Saturday 26 March 2011

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

This 2011 film, a "romantic science fiction thriller", is loosely based on a 1954 short story by Philip K. Dick called "Adjustment Team". The film was written and directed by George Nolfi and stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt with Terence Stamp and John Slattery. Slattery is recognisable from his recent work on the hit TV series Mad Men.

Without giving away the whole story, the film is a romance as David Norris (Matt Damon) meets Elise (Emily Blunt) and they both seem to know that they are meant for each other no matter what else goes on in their lives. It's a thriller as we have our protagonists trying to elude a mysterious group of people. It's science fiction as the mysterious group can do things which defy the laws of physics.

The crux of the story is that this mysterious group of people somehow control our lives. There is a plan and when there are deviations in the plan, the group steps in to make an adjustment to get everything back on track. David was not supposed to meet Elise so the group breaks them up and tries to keep them apart. What's left unsaid throughout the film is whether or not these people are angels and whether their boss is God.

If there is some sort of bigger theme to the movie, it is whether or not we have free will or whether everything is pre-ordained. If all this is pre-ordained, we can argue that yes, there is a plan and that plan was written by somebody other than ourselves. If not, we could argue for free will and perhaps for the element of chance in our lives. Not everything can be explained by a plan.

Let me though stop right there. In reading other critiques of the film I noted that some reviewers got into this philosophical discussion of God, free will, pre-ordained events etc. pretty much how some people went overboard analysing Inception. Sorry folks, this isn't a religious treatise; this is a movie. It's entertainment and certainly not the most profound filming of the subject matter. Let's not start ascribing to it all sorts of hidden meaning, profound implications, and spiritual ramifications. It's just a movie.

Philip Dick
One curious background note to this cinematic endeavour is that the story of the film is based on a short story written by Philip Dick in 1954. It seems odd that the writer (and director) of the film, Georg Nolfi, would have plumbed the depths of an author who certainly isn't on the New York Times Bestseller list. I quote from Wikipedia:

Philip Kindred Dick (1928–1982) was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre. Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments and altered states. In his later works Dick's thematic focus strongly reflected his personal interest in metaphysics and theology. He often drew upon his own life experiences in addressing the nature of drug abuse, paranoia and schizophrenia, and transcendental experiences in novels such as A Scanner Darkly and VALIS.

The novel The Man in the High Castle bridged the genres of alternate history and science fiction, earning Dick a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, a novel about a celebrity who awakens in a parallel universe where he is unknown, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel in 1975. "I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards", Dick wrote of these stories. "In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real." Dick referred to himself as a "fictionalizing philosopher."

In addition to 44 published novels, Dick wrote approximately 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines during his lifetime. Although Dick spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty, ten of his stories have been adapted into popular films since his death, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, and now, The Adjustment Bureau. In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the one hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923. In 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.

Blade Runner? Total Recall? Minority Report? Wait a sec, this Philip Dick guy is no small potatoes. These three films are not just three films, these are three great films. As I read the words "Dick spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty", I look up to discover that Blade Runner came out in 1982, the year of his death. Too bad Dick didn't live long enough to see that his work was finally recognized.

Final Word
Does The Adjustment Bureau work as a film? Overall, this movie is good. I have the feeling that George Nolfi, the writer and director, was shooting for another Inception (see my blog Movie Review: Inception: My dream critique). Science fiction as a genre allows anybody to do anything as we can suspend the laws of physics and go nuts visually. However, Nolfi restricts himself with really just one trick - the teleportation via various doors - so the film has none of visually stunning laws of physics bending scenes of Inception. Of course, what a difference in budgets: The Adjustment Bureau clocked in at $62 million while Inception's budget topped out at $160 million. An extra hundred million will buy you a lot of special effects.

As I said, the film is good; it's a respectable "good". (Rotten Tomatoes: 72%) However, I'm now going to qualify that. It is good in that it is worth a look on a Saturday night curled up on your sofa with a bowl of popcorn. In that sense, it's a good hour and a half of entertainment. I'm not sure I'd fork over the price of a ticket at the theatre. I saw Inception at the IMAX and its special effects made it worthwhile shelling out for the knock-your-socks-off visual experience but The Adjustment Bureau? I don't think so. Wait to rent it to watch on your TV.


Rotten Tomatoes: The Adjustment Bureau: 72%

Wikipedia: The Adjustment Bureau
The Adjustment Bureau is a 2011 American film loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story, "Adjustment Team".

Wikipedia: Adjustment Team
"Adjustment Team" is a science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick. It was first published in Orbit Science Fiction, Sept-Oct 1954, No.4.

Wikipedia: Philip K. Dick
Philip Kindred Dick (December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982) was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre.

my blog: Movie Review: Inception: My dream critique
My movie review in one word: deception. Picky, picky, you say? Well, how about The Matrix? There's a film that truly captured my imagination and somehow, I don't quite see "Inception Reloaded" and "Inception Revolutions" coming out any time soon.


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

thank you :) i'll wait ... i was on the fence ... i'm sure that shaw will have it on our cable :)