Radio Free Albemuth (2010)
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Radio Free Albemuth, while not sticking slavishly to every letter of the original text, is the first adaptation to really capture the spirit and convey the substance of Dick's work. Although this film does not have the high tech sheen of the more celebrated films to be taken from Dick's writing, it is every bit as gripping and exciting as the best of them, but also retains the intelligence, and political thought that previously has tended to go missing in translating Dick from page to screen.
John Alan Simon has written an exemplary screenplay and matched it with strong direction. The acting performances are also fine throughout.
I saw this at the Sci-Fi London film festival and got the distinct impression that I was not alone in my enthusiasm for this movie.
It's too talky. Dialogue and narrative seem to be recited pretty much straight from the novel, with little of visual interest on the screen most of the time.
Actors are not good at showing emotion. For instance, a main character is having an intense mystical vision, but in the reaction shots he could just as well be an American watching a cricket match.
I was also intrigued by the parallel with Total Recall: Rachel echoes Lori, and Sylvia recalls Melina. (Dare I also mention the similarity between Katheryn Winnick and Sharon Stone?) There is a world to be saved, but the saviors are flawed or compromised - or are remote in time or space.
Although set in an alternative world of the 1970s, this is a movie for our time, reflecting today's politics. But in typical Dick tradition, there is more than one way to view it. There are the usual Dickian motifs here - which is the reality, and which is the illusion?
The making of this movie was definitely a labor of love, and the attention to detail shines through. It is a fitting tribute to Dick, including the thoughtful and measured portrayal of the man himself by Shea Whigham.
It's not space opera - but then Dick was never a space opera author. Expect to be intrigued, and possibly challenged.
I enjoyed RFM enough to watch it twice, and would recommend it to anyone who skews toward A Scanner Darkly as far PKD adaptations, and would compare it tone to 1984 or THX-1138. It definitely feels like a product of the 70's. The highlight of RFM would have to be Shea Whigham's portrayal of "Phil" which comes of as a bizarre mix of a typical neo-noir dick and Jack Kerouac.
RFM is not without its issues. It occasionally falls into "tell don't show" mode, and there's missed opportunity to give us a few scenes depicting the antagonists carrying out their nefarious schemes instead of being told about them, possibly a result of the script following the novel a little too close. But all in all, if you're a fan of PKD, or science fiction with a slower pace and little to no explosions, Radio Free Albemuth is well worth your time.
I don't wish to sound indelicate here, but this is a truly awful film. It is a film made of a great story, but it falls short on so many levels. The acting is sub-par, the dialogue is tenuous, the action is moderately interesting and the visuals are woeful.
I had been waiting for this film for a long time and like many other Dickian's, I relished the thought of a new addition to the world of PKD. However, this is by far, one of the worst adaptations that I have seen, yet.
I am genuinely astonished that it has garnered 5.9, moreover though, are some of these reviews fake? I cannot for the life of me see anything of merit in these reviews, other than obvious bias.
There is so much wrong with this film, I feel cruel listing them all. From writing to filming, from filming to post, from post to release - It is obvious that this film has had troubles from the start.
I would implore Simon50 to keep hold of the rights to the novels that he has bought - And I would ask him to leave it to the professionals.
Critics who claim the story is disjointed or difficult to follow cannot blame the film makers. Blame Phil for that. If you're not up for a mind-boggling mixture of political conspiracy theories combined with an ancient alien satellite that beams insights and information to one of the main characters, Nicholas Brady (who happens to be remarkably like the real-life author), all witnessed by his worried friend Phil the writer (who truly is based on PKD), then perhaps you should click on over to something more sedate and sensible. If you've never heard of Philip K. Dick, who knows this could be your gateway movie. You might get hooked.
PKD is famous for blending philosophical, theological and political intrigue into one story, and not some huge, winding tome. He could do it in a short story or 200-page pulp fiction back in the day. Does it translate to the screen? Other movie makers have taken PKD concepts like futuristic "thought police", who can catch criminals before they commit the crime, and turned it into a Tom Cruise thriller (Minority Report, 2002.) Or, more recently another PKD short story about psychosis vs. actual metaphysical interference with Earth, was turned into a fantasy Rom-Com (The Adjustment Bureau, 2011.) This is true of around a dozen PKD story-to-movie adaptations. What makes Radio Free Albemuth unique, and worth the high rating, is that writer/director John Alan Simon stayed faithful to the original PKD story.
So, do I recommend it? Yes! You might not read a Philip K. Dick novel, so for a few bucks you can find out what a real Phil story is like. Over on Amazon.com, I went so far as to say RFA should be mandatory viewing for everyone under thirty, or for anyone who has forgotten or doesn't believe that history repeats itself. Given the current NSA surveillance tactics and increasing militarization of local police forces in America, Radio Free definitely has an important message. Just remember, it's not a straightforward path.
You also get to see Shea Whigham (Eli on HBO's Boardwalk Empire) play PKD, watch Alanis Morissette sing and act, and gaze at the beautiful Katheryn Winnick, of the TV Vikings series, as Nick Brady's confused and conflicted wife. As Phiip K. Dick's real-life widow says, "if you want action, watch Transformers." RFA is about interaction; rich in dialog, political intrigue, and subliminal communication. There's also the mystical and mysterious visions too that the film makers portray exactly as some of us long-time PKD fans have wanted to see. Bottom line: Radio Free Albemuth is a faithful portrayal of PKD's fears about the future at a time when it couldn't be more relevant. Watch and join the conspiracy!
Everyone involved in this project should be proud of themselves for the job they did. i think Philip K. Dick would be proud. I hope this is the first of many more to come. I wonder if Alanis is going to put out soundtrack? that would be really cool. I'm really glad that movie was under two hours and Simon didn't go on and on. I was intrigued throughout the film.
I would gladly watch it again and anxiously waiting for a DVD release.
Though YMMV, I highly recommend this film though it may not be for everybody. Not spiritual/religious? That's fine - you can easily ignore the religio-Gnostic slant of this work and approach it as an thought exercise.
If this movie doesn't make you think, if you can't draw a parallel to PKD's story and the events unfolding in our world today, if it doesn't make you question some long held, ingrained views in at least some capacity - then it may be a waste of your time.
But if can take something away from it, if it makes you think, if it makes you question, if it perhaps changes your point of view - well, you will probably be able to chalk it up as the best spent 111 cinematic minutes of your life.
The director and writer (John Alan Simon) was very respectful with the source material (a novel written by PKD in 1976 but not published until 1985) but also took great care in making the movie interesting for anybody who enjoys intelligent movies based on ideas and not on action.
Although I was familiar with the plot because I had read the novel recently, I found myself very engaged on the movie the whole time and that says a lot about of the construction and rhythm of the film.
To me this movies is up there with films like EXistenz, VideoDrome, Cube, Dark City just to mention a few ones. It is the kind of movie that throws a lot of ideas to the audience and that it can let you thinking about them for weeks.
The movie takes place on an alternative version of the United States where a president (Fremont) that has been on power for four consecutive terms is consolidating a highly authoritarian police state. In a national TV broadcast Fremont announces the existence of a subversion organization called Aramcheck which threat to the nation could "force" him to look for a fifth term in power.
A guy named of Nicholas Brady, who works as a clerk at a record store, has a metaphysical experience that he cannot explain: An unknown entity that present himself as VALIS (acronymous for Vast Active Live Intelligent System) starts broadcasting all kind of messages, visions and instructions directly to his brain. These visions end up changing his life completely and put it him and his friend Phil (and alter ego of Philip k Dick) in the middle of a battle of a secret organization to unmask the true intentions of president Fremont.
What it makes this movies timeless is that it deals with the universal theme of David Vs. Goliath: the small guy against the big power. This resonates with many recent events like the Arab spring or the Occupy movement but ultimately it relates to the struggles we all have to face at some points of our lives when we have to go against forces that are beyond our control and that cannot be reasoned with.
One think that I love about the movie (and the novel too) is how the character are questioning themselves all the time about what they are going through. This is not the kind of movie where there is a lot of exposition to make sure that all the audience get the same standard vision. In Radio Free Albemuth the characters are constantly creating and destroying theories about what is going on and that puts the audience at same level of the characters.
All the performance are very solid but I want to highlight two of them. The first one is Hanna Hall who plays Vivian Kaplan, an agent of a paramilitary organization serving president Fremont that has no boundaries when it comes to tracking down any potential threat for the regime. I loved how she managed to portray this cold, manipulative and lack of empathy character.
The other outstanding performance for me was Shea Whigham as Phil. I though that his kind of low key, cynical approach to the character was very appropriate. Although in this novel this is an alter ego of Philip K. Dick, they didn't try to do a direct characterization of him.
However, with all this said, not everything is perfect. Two me the movie has two main flaws. The fist one is with the character of Nick. The movie does not give the audience a real reason to care about this character because it jumps directly into his visions and it only gives a very brief glimpse of how his life was before having these experiences. I think the character would have gained a lot of depth by showing his life as a record store clerk.
Second problem is with president Freemont. His appearances in the movie are limited to the national broadcast he makes from the oval office which in my opinion doesn't help to establish the link between him and the oppression of the regime. His presence in the movie should be stronger.
All in all this a great movie and if you are looking for something different to the cliché-filled movies produced by Hollywood this is a great alternative. If you are a PKD fan you need to see this movie now.
We got to meet the director after the movie and I could already tell by watching the movie that he was an avid PKD fan. He was very personable and answered all of our questions about the movie. It was very cool to get to discuss such an amazing film with the director in person! I can't wait to get the DVD so I can watch it many more times and show it to friends.
Great job and looking forward to more PKD films from John Alan Simon!
But is this even a compelling idea for a film? Not in my opinion. It's naive and quite telling of the state of mind Philip K. Dick was in at the point in his life when he wrote the texts this film is based on. In fact, he didn't actually publish this story. He rewrote it as a completely different book. The story this film is based on was published posthumously. Who knows if Dick would have approved.
Overall, the film doesn't deserve the brutal assassination given by some reviewers. It also doesn't deserve the praise other reviewers have given it. It's an amateur effort with poor choices made in direction and cinematography that sabotage the overall result. Even the choice of story to put to film was probably not the best. I respect the desire to honor a beloved author, but no one knows of Philip K. Dick would himself have approved of this. The film adaptation history of his works has been mostly poor. It's a shame. On top of that, unsophisticated reviewers use this film to demean the skills of the actors present in it.
Taste varies, and there's no universal standard, but this film didn't deliver for me. I like slow films. I like subtle acting. I like dialog-heavy content over action-heavy content. I even tolerate low budgets when the filmmakers don't try to sell unconvincing visuals. This film failed to pass my rather tolerant standards for intellectual and slow art movies.
It was not satisfying. It almost wasn't worth my time, if not for sheer curiosity satisfaction ("is this another bad PKD adaptation?"). It was another reminder that resources don't necessarily get divvied out to the best people or the best projects. It's sad and frustrating for a lover of the potential of cinema and storytelling.
If not for the weirdly bipolar reviews, I wouldn't bother to write one of my own. The film deserves a "meh"; not hate or praise.