Summary: What would it be like? It’s 1962, fifteen years after the end of World War II and the ultimate question is posed: What would the world…more to the point—what would America look like if the Axis powers had won the war instead of the Allied nations?
First Take: Hot, Warm, Tepid, Cool or Frostbite?
The Man in the High Castle gets a Warm Yes followed by a Strong Requires Additional Viewing before a definitive recommendation of yay (Hot) or nay (Frigid) can be had.
High Castle opens quite nicely…
We’re in a darkened theatre; in 1962—the place to take a date on a Saturday night. The kind of showplace we now call movie palaces. Projected on to the white screen: Billowing clouds hover over acres and acres of open fields. Bright blue sky with the sun shining down on the greenest of grasses. A man’s soothing voice provides the narration:
It’s a new day. The sun rises in the east. Across our land men and women go to work in factories and farms. Providing for their families. Everyone has a job. Everyone knows the part they play. Keeping our country strong… and safe. So today we give thanks to our great leaders, knowing we are stronger and prouder and better.
Yes, it’s a new day in our proud land. But our greatest days… they lie ahead. Sieg Heil.
They had me at the flip-flop.
Take a historical life changing event rooted in nearly everyone’s brain as having ended the right way and, simply, turn it on its head. Which is what Philip K. Dick, author of The Man in the High Castle, assuredly did. Those of you who have read his works are, of course, familiar with this material, so the reveal would not have been as jarring. I was lucky enough to have known nothing of the story, so by the ah ha moment I was all in.
A true fact is that US, the UK, the USSR, and France were the core participants out of the 26 countries that encompassed the Allies of World War 2. (Russia, who had been buddy-buddy with Germany was a late comer to the group, but nonetheless one of the “Big Four.”)
Also truth: Italy, Germany and Japan comprised the Axis powers.
In Dick’s dystopian recreation, America is split into thirds with the Nazi controlled region taking the lion’s share: mid-east all the way to the eastern shore is the Greater Nazi Reich. The huge swath of the Pacific strip running up to the western slope of the range of mountains is controlled by the Japanese: aptly rechristened Japanese Pacific States. Italy, it appears, has not shared in any of the spoils, but the night is still young. What looks to have been the range of the Rocky Mountains clear down to the western border of what had been Texas is now the neutral zone: unclaimed, but dangerous looking.
Gray-washed muted tones, in stark contrast to the opening propganda film, flood this 1984-like Reichian world. Clothing, buildings, décor are tinged with dingy, slated hues. Even the Furor’s red swastika lacks the proper punch. If the entire population isn’t operating under a veil of depression, then it ought to be. Even the air looks heavy, in contrast to the opening propaganda short. The streets feel grimy and rundown. There are some affluent areas, all inhabited by the aggressors, but those area, on a different level, seem uninviting. The group who are now, supposedly, in power appear to be manacled by imaginary or invisible chains, which constantly work to course correct everyone’s behavior in this postwar environment.
Ahh… Good times.
A series with such an excellent premise and an excellent start raises one’s expectations, which makes any ensuing disappointment more deeply felt.
By taking a seat in front of a widescreen TV, the implication is, the audience wants to believe. People want to be moved… transported… they welcome an original experience. They have accepted an invitation to enter a world created by filmmakers behind and in front of the camera.
From a personal standpoint, there is no talking. There is focus… on the show, the movie or special event to the exclusion of all. When taking in a show that really works, there is such a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the hour. It’s no surprise that the too numerous to count blogs and chat rooms and, now, TV shows have sprung up around simply discussing the particulars of just one episode of one’s favorite series.
When I’m watching an onscreen action and I’m wrenched out of this make believe world because the scene has been sloppily executed, I am disappointed. This happened, sorry to say, more than once in the High Castle pilot.
At the risk of creating a spoiler, there will be no specifics. However, the two scenes in question could have been easily fixed. How…? I’m not the writer. I’m not the director. And viewing taste aside, (likes and dislikes being wildly subjective) I do know good from bad and loose from tight. The scenes in question were sloppy and were all the more disappointing because they were the exact opposite of the show’s opener.
There was, however, a moment of surprise in the show that impelled me to revisit the pilot a few days later. Now a second episode is available for streaming and upon viewing this one, while I am not all in-yet-, I’m certainly intrigued enough to watch a few more when they are made available.
The production design is so palpable it resonates as real. The ensemble of players are on target as well; with no false notes sounding. Rufus Sewell in particular shines in his role as one high ranking keeper of the realm and Nazi enforcer John Smith as does Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Nobusuke Tagomi. There’s too much that is good about The Man in the High Castle, so it receives a very Warm Yes.
Will there be more moments of stupefaction … as there were in the pilot episode?
Will it continue to surprise, as it did twice in both sneak peak episodes? I always expect the best. With The Man in the High Castle the forecast is sunny. We shall see.
The featured movie advertised on the theatre marquee at the top of the first episode is The Punch Party starring June Allyson and Rock Hudson. An ironic nod to the innocently upbeat Rock Hudson/Doris Day romantic comedies of the ‘60s.
However, it also called to mind a fragment from the Punch Bowl speech, delivered by William McChesney Martin to the New York Group of the Investment Bankers Association of America on October 15, 1955.
Martin was serving as the Federal of the Federal Reserve: “… the discount rate, is in the position of the chaperone who has ordered the punch bowl removed just when the party was really warming up…”
He was talking about the financial well being of the nation and the relationship of the Feds with the citizens and what might happen should the citizenry come to depend to heavily on the government for certain kinds of decisions; nevertheless it is, certainly, eerily prophetic when looking at the state of the re-imagined land and its people existing within the realm of High Castle.
What: An Amazon Prime Original of a Scott Free Production
When: Episode 1 available now for all Amazon Prime members
Complete Season Sneak Peak Episode 2 begins airing tonight
Complete Season 1 available for streaming November, 2015
Creator and teleplay: Frank Spotnitz
Philip K. Dick novel (1962) source material. Authored Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?(1968) Android of course became Bladerunner directed by Ridley Scott
Michael Cedar – Supervising Producer
Director: David Semel – Dan Percival
Director of Photography: James Hawkinson
Editor: Kathryn Himoff, A.C.E.
Production Designer: Drew Boughton
Costumer Designer: Audrey E. Fisher
Music By: Henry Jackman and Dominic Lewis
Art Director: Linda King
Set Decorator: Brenda Meyers-Ballard
Set Designer: Christopher Mumaw
Cast members Includes:
Alexa Davalos as Juliana Crane, (Clash of the Titans, Mob City)
Rupert Evans as Frank Frink (Hellboy, Agoura, The Village)
Luke Kleintank as Joe Blake (Max, Pretty Little Liars)
DJ Qualls as Ed McCarthy (Supernatural, Z Nation)
Joel de la Fuente as Inspector Kido (Hemlock Grove)
Rufus Sewell as John Smith (Dangerous Beauty, A Knight’s Tale, Zen)
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Nobusuke Tagomi (Revenge, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale)