The Man In The High Castle (2015)
Written by: Emma Frost, Frank Spotnitz, Philip K. Dick
Starring: Alexa Davalos, Conor Leslie, DJ Qualls, Joel de la Fuente, Luke Kleintank, Rufus Sewell, Rupert Evans
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE
Available on Amazon Prime Instant Video
Set during the 1960’s, the American citizens are dealing with the aftermath of the war and the new world they now live in. Some refuse to live this way and join the resistance whilst some of those who fought in the war forget what they were fighting for in the first place, they have grown that complacent to their lives under their new rulers. Others try to make the best of a bad situation and live out their lives in as much peace as possible under the regime. One such person is Juliana who lives in San Francisco. Though her father served in the allied forces during the war, she lives a peaceful existence with the Japanese people in the neighbourhood and even excels at the Japanese martial art of Aikido at the local school. All that is about to change when her sister Trudy appears on the scene and gives her a bag containing highly classified and important contents which sees Trudy chased and killed for by the Japanese authorities. Inside the bag contains a reel of film and upon watching the film, Juliana is mesmerised: the film shows footage of the Allies winning the war. Is this real? Her partner Frank certainly does not think so and suggests its anti-Nazi propoganda made by the mysterious Man in the High Castle. What they both do know though is that possessing such material could land them in hot water and so both are keen to get rid, except Juliana doesn’t intend taking it to the police…
Meanwhile, in New York, a young American named Joe joins the resistance and is given the job of driving an important load to a meeting place where a contact there will take it off his hands. However, as he is about to set off on the journey, the Nazi officers raid their warehouse and capture the men involved. It’s now up to Joe to deliver the goods without the Nazis foiling their plan.
Adapted from the story of the same name by Philip K. Dick, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is an enthralling if scary look at what the world, or mainly North America, would have been like if the allies failed to topple the Reich during the war. In this world, Hitler is well and truly alive, ruling the country, though his time left on this Earth is dubious as he appears to be quite ill and possibly suffering from Parkinson’s disease. If true, the results will have disasterous consequences for everyone.
What you first assume will be a simple us vs them mentality soon washes away as the complex web of a life under Nazi and Japanese rule soon becomes apparent. The pilot demonstrates that it’s not merely the resistance fighting against the controlling regime of the Nazi and Japanese coalition, but with Hitler’s ill health pointing towards a soon-to-be successor in the form of Himmler or Goebbels, the likelihood of the Nazis turning against the Japanese is all too real. Therefore we have Nazis vs Japanese, and then the American resistance versus the both of them. And amid all that, there’s a hint that plans are being cooked up by people within both regimes who aren’t happy with their respective leaders.
The other major plot point which is touched upon in the pilot is potential time travel. We all know the Nazis in real life were up to experiments in technology and science that were well ahead of their time, and in the pilot, it seems their ability to create an aircraft that is able to reach destinations in record time (Germany to NYC in 2 hours, normally takes 4x as long) has been well established. This aspect, tied in with the revelation of the film reel depicting the allied forces winning the war could point to a potential time travel sub-plot or parallel dimension. Either way, it makes for intriguing television with so many options and routes to go down. Colour me excited!
The production values of the pilot are very high with a blend of CGI giving a glossy yet gritty neo-noir look to the whole affair. The Nazi controlled areas are often portrayed in darkness where the Nazi uniform blends into the abyss of the shadows, with the red armband and swastika insignia, emblazoned across the banners and flags hanging from the buildings, the only colour to really stand out from its surroundings. The Japanese area looks rather washed out, colour-wise, and alsmost sepia, offering a more tranquil appeal in contrast to their bold and brash German cohorts. Despite this, the Japanese controlled area is just as dangerous as New York and though many are living peacefully in San Francisco, there’s plenty who cannot be trusted.
Though it’s hard to make a judgement on one episode, the chosen cast seem a great choice and really throw themselves into the roles they are given. The Mist star Alexa Davalos shines as lead Julianna who’s given the bulk of the plot to work with whilst The Canal‘s Rupert Evans stars as her artist partner, Frank. A few other familiar faces add to the fine opener, from Breaking Bad‘s DJ Qualls as Frank’s work colleague to Hemlock Grove‘s Joel de la Fuente who stars as Japanese Inspector Kido who’s looking for Trudy’s package. Luke Kleintank comes across as a delightful young man as felow lead character Joe, who’s trying to make his father happy by joining the resistance. Meanwhile, Rufus Sewell is in full Nazi regalia as Nazi Commander John Smith who’s primary goal is to sniff out and eradicate the resistance.
There’s quite a lot to sink your teeth into given that it’s the pilot episode whch only stands it in good stead for its series debut in the Autumn after Amazon Prime Instant Video commissioned it for an entire season. With slick visuals, strong performances and an engaging story from one of sci-fi’s best-loved writers, I have high hopes for THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE and look forward to what unfolds in the upcoming episodes.