Michel Gondry Adapting Philip K. Dick's 'Ubik'

by Kevin Jagernauth
February 16, 2011 3:14 AM
7 Comments
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Heady Sci-Fi Film Being Co-Produced By Screenwriter Steve Zaillain's Film Rites Company



At the launch of his exhibit "The Factory Movie Lovers" at the Centre Pompidou, the usually chatty Michel Gondry dropped news of another project he appears to be working on, adding to his already busy slate.

The director revealed that he is adapting Philip K. Dick's "Ubik" for the big screen. Named by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest English-language novels of our time, the metaphysical tale follows a man who works at an anti-psi security firm that blocks telepathic spying other sorts of supernatural trickery. When the company is hired to tackle a job on the Moon, things go a bit awry. But as usual, it's difficult to fully condense Dick's novels into a couple of sentences so here's larger synopsis from Amazon:

Nobody but Philip K. Dick could so successfully combine SF comedy with the unease of reality gone wrong, shifting underfoot like quicksand. Besides grisly ideas like funeral parlors where you swap gossip for the advice of the frozen dead, Ubik (1969) offers such deadpan farce as a moneyless character's attack on the robot apartment door that demands a five-cent toll:
"I'll sue you," the door said as the first screw fell out.
Joe Chip said, "I've never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it."

Chip works for Glen Runciter's anti-psi security agency, which hires out its talents to block telepathic snooping and paranormal dirty tricks. When its special team tackles a big job on the Moon, something goes terribly wrong. Runciter is killed, it seems--but messages from him now appear on toilet walls, traffic tickets, or product labels. Meanwhile, fragments of reality are timeslipping into past versions: Joe Chip's beloved stereo system reverts to a hand-cranked 78 player with bamboo needles. Why does Runciter's face appear on U.S. coins? Why the repeated ads for a hard-to-find universal panacea called Ubik ("safe when taken as directed")?

The true, chilling state of affairs slowly becomes clear, though the villain isn't who Joe Chip thinks. And this is Dick country, where final truths are never quite final and--with the help of Ubik--the reality/illusion balance can still be tilted the other way.

It's still early days on this one and it's not the first time the story has been attempted to be brought to the big screen. Back in 2008, Celluloid Dreams optioned the rights to the book for a film that was supposed to lens in 2009 but that never materialized. No word yet if the rights have changed or if Gondry is writing this on spec, but his next project he confirms will be one that he has been chatting up for a while.

"The We And I," last we heard, is set to lens this summer and Gondry once again confirms it will be next on his schedule. When we spoke with Gondry last spring he revealed the project to us and said it was borne out of meetings with the publishers of “You’ll Like This Film Because You’re In It: The Be Kind Rewind Protocol,” which is about community filmmaking, inspired by Gondry’s film.

“It’s about the group effect, how people in groups transform when the group is dislocated, because everyone jumps out of the bus at different times, there is a smaller group and how the relationships evolve,” Gondry told us adding, “It’s not [well-known] actors, it’s going to be kids from a school in the Bronx. I love kids and just [regular] people too because they are not polluted by the medium. They come as they are and they have beautiful stories to tell, so I want to show that.” The drama will revolve around "35 kids going to school on a bus" and will thematically delve into "how the group affects the individual." We're definitely curious.

And that's not all. Gondry is also slowly at work on a documentary about Noam Chomsky, but it's something he's giving himself a bit more time on. He's hand animating it and says he hopes it's done within the next couple of years, so we'll have to wait on that.

And while we have mostly bad feelings about "The Green Hornet," it looks like Gondry is heading back to his very comfortable and familiar wheelhouse for "The We And The I" while "Ubik," if and when it gets in front of cameras, might be the kind of larger scale project more suited to his sensibilities rather than a big, broad comic franchise. [Allocine]

Updated: Screenwriter Steve Zaillianand Garrett Basch are producing "Ubik" through their Film Rites production company with Steve Golin and Anonymous Content

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More: Films, Michel Gondry, The We And The I, Ubik

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7 Comments

  • Kris gilpin | March 1, 2011 3:29 AMReply

    After the amazing Valis, Ubik is my 2nd fave Dick novel & let,s face it, Gondry,s at his best when Charlie Kaufman,s writing for him, but if CK doesn,t write the script, it just may not be as good as it deserves to be
    :-(!...

  • A-K87 | February 17, 2011 8:09 AMReply

    The more I think back to how I felt reading this excellent achievement of a novel, the more I think Gondry is perfect!

    I'm going to call out

    Mark Ruffalo as Joe Chip and
    Tom Wilkinson as Glen Runciter


    I would love to see Gary Oldman work with Gondry but can't see where he could fit in here other than Runciter. I think Gondry will stick to his regular for that role.

  • Proman | February 17, 2011 3:19 AMReply

    "Nobody but Philip K. Dick could so successfully combine SF comedy with the unease of reality gone wrong, shifting underfoot like quicksand. "

    Wrong! Robert Sheckley could do it better than anyone!

  • TheoC | February 16, 2011 11:48 AMReply

    I just came a little. Ubik is up there.

    VALIS I'm loving the name.

  • VALIS | February 16, 2011 10:13 AMReply

    Can't think of a better match of director and material, and Ubik is, along with The Man In The High Castle, among Dick's more easily adaptable and mainstream works. Very excited by this.

  • [A] | February 16, 2011 8:54 AMReply

    They're finally making a movie from that book!

  • odd | February 16, 2011 4:03 AMReply

    This is great news. Ubik and Gondry should be a great fit. Can you imagine the vapid studio pitch? "It's the science of sleep, meets alice in wonderland, meets moon. It's the journey of one man's consciousness, as both body and reality are stripped away from him, in typical Dick fashion." At least tom cruise or Keanu Reeves won't be in it. I hope. any word on the lead roles?

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