Amazon’s new series “Man in the High Castle” is a fantastic reimagining of Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel. Executive producer Ridley Scott directed “Blade Runner,” the greatest Dick adaptation of all time and show runner Frank Spotnitz made his name working on “The X-Files.”
“Blade Runner” didn’t box itself in by sticking too closely to the plot of the “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” novel that inspired it and “Man in the High Castle” takes the alternate-history premise (Germany and Japan win WWII after FDR is assassinated in 1993 and we fail to prepare for war) and a few of the lead characters from the novel and uses them to create a new plot that stays true to Dick’s vision but plays much better as a ten-episode series.
Here’s the setup: it’s fifteen years after the war ends in 1947. Germany has wiped out DC with a nuclear bomb and taken over the eastern USA. Japan rules the West Coast and there’s a neutral zone than runs through the Rocky Mountain states. There’s a mystery man collecting newsreels that shows alternate outcomes to the war and he’s trading intelligence to the underground resistance in exchange for copies of the films.
One of the most fascinating things about the series is that there’s not much of a resistance. Most Americans have adapted to their new overlords and fighting against the system is seen as foolish at best.
An elderly Adolph Hitler is also obsessed with the newsreels and directs his underlings to retrieve as many as possible for his collection. Many of his lieutenants think the old man should retire and there are subplots about jockeying for power after his inevitable demise: Heydrich shows up as one of the bad guys.
There’s also a Cold War between Germany and Japan, the passing of nuclear secrets and an event that strongly echoes the JFK assassination.
The production design is astonishing. It’s hard to imagine what the budget could be or even if this kind of detailed alternate version of mid-century America would’ve been possible to create even just a decade ago, no matter what your budget was. It’s every bit as good as what Scott did with “Blade Runner” and seems destined to influence movies and TV for years to come.
Spotnitz is great at the conspiracy stuff. The show takes liberties with the novel’s plot, but even the book’s biggest fans would probably admit that its vague (“spiritual”) ending probably prevented it from making it to screen for the last 50 years.
There’s a shocking end to the series, one that raises all kinds of questions about where the series could go next if Amazon orders another season. They’re definitely off-book at this point and there’s a huge amount of intrigue brewing that promises a second series as good as the first.
The show gives viewers plenty to think about and fans of both World War II films and Cold War spy movies will likely love this.