There have been a number of movies based on Philip K. Dick works. Some of them are pretty great, even– Minority Report (based on “The Minority Report) and of course, Blade Runner (based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep). The first Total Recall (“We Can Remember it for You Wholesale”) also apparently fits in the “great” category, though I’ll be honest, I’ve never gotten around to seeing the whole thing. There’s A Scanner Darkly and The Adjustment Bureau (“The Adjustment Team”), which weren’t awful, and a whole string of others. Impostor, Paycheck, Radio Free Albemuth, and so on… To say nothing of Amazon’s TV series, The Man in High Castle.
And none of these are the best Philip K. Dick movie. None of them quite catch the feeling of his novels, even Blade Runner, which he apparently loved. No, the best Philip K. Dick movie, is, in fact, none other than family friendly The Lego Movie.
Hear me out.
If you just put The Lego Movie on to keep your kid occupied and don’t pay any attention, you’re likely to dismiss it as just another cheap toy-selling vehicle. It’s frenetic, it’s full of peppy music, and it makes no bones about being about toys. It’s bright and occasionally garish. It has a talking cat-unicorn.
Spoilers after the poster.
It is also an amazing piece of science fiction. Like most Pixar films, it eschews the “talk down to the kids” model in favor of making something the whole family can enjoy, and if you treat it like a science fiction film, you’re going to get what is essentially a story about a multiverse-spanning empire and a gang of scrappy rebels. The humor is genuinely funny, and the threat posed by the villain both gentle and horrifying. It uses the toys it’s about to create layers of reality in a way that few films could ever manage. The Matrix offers us two realities, a dystopian cyberpunk world and a dystopian postapocalyptic world. The Lego Movie offers us dozens, ranging from a dystopia (Bricksburg) to a Utopia (Cloud Cuckcooland) to dozens of lesser realities, with their own sets of rules. On top of all that, throughout the movie are hints of a higher reality intruding on the Lego Multiverse. They eventually become more than hints, as Lord Business is showing off his collection of artifacts to Bad Cop and we begin to recognize things like Band-Aids, X-Acto Knives, and even the nature of the dreaded Kraggle– It’s Crazy Glue. Real-world easter eggs become something else entirely towards the end of the movie in a move that takes the movie from something silly to something actually really impressive.
My reading of Dick isn’t super-thorough. I’m no PKD scholar, and maybe they’d shoot down my thoughts in this regard. But even a relatively cursory reading on my part (7-10 books?) shows PKD returning, time and again, to questions of the nature of reality. The Lego Movie not only dabbles in these questions, it embraces them, in a move that’s really rather surprising. It didn’t have to be smart. It didn’t have to have a heart. I mean, let’s be honest. The Lego Movie could have been two hours of bricks pouring across a screen without purpose and kids would have loved it. (Take a look at kid’s YouTube channels, if you doubt me.) But The Lego Movie is smart, and it does have heart, and I’ll be honest. If you asked me what my favorite scifi film of 2014 was– or, heck, my favorite film– I’d be hard pressed to choose between The Lego Movie and Interstellar. Honestly. It’s that good.
PKD would have loved it.