WNET -13 made it for $250,000. Ursula LeGuin’s powerful, priceless imagination is not perfectly captured in this film, but it still remains required viewing for people who want to understand what makes Oregon artists tick. LeGuin has gone on record with her preference for this version over the one made in 2002.
Ed Emschwiller was WNET’s artist in residence when The Lathe of Heaven was made, which explains why this tiny budgeted film has an extended sequence of Emschwiller’s (at that time) cutting edge computer animation. Other strange but true facts: the screenwriter, Diane English (Murphy Brown), would go on to an illustrious career in Hollywood as a television producer. Margaret Avery, the unearthly beauty who plays the lawyer, would later be nominated for an Oscar for her performance as the enigmatic Shug in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985).
LeGuin’s opinion, from a January 2009 VICE magazine interview: The only good adaptation to film I’ve had so far is the 1980 Lathe of Heaven from PBS. It was made on a budget that wouldn’t pay for the hairdressers’ doughnuts these days, but the screenplay’s adequate, the directing is intelligent, the acting is super, and the special effects are really something else. Like, the spaceships are lighted Frisbees, being hurled into the air by Ed Emshwiller’s son. I love it.
Because it is based on a book by an Oregon author, because it is set in Portland, and because it has some establishing shots of Portland, I hereby claim The Lathe Of Heaven as an Oregon film.