Throwback Thursday: Dystopian Dick—Next

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past—typically “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important in some aspect.

As mentioned in my previous columns on Radio Free Albemuth and Imposter, with CONvergence coming up in July and running with their theme of dystopian visions, I thought I’d delve into the film adaptations of Philip K. Dick. I will try to stay away from comparisons to his novels and short stories as much as possible and aim to focus specifically on the films themselves.

In watching the eleven adaptations of his work, there are some themes that rise to the top.  He is very obsessed with fate and the soul; in fact, all of these films can probably be split into one of these two themes with the occasional overlap. Most of the “fate” films focus on the question, “If one person has knowledge of the future, does that change the outcome of the future?”  The “soul” films tend to focus on someone who is not normal, usually a cyborg of some sort, and whether they have the ability to feel, care, and grow. In other words, what makes us human?

On the docket to delve into today: Next (2007)—Lee Tamahori (dir.)

Next poster

Very loosely based (I should really highlight both “very” and “loosely”) on Dick’s short story “The Golden Man,” Next deals with being able to see into the future but otherwise has nothing to do with the original story. Nicolas Cage plays Cris, a rinky-dink Vegas magician who also happens to have the secret ability to see two minutes into the future. He is pursued by FBI agent Callie Ferris (a very stern-faced Julianne Moore) because she thinks he can help her find terrorists who have stolen a nuclear bomb.

NEXT cage.moore.biel

Cage, Biel, and Moore wondering where the good script is.

The paint-by-numbers love interest for Cris is Jessica Biel as Liz Cooper. Unfortunately, the only interesting thing about Biel’s character is that Cris can see her future beyond the two minutes he sees for everyone else around him. Otherwise her character is horribly written, and it’s a little creepy to see the love scenes between her and Cage due to the age difference.

It feels like Cage took the title of the original story very literally: he is tanned to the hilt and almost plastic looking. If you like Cage, then you like Cage. If you don’t, then this film won’t change your mind, and it might even give you some ammunition in a Cage-bashing argument. Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of his, and I agree with the theory that every actor has one good movie in them. For Cage, I generally believe that film is Wild at Heart. However, this film is still entertaining as an action flick and does have some fun action pieces.

NEXT Cage.Biel

Not an action set piece.

There’s a fun opening scene in which Cris eludes casino security after having used his powers to win some money. Then we have the well-timed and well-paced scene in which Callie and Cris first meet—it’s two minutes long so that when sees it, even though it hasn’t happened yet, he holds all of the information from their conversation. The downside is that later on in the film when Callie meets him for her first time it feels like she’s a little too familiar with him, since their original meeting was rewritten by Cris changing the outcome.

There’s also a random subplot that has the terrorists also looking for Cris because he’s the only one who can stop their plan. However, it’s never explained how the terrorist leader knows this. The big bad is entirely absent from this film, which seems like it was something left on the cutting room floor. One thing that is brought up a bit but that I feel could have been expanded on (since it’s a big portion of the original story) is the idea of the government wanting to harness this ability for its own ends. Julianne Moore’s Callie is purely altruistic in her reason for wanting Cris’s help, but the whole reason Cris doesn’t want to help is because he doesn’t want to get involved just in case they are less than altruistic. Paranoia for paranoia’s sake. There are almost two different versions of Cris running through the film: the one running from Callie and the one running toward Liz. But if you’re constantly able to Groundhog Day your way through a relationship, is that a real relationship? It’s an interesting question worthy of exploring.

“Here’s the thing about the future. Every time you look at it, it changes, because you looked at it, and that changes everything else.” Once again, the Dick theme of fate can be found in Next, and voiced by Cris. We’re all fated to go in one direction, and only someone who can see and adjust the future can change that. This plays out with similar results in Paycheck and Minority Report and will be expanded upon when I get to those films.

Nicolas Cage in Next

You want multiple Cages? You got ’em!

Lee Tamahori as the director brings a lot of fun to the action scenes, which makes sense since he also directed Once Were Warriors and The Edge (one of my favorite killer-grizzly films). Most of the problems with Next lie with the script, but if you want a disposable action film with some sci-fi elements, there’s worse out there. Plus you get Cage doing his best Cage impression. Recommended for a rainy Saturday matinee.

Feel free to discuss the film further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.

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