Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau: What Do Mad Men and Fringe Have in Common?

Philip K. Dick has had an amazing run of superb and near-superb movies made out of his science stories - far more than any other science fiction author, including such greats in the pantheon as Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke.   Blade Runner and Total Recall from Dick's roster of work were superb.  Minority Report and Paycheck were near-superb.   The others were not quite as good, but that record is still some pretty fine movie shooting.  And The Adjustment Bureau was in between those first  two categories - superb and near-superb - which is pretty good indeed.

The Adjustment Bureau also connects to another creative nexus which has nothing to do with Philip K. Dick.  The movie represents the second foray into major science fiction by an actor from the Emmy-winning Mad Men.   Jon Hamm had a supporting role in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and John Slattery (Roger Sterling) has a supporting role in The Adjustment Bureau.  It's been a good 2011 for Roger, now showing up in Lincoln Towncar commercials as well an excellent movie.  And, as icing on the cake, The Adjustment Bureau is far far better than the new Day the Earth Stood Still.

It has whimsy, romance (in fact, it's billed as romance in some places) as well as Dick's patented what is really reality theme.   Matt Damon (who is always outstanding) plays Congressman David Norris on his way to being Senator and (if the Adjustment Bureau has it way) President of the United of States.  But if he's allowed to be with the woman he loves - a ballerina (Elise)  fetchingly played by Emily Blunt - he'll lose his edge and never make it to the White House.   The Adjustment Bureau's job is therefore to keep them apart.

A particularly nice plot touch is why David and Elise are so drawn together.  I sorta suspected this, but was glad to hear that a whole bunch of earlier plans had the two of them together, and remnants of those plans were driving the principals, much to the Adjustment Bureau's consternation.

Also enjoyable was the Adjustment Bureau's history with our species - they guided us from the hunter-gather stage to the Roman Empire, then adopted a hands-off policy which led to the Dark Ages.  So they came back again and gave us the Renaissance and the Age of Reason, bowed out in 1910, and left to our devices we got involved in two world wars and nearly destroyed the planet.  So they're back again, to help us, but to cause David and Elise lots of pain.

The Bureau's best weapons are reminiscent of Fringe, which is in turn a treasure-trove of 1950s golden age tropes.   The Adjustment team wear hats like my father wore - fedoras - and use these to open doors that are in all kinds of places in New York City, and lead to shortcuts that can get you across and up and downtown instantly.   These guys are powerful, but they also have an endearing bumbling quality (a little like the Eternal Bald Observers in Fringe, who also have bad hats) - one of the funniest parts of the movie is when Roger's character and another member of the AB don't duck away quickly enough from a window, with the result that David sees them.

They also have compassion, and the ending hinges on which will win, compassion verses sticking with the plan, which is all I'll say.  But Philip K. Dick has scored again with an excellent and unerasable movie made from one of his stories (and, hey, a scene was filmed at Fordham University!).

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The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book
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