Amazon Streaming Presents: THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE
I'd been hearing quite a bit about this P.K. Dick adaptation, produced by Ridley Scott - not all of it good, so I decided to check it out for myself last night. Now - I've read a small handful of Dick's stories, and I have great admiration for the man. His concepts are often complex and difficult to follow, but the man was undoubtedly a deep thinker and obsessed with humanity as a species from a sociological, ideological, and even metaphysical perspective as well as the individual concepts of identity, destiny, and fate. That's quite an undertaking, and his results vary wildly, and are endlessly debated among fans of his work. His book THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is not one that I have read, so I went into the episode with zero preconceptions other than those which I derived from the various internet musings that I'd perused. TMitHC is part of Amazon.com's Instant streaming "Pilot Season", where they present a grab-bag of commissioned "pilots" to be evaluated as candidates for a full series. This is the first time that I've viewed one of their pilots, although I believe that their Pilot Season is now in its third year. Amazon's streaming service has always been considered by most to be a pale imitator of Netflix with a greatly reduced offering of titles. While that was certainly true in the past, and the service is most certainly still treading in the footsteps of Netflix, Amazon has come some distance in distinguishing themselves as an alternative to other streaming services; and while they have yet to develop their own series that has been as successful as Netflix's HOUSE OF CARDS (soon releasing its third season on the service), allowing subscribers to "vote" on their favorite(s) of thirteen pilots seems like a effective path to developing that key successful series that has thusfar eluded them. The concept in a nutshell is this: *What if* the axis powers had actually won World War II and had conquered the United States? I say "axis powers", but apparently Italy didn't draw enough water to warrant a piece of the good ol' US of A. Most of the nation is controlled by the Nazis, while the western seaboard is ruled by the Japanese. The two territories are separated by a thin vertical strip known as the "Neutral Zone" which is inhabited by blacks and other minorities cast aside by the ruling powers, as well as others who are fleeing rule under the iron fist of the axis. The series is set in the 1960s - approximately twenty or so years after the U.S. surrendered to the Nazis upon dropping the first H-bomb on Washington D.C. Most people have "gotten on" with their lives, even though people being gunned down in the streets and beaten to death during interrogations is a daily occurrence. Not all Americans have given up, and we are introduced to "The Resistance" early on in the pilot, and this presents the jumping-off point for the plot. The twist which drives the plot concerns a mysterious newsreel filmstrip from post-WWII which depicts the *defeat* of the axis powers. It is the same footage familiar to most of us that includes the famous image of the sailor kissing his girl in Times Square. But how can such footage exist? How indeed. One character, upon seeing the footage, remarks that it is "faked" and is part of a cache of propaganda created by the mysterious "Man in the High Castle"; but - as another character replies - if it is faked, why are the Nazis and Japanese so eager to destroy the footage to the point of killing anyone suspected of possessing it? As you might guess, we get no answers to these questions in this first episode, but our main protagonist sets out to the Neutral Zone in search of such answers.
Buy or Rent A Voyage To Twin Peaks at Amazon. It is the documentary Scott directed about the 25th Twin Peaks Festival. See the actors, the set locations and interviews with the fans. I've read some criticism of the pilot of being too heavy-handed, and that in the novel on which it is based, characters ranging from Americans to axis collaborators to the Nazi and Japanese occupiers are painted in shades of gray. Since I've not read the book, I can't really draw any direct comparisons, but I can confirm that characters so far are painted with rather broad strokes (Nazis are bad... mmmmkay?), although we are presented with two Japanese and German characters who are working secretly toward some purpose that would undermine each of their respective governments and for which they could be found guilty of treason. There is also at least one other character appearing in the pilot who appears to be sympathetic, but none of them get enough screen time or development for us to be sure. In fact, being uncertain of anyone's motives is a major part of the tension in the show. Who is truly part of the resistance, and who is really a collaborator? I suppose that the producers can be at least partially forgiven for their lack of subtlety, considering that that have one hour on which to sell not only Amazon on the series, but Amazon's subscribers as well. Overall, I really did enjoy this one-off one-hour episode, and I am extremely interested to see where the story goes. I am hoping that the pilot gets picked up for production, and I would expect that we will see a bit more complexity in the character development if/when that happens. For fans of P.K. Dick and heady speculative fiction, I urge you to set aside an hour to watch this pilot, and to share your opinion with Amazon at their site after viewing it.