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Fahrenheit 451

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1966

‘…this crude, abridged version just about gets the message over the line…’

As a youngster with a post-Star Wars interest in sci-fi, but with no access to actual films other than random tv screenings, reading about them in actual books was one of the few ways to get educated. Francois Truffaut’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451, sounded great; my novel has a lurid picture on the cover of a mechanical dog, venom dripping from a single retractable spike in its mouth. No such creature appears in this 1966 film, the technology to realise such a creative image didn’t exist back them. Armed only with a bungalow, a French monorail and some helmets, this vision of the future may not have rivalled 2001 for visual whoomp, but then again, Bradbury’s notions of where we’re headed are hardly ‘gosh-wow’ dream fuel.

This kind of sci-fi isn’t for kids; Oskar Wener plays Montag, a fireman, which is to say a man who starts fires, and the fuel on the end of his flame-thrower takes the form of books. Books have been deemed to be the root of all unhappiness and evil, and banned by the authorities, so all copies are illegal, and Montag begins to wonder why. He’s caught between two poles; his wife Linda (Julie Christie) leads a vapid existence, endlessly entertained by her interaction with her home video walls, while his neighbour Clarisse (also Christie, with a different hairdo) has a literary bent. Will Montag go with the unfamiliar, or sink back into his brainless life, and will he get caught by his suspicious boss (Cyril Cusack).

What I didn’t appreciate as a youngster is how well Trauffaut manages to suggest an illiterate culture; even the credits here are spoken. Montag reads, but reads comics, and internet’s simulation of choice is predicated by the bland interactive soap-operas Montag’s wife watches. This tone is caught in an adult way, while more exciting elements, like the flying policemen, are poorly imagined; Truffaut’s heart doesn’t seem to be in the space-opera angle. This version also suffers from the struggle to realise the ending; a secret society of readers who have memorised their favourite books might sound good, but looks kind of Monty Python on screen.

Werner, Christie and Cusack all do good work here, and Fahrenheit 451’s ultra-drabness makes a real point; the future may not be so bright we have to wear shades after all, in fact, it may be so boring that we have to watch tv to find any meaning. We should be reading books too; like Orwell, Bradbury understood that whoever controls the past, controls the future, and despite its dated flaws, and they are many, this crude, abridged version just about gets the message over the line.

 

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  1. I didn’t even know there was a remake! Michael B. Jordan is a big selling point, but I’m not overly fond of remakes… Though on the other hand, as you’re saying, the old movie got… old.
    Choices, choices 😉

    • This is a very early stab at sci-fi, when there was precious little budget for anything fancy, so the effects are truly laughable. But I guess the point may be that there’s nothing bright and shiny about a future without books. Think the remake was HBO, will have a delve around…

    • I tried, via a free HBO weekend, and couldn’t make it through. It was like when the (Canadian-made) remake of A Lathe of Heaven with James Caan was put out in 2002. I love Caan, but couldn’t make it through.

      I have no idea if this F451 is closer to the book or not. I would imagine it’s like the Johnny Depp Willie Wonka remake: that was reportedly “closer” to the book’s “dark tone,” but everyone stayed away in droves.

      And we are left wondering what the many-years-in-development-hell Tom Cruise F451 would have played out.

      • Glad Cruise thought better of it, would take a radical update to make this work in a Blade Runner reboot vibe…

        • Yes! The HBO one , due to budget, can’t pull off the much-needed “Blade Runner” vibe. (Funny how that movie is the bar for organized post-apoc societies in film.)

  2. This one will have to go on my watchlist for sure, having myself loved the book. Have you ever got around to checking out the 2018 movie adaptation starring Michael B. Jordan? While the trailer seemed promising, I think it might have flopped in the end…

    • This is well worth a look if you like the book. And yes, I’ll cast a critical eye over the new high-tech version, this one is impossible lo-fi!

    • Hey, let’s turn that frown upside down! Let’s not be depressed, not when there’s drab 1966 films about suburban ennui to be watched?

  3. I didn’t care enough for the book to ever want to watch a movie version. Growing up in a bookloving home where the Library was just a rung down from the Church, I never understood why this kind of book even needed to be written.

    Then I got out on my own and met a lot of other people and now I understand.

    • There’s a lot of people out there who do not see the value of books; part of this story is not that they are banned, but that most people do not actually want them at all..

        • And no one does more for the notion of reading books than the man who has it in his name, and we know who that is…

          • If I wasn’t so tired, I’d make a big show of false humility and modesty and try to list some other book bloggers.

            But who are we kidding? It takes all of reading 3 posts by me to know my ego is the size of a planet and that I love books.

            Thankfully, those two are not mutually incompatible 😀

            Now you just need to review a movie where movies are lauded as the highest achievement of mankind and we can then turn and pat you on the back.

            • Snow-plough by Day
              Wordpress by Night

              The sort of a man whose name became what it means to critique someone’s pants in a brusque manner.

              Bookstooge D’ Movie

              Coming Soon

  4. Watched this a few weeks ago and was disappointed as I expected more than a 1984 version of the future. The point seemed hardly worth making. Millions live drab lives and only the literati feel deprived at the loss of books – and the freedom it entails. Take away telly and then you’d have a riot.

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