Fiery first look at HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 adaptation starring Michael B. Jordan

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I’ve been a proud self-proclaimed sci-fi geek from about as soon as I could even form the words “science-fiction”, and as such I’ve tried to read just about all the big must-read genre classics like Frank Herbert’s Dune, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, Joe Haldeman’s Forever War, etc. While all of these are amazing in their own right, few have left an impression on me as much as Fahrenheit 451. As a very sickly child who spent huge swathes of his formative year bedridden, books were my first and most cherished form of escape, and so to me few things could be as horrific as the world presented in Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 novel about a dystopian future in which media is so tightly controlled by the government that teams of “firemen” are sent out to burn any books they find so as to keep the population uninformed about history, which is outlawed.

Bradbury’s novel unfortunately found very real world inspiration in things like the Nazi book burnings in WWII (I’ve been privileged enough to visit the memorial to this horrific act, and I won’t lie, it was a rather emotional experience for a bibliophile like me), but it’s also incredibly political, addressing things like freedom of speech and ideas, and the government controlling what you know. And in the modern era of Trump and his fake news bots, it could not be more topical. Hence, why HBO is producing a feature film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 (FYI, that’s the temperature at which book paper catches fire) and now we finally have a look at it.

Yes, there isn’t much to the actual teaser, but thanks to THR we have some looks at the star-studded main cast of the film in Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fruitvale Station), Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Man of Steel), and Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Mummy). Jordan leads the film as Montag, “a young fireman who forsakes his world, battles his mentor and struggles to regain his humanity”. Shannon plays said mentor, Beatty, while Boutella plays Clarisse, an informant who “gets caught between the competing interests of Montag and Beatty.”

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The film is being directed, co-written and produced by Ramin Bahrani, who also also directed Shannon in the criminally underseen 99 Homes. The filmmaker tells THR that he recognizes the weight of adapting such a classic, saying that “It was daunting to take on Bradbury because he’s such a genius and a legend.”

Me and so many people love his work. When you do an adaptation, you’re going to change things. I knew I would upset somebody. I tried to stay true to the themes, even if I changed certain characters and plot lines. To take them and modernize them. It wasn’t easy.

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Bahrani went on to explain that initially he had lots of difficulty with the adaptation, even confessing “that he told his agent at one point that he should call HBO and refund the network’s money because he felt that he couldn’t finish the script.” However, he pushed through, especially because of Bradbury’s visionary novel is as relevant now as it was in 1953.

I don’t want to focus so much on [President Donald Trump] because I don’t want to excuse the 30 to 40 years prior to that; he’s just an exaggeration of it now. I don’t want us to forget what Bradbury said — that we asked for this. We elected [politicians] over many decades, we’re electing this thing in my pocket [pulls out his cellphone]. Between the technological advancements in the last 20 years and politics, Bradbury’s biggest concern about the erosion of culture is now.

Bradbury’s novel was set in the future where he was predicting having screens on the wall that you could interact with. Social media and supercomputers like my phone are real now. [The film] is not set in the distant future, like Bradbury’s novel, but an alternate tomorrow where technology is here right now — like Amazon’s Alexa,” he said. “One of the things in the film is storing knowledge, books in DNA. This exists now. All your drives could be stored 100-fold in DNA. There was no reason to put it in the future; it’s just [set in] a strange tomorrow.

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How do you take Bradbury’s themes — some were so prophetic — it wouldn’t be hard to start to manipulate and control what’s happening on the internet. Bradbury was concerned about mass entertainment — Reader’s Digest, short soundbites. He thought all that would destroy concepts of thinking, reading and knowledge. [We] get into tweets and Wiki entries, which are shorter versions of Reader’s Digest. We’re all guilty about reading headlines. That goes to what one of the things I think is different between Bradbury’s novel and 1984. Bradbury says we’ve asked for this. In the movie, it’s Sofia’s character who says that to Michael.

Fahrenheit 451 doesn’t have an official release date yet, but it’s said to be dropping sometime in the US spring, which should be around April or May.

Last Updated: January 12, 2018

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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