Quality science fiction television has seen a resurgence since Ron Moore rebooted Battlestar Galactica in 2004. And now, Moore is working with Amazon to adapt a legendary sci-fi writer’s work for a new series called Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. Much like Netflix’s Black Mirror and the upcoming CBS All Access reboot of The Twilight Zone, Electric Dreams is an anthology series, where each episode is a standalone, self-contained story. Unlike Black Mirror, Electric Dreams isn’t the bleakest thing on TV.
Each episode of Electric Dreams is based on the work of Dick, the acclaimed science fiction writer whose other adapted works include Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, and The Man in the High Castle. Thematically, Electric Dreams fits well within that body.”I think the two underlying themes that are present in most of [Dick’s] work, almost every piece of his work, interestingly enough, is the question of what does it mean to be human and what is the nature of reality,” Moore told GameSpot. “There’s always a lot about the nature of love and trust and freedom versus security and those types of things.”
Within the realm of most contemporary science fiction, there is an overall fear of the future or fear of technology always present. Essentially, it’s desolate and cold, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Moore went on to explain that both Twilight Zone and Black Mirror have defining characteristics, like with Twilight Zone’s twists and Black Mirror being centered around technology. Electric Dreams centers around the human experience and the philosophies surrounding it.
“There’s a lot of hope, and a lot of truth,” Isa Dick Hackett, daughter of Philip Dick and executive producer, told GameSpot during New York Comic Con last year. “I got these scripts and then just start crying, because they’re beautiful. Because they really were about human relationships and pain.”
Executive producer Michael Dinner put it very simply when he told us, “The future doesn’t have to be terrible.”
Because of the format, to truly understand just what Electric Dreams is, you have to limit the focus to the individual episodes, all of which keep the filmmaker’s vision in mind just as much as the source material. Take for example the fifth episode of the series, “Real Life,” written by Ron Moore and directed by Jeffrey Reiner (The Affair). Originally based on the 1954 short story “Exhibit Piece,” “Real Life” is a departure from the source material, but it does keep the centralized theme intact.
“[Moore] started with a story about a super-nervous museum curator who was caught between centuries,” executive producer David Kanter told GameSpot. “He didn’t know if he was a guy from the 1950s who had come back in time to curate an exhibit about the 1950s 100-200 years in the future or whether he was in the ’50s and having delusions. Ron ended up writing a story about two people connected through artificial intelligence. That was exactly what we were hoping for–that type of transformation from the original stories to something new that still had the essence.”
The location and time may have changed, but the idea of questioning what is real life remains the focal point for this story.
Back in May, we were invited onto the set of Electric Dreams for the filming of that episode, which stars Anna Paquin and Terrence Howard. The episode filmed in downtown Chicago, inside a diner that feels outside of time. During conversations with the cast, the word “grounded” came up over and over again.
“The grounded thing I think is key for this because we have two realities bouncing off each other and each one is competing and claiming that it’s the real reality,” explained Sam Witwer, who plays Chris in the episode. “So the whole key is to keep it as grounded as possible, which is tough, considering there’s martial arts fights and people getting shot. You’re trying to sell that somehow as reality. I think the key is just not to take anything for granted in the performance and show a little realistic fear for what’s actually happening.”
While the focus of the episode is primarily on questioning your surroundings, the technology in this episode is something very familiar: virtual reality. However, it’s VR that’s evolved to a point where it’s tough to decipher what’s real and what’s manufactured.
“At what point does our mind play tricks on us and confuse us?” asked Jacob Vargas, who plays a character named Mario in the episode. “And do we start to lose sight of what’s real and what’s not?”
In an era of anthological storytelling, Electric Dreams should easily be able to find its audience, especially considering the talent behind it and the source material. While many may not be familiar with the original work the show is adapting–as most come from lesser-known short stories–the themes of what it means to be human and the day-to-day struggles we all deal with should resonate with its audience. There’s always room for more science-fiction on television, especially when it comes from Ron Moore, so Electric Dreams is a welcomed addition.
Electric Dreams comes to Amazon Prime video on January 12.