Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of Philip K. Dick adaptations: Those that are faithful to his themes while switching the medium to movies (“Blade Runner,” “Minority Report”), those that are so faithful they come off too rigid (“A Scanner Darkly,” “Radio Free Albemuth”), and those that launch an action movie from a PKD premise (even though PKD almost never wrote action sequences). “Total Recall” (1990) introduces us to this most ubiquitous type of adaptation.
Mel Odom, who wrote many outstanding “Buffy” and “Angel” novels, makes an all-over-the-place debut in the “Roswell” universe with “Shades” (September 2002), the fourth tie-in novel. It’s a daring novel in a way, as it introduces a whole new alien race plus the supernatural into the mythos, but it doesn’t quite stick the landing. Set immediately after Season 2, “Shades’ ” “big ideas, shaky payoff” status actually fits well with the season gone by.
After the excellent “No Good Deed,” Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch take a step back with “Little Green Men” (April 2002), a simpler novel that seems rushed, since it has many more typos than the previous one. It’s a one-day read at 197 pages, with a one-track story. Its lack of surprises is a weakness, but it is a nice example of the Roswell teens’ (and sheriff’s) teamwork, as all eight main characters contribute.
Swamp Thing” (1982) achieved a spot on the short list of worst movies to get a sequel upon the release of “The Return of Swamp Thing” (1989). With B-movie and soft-core porn director Jim Wynorski taking over for Wes Craven, this followup likewise belongs on the cinematic compost heap, but it’s actually the less bad of the two pictures. It has a consistent campy tone, and while it’s never for a minute good, it has enough forward momentum to not be as mind-numbingly boring as the first one.
Ihad forgotten – or maybe not even fully realized – how good “Dark Angel” Season 1 (2000-01, Fox) is. When it aired, it was overshadowed by genre rivals like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that were doing notably special work. “Dark Angel” treads more familiar ground, creating a mythology out of the old sci-fi concept of genetically engineered people – namely titular heroine Max (Jessica Alba) — who want to live normal lives. But boy does it ever create post-Pulse 2019 Seattle in convincing fashion.
Director Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” (2002) isn’t the most by-the-book adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story (most agree that’s “A Scanner Darkly”). But it respects the themes and messages of the 1956 short story and it’s ultimately one of the best movies inspired by his work. In addition to being a propulsive blockbuster actioner starring Tom Cruise, it’s also an irresistibly detailed vision of 2054 that lets us mull the pros and cons of precrime even as Cruise’s John Anderton tries to solve a tangled mystery.
Starting when Max heals Liz in the pilot episode, “Roswell” is a show about actions and consequences. The first tie-in novel,” “Loose Ends,” has fun with the question of “What if Liz ran into the guy who accidentally shot her?” But the second novel, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “No Good Deed” (September 2001), is a more direct and robust sequel to a TV episode, in this case “A Roswell Christmas Carol” (2.10).
Philip K. Dick reworks the themes from “Radio Free Albemuth” (written in 1976, published in 1985) in “VALIS” (1978, 1981), after “RFA” was initially nixed by his publisher. The result is a rare example of a publisher preferring a less accessible, less mainstream novel when given two options. “VALIS” is the weaker book, in my opinion, but it’s still fascinating to follow PKD on an intellectual adventure that calls to mind TV shows like “Lost” and “Westworld.”
After Melinda Metz’s 10-book YA series “Roswell High” (1998-2000) handed the baton to the TV series “Roswell” in 1999, Jason Katims and his writing team took the teens in a different direction from the books. So when the book line returned in May 2001 with Greg Cox’s “Loose Ends,” it was of course a tie-in with the TV series. Written as Season 2 was airing, and hitting bookshelves during the season’s homestretch (which is also when it takes place), “Loose Ends” became the first of 11 novels that fill in gaps and ultimately take the story beyond the end of the TV series.
Blade: Trinity” (2004) gives Blade (Wesley Snipes) some friends, and what a great decision that is. Blade retains his badass loner persona, but now Ryan Reynolds is in the mix, laying down one-liners like he’s auditioning for Deadpool, and a buff and sexy Jessica Biel also signs up. David S. Goyer, the ubiquitous (some say too much so) superhero film writer who also penned the first two installments, adds director duties here and pares “Blade” down to its essentials. The wonderfully staged action sequences, snort-worthy quips and game performances combine to make this the best of the trilogy.