“The Man in the High Castle” is Amazon’s newest original drama. It stems from the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, adapted by “X-Files” executive producer Frank Spotnitz. It’s a story set in an alternate universe where the Axis powers — Germany, Italy and Japan — won World War II.
The project has been years in the making, a massive undertaking by Spotnitz and Amazon to create this entirely new version of the United States. Spotnitz tells Zap2it that he read the book in college and loved it, but it presented a unique challenge for a serialized TV program.
“I didn’t see immediately how to turn it into a television series. The book, to me in my reading of it, is more of a situation in a world, it doesn’t have a narrative that I thought would propel a television show for a long period of time,” he says.
“I also didn’t want to change anything, but I inevitably came to the conclusion that to honor the book I needed to change things,” Spotnitz continues. “I really tried to do it in a way that I thought was consistent with the ideas and themes of the novel and would actually allow more space to explore them over the canvas of the TV series.”
For those viewers interested in the book, Spotnitz says it doesn’t matter if they read it before or after they watch Season 1 on Amazon. But he does recommend reading it “because it’s a great book.”
He also explains five major changes in adapting the novel, for viewers who may be wondering about the differences. Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.
“In the novel, Hawthorne Abendsen has written a novel where the Allies won the war. In the TV series, it’s a film showing we’ve won the war. I did that because this is a visual medium and a film is going to be so much more powerful to watch than hearing about a book that people have read,” says Spotnitz. “It’s powerful for us seeing these newsreels that we’re so familiar with being seen by characters in this alternate world. That one change obviously changes an awful lot, because a film is a physical object and there’s a reality to that that we have to account for in the series that wasn’t dealt with in the novel.”
“I was aware of an absence of antagonists that I would need to sustain the TV series, so I created the character of Chief Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente) in San Francisco and Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) in New York. I also knew that I needed more characters on the Nazi side of things that weren’t in the novel to anchor that part of the world.”
Personal relationships with higher stakes
“Two other principle changes was creating a relationship between Juliana (Alexa Davalos) and the film, a personal relationship. So I invented the character of the sister who has the film and who dies after she passes the film to Juliana,” Spotnitz explains. “I also rewound the state of Frank and Juliana’s relationship because the novel begins with them already split up, she’s already in Canon City. I wanted that relationship to still be in play and still be a stake, something that could be threatened, so I brought her back to San Francisco and they’re still together as a couple.”
Re-imagining Joe Blake
“The character of Joe (Luke Kleintank) is quite different in the book. I really wanted a sort of love triangle, although I hate to use the word ‘love’ because it kind of diminishes the richness of what those relationships represent,” says Spotnitz. “In one sense, Juliana is torn romantically between Frank (Rupert Evans) and Joe, but in a larger sense, Frank and Joe are two different ways of responding to this world. I really wanted Juliana to be torn between two different responses to the world. It’s not just a love story, it’s about a lot more than that.”
Setting up a different timeline
“In some ways, we’ve already gone past the book by episode 2 — but in the series we don’t introduce the character of Childan until episode 4,” says Spotnitz. “In some ways there are parts of the book we haven’t gotten to yet. There are also parts of the book that [Dick] only sort of mentions that are off-screen things that I think we could dramatize, and I would dramatize if given the opportunity. The show is massive. The narrative scope of the show potentially is massive. You literally have the entire planet to explore in terms of storytelling.”
“The Man in the High Castle” is available now on Amazon Prime.