Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Amazon's most popular series so far: Frank Spotnitz's THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE

Give THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE a few points for having a fascinating subject: What might have happened had Germany and Japan won World War II (for whatever reason, Italy and Mussolini are thoroughly left out of the equation). That subject must be credited in large part to the late, great sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, and his original novel. What show-runner and lead series writer, Frank Spotnitz (shown below) has done is to dumb things down and attenuate them -- for more intelligent audiences, at least -- to something near the breaking point.

Gazes are held far, far too long, the camera lingers on important moments until you'll want to scream, "I get it!" and what appears, in this initial season, at least, is such a drawn-out and rather paltry story that, after ten episodes and around ten hours of time, you could have finished any number of much better novels (or other cable series) in the meantime.

But if you don't mind the very obvious story-telling, along with the kind of coincidence that boggles an intelligent adult's brain, by all means give this show a shot. It has proven the most popular of any of Amazon's cable TV/streaming creations so far -- outdoing even the fine, awards-laden Transparent and the unusual, quietly provocative series, Mozart in the Jungle. But, as we've long been told, there is simply no accounting for (mainstream) taste, so if this is your bowl of cherries, dig in. But be prepared to spit out, regularly and often, the pits.

The story has to do with a resistance effort on America's west coast, controlled by Japan; on the east coast, controlled by Nazi Germany; and in and out of the so-called neutral territory, located in the middle. There is also a series of movies being produced (above) -- by whom and for whom is noticeably unclear -- that purport to show an alternative view of what might have happened, had the Allies won the war, and that maybe show the future, to boot.

"And...?" you might whisper under your breath, as episode after episode piles up, involving various kinds of betrayals in which the good guys/gals and bad guys/gals begin to overlap. How the U.S.A. has been reorganized to fit the Nazi and Japanese desires is certainly interesting in itself, but the direction is so slow and heavy-handed that this leaches out much of the suspense and enjoyment.

The plot machinations may keep you going, however, and the acting is as good as it can be, given the rather ham-handed and slovenly execution. In the lead role, Alexa Davalos (two photos up) makes a spunky and highly-put-upon heroine, while Rupert Evans (at right, above, with DJ Qualls) plays her somewhat-too-whiny boyfriend and Luke Kleintank (below, left) provides a sexy, conflicted, not-quite-hero.

In the actual lead role is the excellent British actor Rufus Sewell (standing, below), who, as the Nazi-in-charge, brings most of the low-key pizazz to the proceedings.

A sub-plot involving a sleazy antiques dealer and his relationship to a wealthy Japanese couple offers some of the more interesting moments. But little comes of this by the first season's end. (That's Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa -- below, right -- as one of the "good" Nipponese.)

As with almost all of these new cable series, there is not an ounce of closure by the finale (the producers obviously hoped for a sequel; given the popularity so far, I think they'll get their wish. Congratulations are in order, I guess, but this is one sequel with which I shall not be bothered.

The Man in the High Castle (the title refers to a much blabbed-about-but-nowhere-to-be-found character involved with those bizarre "alternate universe" movies) streams on Amazon. It's free if you are an Amazon Prime member.

No comments: