The Man in the High Castle is a new Amazon Video series (free to stream with Prime Membership). The entire series will be available to stream on 11/20, but they have already released the pilot episode for viewing. As a fan of the author of the eponymous novel and source content of the series, Philip K. Dick, and a fan of the myriad of movies that have been made that are based off of Philip K. Dick novels (Bladerunner, A Scanner Darkly, The Adjustment Bureau), I was beyond excited when I heard about the series being made. I am in the process of reading the novel, but I have a feeling that I will finish the Amazon series before I finish the book. I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the source material for Bladerunner, after viewing the movie, but I found that the book and movie were different enough that the book was still interesting. In fact, it’s one of my favorite novels now.
Like Bladerunner, High Castle requires some computer-generated dystopian cities and settings. There’s less futuristic technology seen in High Castle, but there are some other great themes that are emphasized in the cinematography and script. There is an outright emphasis on tradition and authenticity that hits pretty close to home with the more recent fashion and lifestyle movement towards “authentic living.” Social commentary aside, fuzzy televisions and dimly lit spaces give High Castle a rustic pre-modern vibe, while the constance of uniformed Nazi’s and police on the lookout for those in the resistance create a baseline tension. This tension is emphasized by the interactions between characters as they point out limitations and dangers based on race or religion. Throughout the episode there is a struggle between the police and resistance, but there is no indication of how large the resistance is or of what importance the man in the high castle plays in any of it. Is he a Wizard of Oz type, or does he have a full blown army waiting for the right moment? The only thing known for sure is that the Nazi’s do not want his films being distributed. The most blatant indicators for what will happen in the next episodes come in the form of a Mr. Tagomi, through which it is confirmed that there will be another nuclear bomb dropped and world war for complete control over the former US. He also points out that destiny will be decided by man, which brings us back to our two main characters, both of which seem to be on the hunt for answers about the man in the high castle. However, their true motives are unclear at the moment.
The pilot touches on a lot of different themes, but the most striking element of the pilot was the beautiful and effective cinematography. As in all pilots, we receive an introduction to the setting and each of the main characters, and the pilot did a great job of introducing the settings through establishing shots and wide angle shots in the streets and in buildings, along with close-up and use of dialogue to introduce us to characters. The visual storytelling is most effective in pulling viewers from highly relatable interactions between characters and back into the dystopian world that they live in. Interactions between characters are constantly interrupted by the outside world, via police officers, a phone call, or by environmental factors (the Tuesday hospital ashes). Otherwise normal settings are also pulled into the realm of the story through the use of overhangs which feature Japanese characters and remnants of wartime propaganda. This also keeps a baseline tension throughout the story, along with the naivety of both main characters (one is robbed on the bus, the other suffers a flat tire mid-journey; both interactions lead to another party pointing out that they are obviously new to their surroundings/job).
There is obviously a lot of room for analysis in High Castle and a lot of interesting storytelling and cinematography…which means I CANNOT WAIT FOR MORE!!!