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The future keepers

Philip K. Dick's children work to ensure the influential author's cinematic legacy.

September 15, 2007|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Philip K. DICK, the science-fiction author who struggled for years with personal demons, never saw "Blade Runner," the first Hollywood adaptation of his writing. He died of a stroke just four months shy of its release in 1982. His grieving daughter Isa, then 15, remembers going to see the film in a San Rafael theater hoping that it might, somehow, keep part of her father alive.

"I went with my mom and I remember that there were maybe two other people in the whole theater and that was the way it was everywhere -- the movie was a total failure," Isa Dick Hackett said. "I remember too that the lights came up before the dedication at the end, so I didn't even get to see that. It was like a double slap in the face."

After the bruising "Blade Runner" fiasco, Dick's family assumed that the late writer had "zero future in movies," as his daughter put it. That would have added another discouraging footnote to a pained life. Dick had five failed marriages, wrote most of his novels while gobbling amphetamines and, in the grips or paranoia or religious visions, he felt always the outsider.

But while Philip Kindred Dick was a disaffected loner in life, in death his ideas turned out to be pitch-perfect for a Digital Age that wanted science fiction not just about aliens but also about the alienated.

Posthumously, Dick became a one-man factory for Hollywood projects, with his fiction reaching the screen nine times. Among the films: Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report," Paul Verhoeven's "Total Recall," John Woo's "Paycheck" and, earlier this year, the Nicolas Cage vehicle "Next," which arrives on DVD in stores on Sept. 25.

"Blade Runner," meanwhile, has bounced back from its early obscurity to become one of the most celebrated science-fiction films ever made. In October, it returns to theaters with "Blade Runner: The Final Cut," a 25th anniversary edition that, for the first time, realizes director Ridley Scott's vision with a meticulous reworking.

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Resurgent image

All of it makes for a staggering turnaround for the family of the troubled writer whose work presaged the cyberpunk movement; there is still debate about the quality of his actual prose versus the urgency of his concepts, but now, finally, he is at least mentioned as often as the familiar icons of the genre during his lifetime, the Asimovs, Bradburys, Clarkes and Heinleins. (Four of Dick's 1960s novels have just been reissued by the prestigious Library of America, giving the paperback writer some new hardcover cachet.)

This month, Hackett, who is 40 and lives in the Bay Area, joined Scott and much of the cast of "Blade Runner" at a gala premiere of the reconstituted version at the Venice Film Festival. The clamor of the international press and the ornate trappings of the theater on the Lido made for a surreal counterpoint to the sad California experience in the summer of 1982.

"I kept thinking back to how it was when I saw it that first time and how I had walked in with this little glimmer of hope that the movie would bring more attention to my dad and his writing. I loved the film myself, but I gave up that hope. And now it's all pretty amazing."

Hackett and her sister Laura Leslie are the principal players behind Electric Shepherd, the family's production company. The company, which is now opening an L.A. office, was created in 2005 partly out of frustration; after watching Hollywood disappointments such as "Screamers" and "Paycheck," the Dick brood decided they needed a stronger hand in future projects.

Right now, Hackett said, there are six film projects that are in various stages of negotiation or development, including advanced talks that would finally bring one of his signature works, "Ubik," to life as a feature film.

Hollywood creators have flirted with "Ubik," the 1969 novel, more than any other single work in the Dick library. Its tale of skirmishing telepaths and slippery reality earned it a spot on Time magazine's 2005 list of the 100 greatest English-language novels since 1923.

There are also strong pushes being made into video games and graphic novels, and a audio-book collection of his complete short stories is expected to launch in 2008. There's also a limited series for television written by David Hayter (a screenwriter on "X-Men" and the upcoming "Watchmen") that pulls together a dozen or so of Dick's short stories within a narrative frame.

Of all the percolating ventures, however, none is a higher priority than a biopic of Dick that is being penned now by screenwriter Tony Grisoni ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"); Oscar-nominated actor Paul Giamatti is the star and co-producer. Hackett said this week that the script will intertwine Dick's life story with scenes from his final and unfinished novel, "The Owl in Daylight," a typical Dick story in that it bundles up themes of the fantastic and the disaffected.

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