Amazon’s pilot season experiment has yielded some surprising successes, among them the acclaimed The Man In The High Castle, a series adaptation of the Hugo Award-winning and highly influential novel by Phillip K. Dick. Set in an alternate version of the early 1960s in which the Axis powers won World War II, the novel revolves around a group of people connected to one another by an in-universe alternate history novel that tells of the allies winning the war.
It’s headache-y stuff, long considered a difficult if not impossible book to adapt – it becomes almost impenetrably meta by the end. Which is probably why Amazon’s pilot sort of snuck up on everyone. Managing to kind of nail the novel’s weirdness and tone while also creating a plausible presentation of the dystopian setting, the pilot also connected with Amazon users who voted for it to be turned into a season in droves.
With the series now under production, the cast and creators were on hand at Comic-Con for a panel discussion in advance of a theatrical screening of the first and second episodes. After kicking off with the trailer (watch it above), the discussion then delved deeply into how the production is approaching the adaptation. Series co-creator and lead writer Frank Spotnitz frequently was adamant that the show is aiming for a broad accuracy, promising at one point that readers of the book will be getting major spoilers about things they’ll see as the series unfold.
The panel also touched on how getting picked up to series is allowing them the chance to polish the pilot and bring it in line with the production values the series will ultimately have. After-the-fact tweaks will, Spotnitz promised, further enrich the depiction of alternate period detail. In particular, the iconic Times Sqaure shot featured in the pilot has been enhanced to further show off how popular culture under victorious Nazis might look.
There will be some changes from the novel, however, among them that Hitler is still alive as the story begins. “I couldn’t bear to start the show with Hitler already dead,” Spotnitz said. “But a lot of people think he was suffering from Parkinson’s during the war, so there’s rumors about his health. That’s much of the drama of Season 1, the fate of the Fuhrer.”
Speaking of changes, one of the series’ main characters is American Nazi officer John Smith, played by Rufus Sewell. Asked by one audience member how he apporaches a sympathetic portrayal oof smeone associated with genocidal horrors, Sewell was insistent that it’s necessary in order not to lose sight of what actually happened in real life. “These things happened to human beings; it’s human beings that do these things, not ‘Germans,'” he said. Sewell adding that this is why people need to look out for one another. “Human beings are capable of terrible things. Fully rounded human beings who might with different guidance go in different directions. So humanizing [these villains] in that way is, I think, ultimately the most responsible thing.”
The series is currently filming, and set to premiere in binge-format on Amazon later this year. The theatrical screening of the pilot and second episode is tonight in San Diego, open to anyone with a Comic-Con badge.