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How Kazuo Ishiguro and Mark Romanek differ from Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott

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Talk to any science fiction movie fan and Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner is in the top ten sci-fi films of all time. It’s a gritty, fully realized vision of the future, where android hunter Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, guns down Nexus 6 androids, led by Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer.

It’s a great action flick, a bad guy vs. good guy, cops and robbers-style thriller, with lots of gadgets and atmosphere thrown into the mix.

The only problem is, it doesn’t much resemble its source material, Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Sure, in the book, there’s a character named Rick Deckard, and yup, he’s a cop, and he’s destroying Nexus 6 androids, but the reason he’s doing it is because for every android he “retires,” he receives 500 dollars.

It’s bounty money.

What does Rick Deckard want to spend that money on? In this Philip K. Dickian future-world, nearly all animals are extinct; only the rich class can afford to own real animals. Otherwise, middle class stiffs like Deckard might be able to own an android pet, but never the real thing.

Deckard, however, aspires to purchase a real, living animal, and so Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a kind of keep-up-with-the-Joneses social satire.

Blade Runner has some thematic crossover with the book (what is the nature of being human? …can a machine exhibit human-like characteristics?), but by and large it’s a very different product.

It’s easy to see how the new film, Never Let Me Go, opening Friday, might haven take a similar slippery slope course as did Blade Runner. The author of the novel the movie’s based on, is Kazuo Ishiguro, perhaps best know for his other book that was made into a film, The Remains of the Day.

In this work of speculative fiction, set in Britain, boarding schools are actually farms for cloned donors. These cloned children are raised in these schools, taught as if they are “real” children, and encouraged to live healthy, toxin-free lives. Later, as young adults, they begin to donate their vital organs to humans who require these organs.

The plot revolves around the awakening these cloned children experience as they grow into adults, coming to grips with their predicament. Never Let Me Go features a standard love triangle story, but in a way you’ve never quite seen before. And the trio of actors in that triangle, Carey Mulligan (An Education), Keira Knightly (Bend It Like Beckham) and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), are all in top form, as they grapple with the fact they are born to give their organs away, resulting in their early deaths.

It’s simple to imagine how this novel could have taken a disturbing cinematic turn. These are clones after all — tantamount to zombies or robots, but instead of these creatures creating a threat to the outside world, they are demure; they know their place, their class, their caste.

Happily, Mark Romanek stays true to the original novel. In fact it’s a quiet film, with plenty of space to read between the lines. His treatment enables and enhances Ishiguro’s exploration of class politics, and what it means to be human. Any opportunity to push these themes, create sentimentality or gratuitous violence are gracefully avoided.

Philip K. Dick died in 1982, too late to reap the riches of Hollywood. And Hollywood has ravaged his work ever since, from one mediocre movie to another (okay, I do love Minority Report), but only Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly does justice to Dick’s vision.

Given Dick’s popularity, there will be many more directors to give it a shot.

Kazuo Ishiguro is alive and well and relatively young — mid 50s. His oeuvre is small, compared to Dick’s but it contains a masterpiece that few writers, let along the knock-it-out-in-a-hurry Dick, can aspire to, the 1995 The Unconsoled. A sustained dream narrative, the novel is an unfolding, mesmerizing contraption, just like an epic dream that undulates then creases back into itself.

If someone ever turns The Unconsoled into a film, I’m hoping for a faithful adaptation.

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