Sunday, November 22, 2015

"The Man in the High Castle"

A few days ago an observer of the film business was quoted as saying that "The Man in the High Castle" could be for Amazon what "House of Cards" has been for Netflix.  After two episodes it can be said that on that score Netflix has absolutely nothing to worry about.

"The Man in the High Castle" has as a high point simply the overall premise, and the template for the story line is set.  While assuming that word is out now broadly, the story imagines that the Axis powers won World War II and the United States has been under the rule of the Germans in the east and the Japanese on the west coast.  The center of the country, cut by the Rocky Mountains, is a dystopian neutral zone.

The story is based on a science fiction novel by the great writer Philip K. Dick.  While at least 20 years removed from reading one of his books here, the strongest memory is one of clever and thought provoking tales with a large dose of humor, decidedly unlike most science fiction.  It seems that the screenplay writers of "The Man in the High Castle" completely missed the humor.  Having not read this particular book, no specific comparisons can be referenced.  It must be noted, subject to follow up, that one review read suggested that the brutality of the new rulers, which is explicit in this film, was not part of the book.  It is a gratuitous addition by the show's creators one could guess.

The visual look of the film carefully integrates the symbols of the Nazis and the Japanese into the landscape of a country that did not recover from the war.  The cities, New York and San Francisco, are gray and smoggy looking and the people do not look prosperous.  Only the victors presiding over the lands look like they are experiencing a life that is marked by good fortune.  This set-up leads into a story of the underground movement of a people rebelling against fascist tyranny, at great risk to themselves.

The comparison to "House of Cards" does not work because both the acting and the writing are not at the level of that show.  With the exception of one awkward character in particular, the acting is fine, it just could not be called close to exceptional.  The writing veers toward melodrama at points, but again still works to keep what may turn out to be an increasingly interesting story on the move. What is fascinating about "The Man in the High Castle" is the efforts the show's creators have gone through to create the detail that follows their theme.  There of lots and lots of little things that seem to be about right, nice touches, and keep a 1962 country under foreign rule somewhat plausible.

In the world of turmoil that we live in presently, I could not help but wonder what current day Japanese and Germans might think as they see themselves projected into this scenario as brutal and heartless rulers.  In a sense, the timing of this fluff seems all wrong.  Two of our strongest allies today are depicted in a way that is part of a distant past, one which those countries want to see long buried.

It is not clear that this film is constructive, even as it may pull viewers into its style of entertainment.    

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