Feel the burn: FAHRENHEIT 451 and a legacy of difficult books

4 min read
2

fahrenheit-451-1966

In my opinion you’re not a qualified science fiction fan until you have read at least two classes: the future-fantastic worlds by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, and the future dystopias of authors such as Phillip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison (who inspired The Terminator). Ray Bradbury in particular holds a special place in that crowd with Fahrenheit 451, named after the temperature when paper starts to burn and a treatise on censorship that easily sits alongside the dark future prophet, 1984.

HBO has green-lit the creation of a new Fahrenheit 451 movie, only the second ever. To be directed by Ramin Bahrani, more known for his indie movies, it will join the 1966 British version, but maybe get a bit closer to the vision Bradbury had in mind. Back in the sixties they simply didn’t have the technology to carry all of what the book describes, which is a problem. Fahrenheit 451 is not a space opera or demanding of buckets of special effects. But it does take place in a very different time: getting that mood right is the difference between thinking it’s just camp fantasy and believing that Bradbury suggested a terrifying world that may very well exist one day.

fahrenheit-451-1966-2
Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

1984 is similar, though much easier to accomplish. All you need is frantically drab buildings and one super-depressed lead actor. It’s a motive that has been heavily used by everything from V for Vendetta to Equilibrium. It has also only seen two film adaptations made from the book, with only one really worth watching.

Fahrenheit 451‘s 1966 version is in contrast worth seeing, but also a bit weird and the novel deserves a more mainstream take. Bahrani might be a good choice – I’ve never seen one of his films – though some point out that he has never worked with the level of effects and imagination that such a movie will need. That may be unfair, though: perhaps he has great plans for it. He might avoid turning it into a bombastic tent pole moneypot marketed by countless trailers and ‘reveals’.

Either way, it’s good to see this cult classic get another chance to shine.

It will join a club of books notorious for their difficulty. 1984 is one such example: its infamously bleak outlook is not the way to sell movie tickets. But at least that was a sensible story to adapt. Far less so was American Psycho, which finally got the movie treatment to mixed results in 2000. And speaking of ultra-violence, A Clockwork Orange has long befuddled filmakers with its strange language and very loose morals. Only the great Stanley Kubrick ever succeeded in adapting it.

americanpsycho
American Psycho

But Kubrick was not game for Perfume, a novel he called unfilmable – many failed to bring that to life. Then a German production accomplished the impossible and crafted the brilliant film of the same name. James Franco in 2013 tackled As I Lay Dying, which if you haven’t read it is a pretty difficult piece of work to get through. Sadly it also appeared to be difficult to put to film.

Catch 22 is another classic that was not only hard to get into a movie, but managed to completely miss the magic of the novel – so much so that nobody has tried to adapt it since. The makers of Cormack McCarthy’s The Road had better luck in 2009, but it was not nearly as good at the award winning No Country For Old Men – which, to be fair, is a lot easier to imagine as a film experience. Taking a swing back to science fiction, Dune is equally notorious and resulted in the ultra-camp David Lynch film. Eventually a tv mini-series did the best job to capture this epic – and still fell short in a number of ways.

The Road
The Road

So will Fahrenheit 451 finally get the movie it deserves? Let’s hope so. At least it is much simpler than Dark Tower, the adaptation from hell that due to its complexity has yet to deliver anything resembling even a rough cut.

Last Updated: April 14, 2016

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

Check Also

SDCC: The Orville establishes first contact in season 2 trailer

When The Orville launched, it's low-brow toilet humour and rip-off story beats had me hati…