The Man in the High Castle is a TV adaptation of the novel by Philip K Dick. The setting is a world in which the Axis Powers of Japan, Italy, and Nazi Germany won the Second World War. Set in the now fractured North America, which is split into the Japanese controlled Pacific States on the west coast, the Germany controlled United States to the east, and the mid-America zones known as the Rocky Mountain States, which act as a safe zone between the two. Germany and Japan are now in a cold war status, and with Adolf Hitler’s health deteriorating, the worry is that whomever takes his place will work to eliminate the Japanese threat by way of atomic strikes. In this alternate world a resistance movement still works to fight back against the Nazi and Japanese oppression, and a banned work of fiction known as The Grasshopper Lies Heavy serves to inspire them. This piece of film is a collection of newsreels that show a world where things were different, and the war was won by the Allies. The author of the film is the Man in the High Castle of the title.
The sad thing is that at this point in time only one episode of this show exists. You see it is part of the pilots season, which Amazon kindly open up for public viewing to gain feedback on whether to go to full series. This means that I have just watched the best hour of TV of the past year, and may never get to see how it plays out in future episodes.
As someone who loved Philip K Dick stories, I have experienced my share of good and bad adaptations. Thankfully this is a solid adaptation, even though it takes a few liberties with the source material. In the book, for example, the Nazi technology expands past the supersonic planes they have developed to also include colonies on the Moon, Mars and Venus. Those colonies are not mentioned, which helps ground the show for an audience who may not be familiar with Dick’s style. In addition, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a novel within the novel, not a film. Turning it into a selection of newsreels actually serves to add a further mysterious layer – is it, as one character believes, real footage, and if so has it come from an alternate timeline?
The show looks amazing. Everything from costume design to visual effect shots of the world is showcased in meticulous detail. From small touches such as propaganda posters on walls, to the extravagance of Times Square, every element of detail makes this alternate world seem so real. Coupled with a strong cast of characters (albeit trimmed down a little from the book), and some chilling moments, the episode flies by far too fast, and the knowledge that it might not get picked up for a series run leaves you worried by the end. Heck it even has one of the best opening title credit sequences of all time.
Don’t let the fact that this is the only episode so far put you off though. Head over to Amazon and watch it for free, then give them feedback. If it gets as much feedback as the current reviews suggest, we should see a whole season later this year. But to do so, it needs an audience. So, just like the resistance spreading hope via a newsreel, watch this episode and spread word of it to all.