The whole point of an adaptation is, not to slavishly follow the source material, but to utilise the changed medium to say something different but remaining true to the core of the original.
Electric Dreams is a sci-fi anthology series with stand-alone episodes based on the works of Phillip K. Dick.
To be specific, the short stories that Dick wrote primarily in the 1950s. Thus, it is important to consider the context in which Dick wrote these stories – typically, the characters were under-developed and every story needed to end with a twist.
Thus far, quite a few movies have been made based on Dick’s short stories : from the good (Minority Report, Total Recall, Screamers) to the bad (Next, Paycheck, Imposter) but this is the first time that an entire TV series has done this.
The first episode adapted The Hood Maker, and while the episode rang true as far as the original’s themes were concerned (i.e. government surveillance, questions of loyalties, paranoia), it strayed a little too far and never quite clicked. Disappointing overall.
The second episode – The Impossible Planet – seemed destined to fail as the original story itself – about a old woman’s quest to return to the now-mythical planet Earth – was a bit of a one-trick pony.
Thus it was surprising that for the most part, the episode was quite faithful to the original. The old woman – Irma Gordon (Geraldine Chaplin) – hires 2 tourist spaceship operators viz. Captain Andrews (Benedict Wong) and colleague Norton (Jack Reynor) to take her to Earth for big money (5 years’ salary).
The pair decide to scam her and bring her (and her robot servant) instead to Emphor III (a planet with a hostile environment), pretending that it is Earth.
In the short story, Irma and her robot are destroyed on the hostile planet surface and the guilt-ridden Norton gives up his share of the money and tells Andrews that he is quitting his job. The twist, of course, is that Emphor III is actually Earth as Andrews is shown discovering a USA coin in the planet dirt in the end.
The episode inserts an intriguing romantic element to the relationship between Norton and Irma and ends the story with the couple somehow morphing into her grandparents and enjoying a skinny dip in a lustrous idyllic lake.
The thing is, back on the ship, Andrews discovers that there is not enough oxygen in the suits Norton and Irma are wearing – thanks to the robot? – and it runs out.
So … the couple are dead but who’s afterlife dream are we at the end? Irma or Norton? Nothing is quite explained but it all seems to work out very well for Irma and Norton with the fairy tale denouement.
We have mixed feelings about this episode. On the one hand, the changes made do improve the viewer’s enjoyment but that ending is not something that Dick would have written.
Dick hardly ever wrote happy endings, because he himself did not believe in them. Thus, in that sense, this adaptation felt like a betrayal.
… still there’s more …