Philip K. Dick has enjoyed a surprisingly active and commercial afterlife considering the decidedly non-commercial nature of his output and the fact that, from a sales perspective, he was never more than a cult success during his lifetime. Then again, Dick’s posthumous popularity as the source for big-budget science fiction movies both revered (Total Recall, Minority Report) and not so revered (Paycheck, Next, The Adjustment Bureau) should perhaps not come as a surprise because Dick trafficked in the kind of sexy, hooky, accessible ideas movies love.
Dick has been adapted extensively in part because his work is so adaptable. Filmmakers can take the core of an idea explored in a Dick short story and adapt it any way they see fit, secure in the knowledge that if they take as many liberties with Dick’s work as filmmakers have tended to take, they only risk alienating a small core of Dick cultists. Sure enough, by the time the Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” was adapted into 1990’s Total Recall a quarter-century ago by a divisive satirist with a uniquely bloody, extreme take on the grotesque excesses of American culture named Paul Verhoeven, it had already been through several different strikingly different iterations.