Set in a quasi-Fascist alternative U.S. of the 1980s, “Radio Free Albemuth” is an engrossing adaptation of the same-named novel by Philip K. Dick. Produced on a much more modest scale than previous Dick interpretations such as “Minority Report,” this well-performed paranoia piece about a music exec rebelling against the state after receiving messages from an alien intelligence should connect strongly with Dick’s fanbase and attract upscale auds seeking sci-fi with political and philosophical substance. John Alan Simon’s helming debut, which hasn’t yet secured Stateside distribution, could prosper in niche situations if correctly marketed. Hefty worldwide ancillary action is assured.
Radio Free Albemuth is a terrific movie, a personal project and a labour of love, the type of quirky indie movie they used to make in the 1990s. Next to Richard Linklater’s adaptation of A Scanner Darky, it is the only other truly faithful adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel, since the likes ofTotal Recall, Blade Runner, Screamers, Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureauwere all altered almost beyond recognition by the studios into big budget action movies. Writer-director John Alan Simon has stayed true to the original novel, maintaining the feel of a contemporary Southern California social drama encroached upon by metaphysical Science Fiction and political dread.
Very early on in the film Radio Free Albemuth, we’re straight-up shown an alien satellite in orbit shooting a zap-beam into the head of Nick Brady (Jonathan Scarfe), the movie’s protagonist. This scene almost dares us to just accept what is going on, but when you’re making a Philip K. Dick movie, a disconnect between reality (even a science fictional one) and “normal stuff” is bound to happen. And instead of avoiding that inherent disconnect, this film embraces it. Because if you’re not willing to have a tonally jumbled movie, one in which the movie itself seems to almost parody the human experience, then you can’t adapt Dick.
One of Philip K. Dick’s (1928-1982) finest inspirations was VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System), which he first laid out in Radio Free Albemuth. The novel was written in 1976, but not published until 1985. The new film Radio Free Albemuth (2014) is the eleventh book of Dick’s that has been brought to the screen. Unlike Blade Runner (1982), which strongly deviated from its source novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Radio Free Albemuth is very faithful to the original. Director John Alan Simon adapted the book for the screen, and it is clear that he is a big fan of the author.
This weekend I traveled to the Museum of the Moving Image to see Radio Free Albemuth, a film adaptation of the same-titled book by science fiction author Philip K. Dick. Director John Alan Simon was present and generously gave the audience time for questions afterward, describing his own personal history with P.K.D.’s work and his choice to adapt Radio Free Albemuth.
The latest novel to Hollywood effort, Radio Free Albemuth, comes from the blood, sweat and tears of screenwriter/director John Alan Simon. The film itself feels effortless, which no doubt is due to mountains of effort put into it by those who crafted it. The story begins slowly, as the characters discuss the meaning of the strange visions that Nick Brady (played by Jonathan Scarfe) experiences. His friend Phil (Philip K. Dick, played by Shea Whigham) encourages Brady’s journey into mystical experience, despite the protests of Brady’s wife Rachel (played by Katheryn Winnick).
I’ve always felt that instead of asking “what is God” we should be more focused on asking “what is the nature of God?” Should we really be so concerned with who or what such a power is, if we do not truly understand what purpose that power holds in our lives? Watching RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH is a personal cinematic experience and this is what I feel is at the core of the film’s story.
Writer/director/producer John Alan Simon consciously channeled the mind of prolific science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick to re-create this masterpiece novel as a suspenseful movie. The result is a film about what I’ll call the power or catalyst for inner drive, the essence of our inspiration and motivation. Dick called this source VALIS, an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System.