot of ash falling on the ground in the middle of Arkansas or Alabama seem so chilling.)
But reading the descriptions of the Dick’s novel, and pondering the implications of the pilot’s Emmanuel Goldstein-ish film within-within-a-film is a reminder that we’re firmly in Dick’s patented “what is reality” territory. Just watching the pilot, I was having the response that everyone had to the finale of Patrick McGoohan’s equally allegorical 1967 TV series The Prisoner: What Does It All Mean, Maaaan?
In short, despite a few slightly clunky CGI shots (we are talking made-for-TV after all): Mind. Blown.
And really looking forward to the TV series, which multiple sources report has received the green light from Amazon. I just hope they don’t screw up the writing in the process of trying to meet weekly TV’s crushing deadlines.
Have you seen the pilot for The Man in the High Castle? If so, let me what you think in the comments below.