Monday, January 19, 2015

The Man in the High Castle on Amazon: Outstanding

Note: This review is just of the pilot (first episode); for a review of the complete 10-part series, see here; for further analysis, with spoilers, see here.

2015 is quickly shaping as a year of superb science fiction on screen - Predestination (the movie of "All You Zombies"), 12 Monkeys the TV series on the SyFy Channel, and now The Man in High Castle TV series - from the Philip K. Dick alternate history masterpiece - on Amazon.   I just saw the first episode and it is outstanding.

The story is that the US lost the Second World War to Nazi Germany and Japan, who split the US down the middle, with a small neutral zone between them.   The year is 1962, and the man in the high castle is part of the resistance, distributing movies on reels which show the United States and its allies not Germany and Japan winning World War II.  Whether these films are just propaganda, or reflections of the truer reality (in fact, our reality) that this man in the high castle has access to, remains to be seen - and is a great example of the flickering nature of reality that Dick is so well known for.

The fine touches and subtleties in the pilot are excellent - swastikas and Japanese suns popping on all kinds of public places including Times Square and the Golden Gate Bridge.   The tension between the Japanese and the Nazis is also well taken and well played.   The Nazis always considered the Japanese inferior, and its alliance with Japan was one of convenience.   On the Japanese side, although they're far from angels, their reign is not quite as brutal as the Nazis in the US East.   We see African Americans and all kinds of people in the West that the Nazis would find unacceptable.    In contrast, we get a grizzly scene in which the Nazis are incinerating "cripples".

Hitler is old and likely to soon die.  The Japanese correctly fear that his successor - Himmler or Goebbels or Goering - will drop nuclear bombs on the Japanese in San Francisco.  (In this alternate reality, Germany was most responsible for winning the Second World War because it beat the US in getting the atom bomb, and used it on America.)  This is the backdrop against which the American resistance, whatever it exactly is, most contend.

There's a kick-in-the-gut twist at the end of the pilot episode, which I won't tell you about, in case you don't know the story.  What I will say is that in pacing, storyline, and carefully constructed 1962 alternate history environment, The Man in the High Castle on television looks set to do Dick's novel some memorable justice.  I was quoted earlier this year about 2015 being the year in which streaming moved into really high gear and even dominance as the mode of television presentation.  The Man in the High Castle on Amazon certainly is a strong piece of evidence in favor of that prediction, and that's no alternate history.

Note added February 20, 2015: Delighted with the news that Amazon will be putting up at least one season - The Man in the High Castle could do for alternate history on television what Star Trek did for science fiction on TV in the past century.




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podcast review of Man in the High Castle


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