What if the Allies had lost World War II, the Nazis had been first to develop the atomic bomb, and the Germans and Japanese had carved up control of United States? That's the premise of the new streaming series from Amazon, The Man in the High Castle — an adaptation of the 1962 book by the same name. And the show is fantastic.
Nazi brownshirts control New York City streets, San Francisco is lorded over by Japanese police, and postwar TV game shows prominently feature Nazis in full regalia. The people of the United States seem to more or less accept their fate. Except, of course, for a band of freedom fighters not content with the way that their former enemies rule this alt-America with an iron fist.
The new series is a dark and moody portrait of an America that could have been. And I really can't get enough. The production design is wonderful, the cinematography is phenomenal, and the acting is superb. The Man in the High Castle truly seems to transcend the pitfalls of so much genre fiction by letting the new world wash over you rather than scream that things aren't right with the space that these characters inhabit.
The attention to detail is exceptional, and even though I've only watched the pilot once, I'm sure the series will reward repeat viewing, provided it gets picked up at all. Amazon has a strange system where it delivers a bunch of pilots at once and then only produces more episodes for shows that do well. It makes sense, but can be such a tease for a show that you get invested in after just one episode. I can't wait to see episode two, but for the time being you can bet I'll happily watch the first episode again.
Countless books and short stories by legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick have been adapted for the screen. Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, and of course the 1982 classic Blade Runner, adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? rank among the most popular adaptations. But The Man In The High Castle is obviously a different experience in so many ways. Rather than be faced with the futuristic gesture control screens of Minority Report or the flying cars of Blade Runner, we're presented a different kind of "future," if you will. A future wherein the past has changed, not tomorrow.
If the first episode is any indication, this series stands on its own as a fascinating piece of alt-history — a genre that at its worst bludgeons you over the head with reminders of how clever the creators are, and at its best dissects important social and cultural issues of today.
It's hard to judge an entire series by just the first episode, but given what we've seen so far, this one is at least worth 60 minutes of your time. [Amazon Prime Instant]
Image: Screenshot from The Man in the High Castle