I initially set out to write a post on Woody Allen’s MANHATTAN from 1979 when HBO’s latest release of FAHRENHEIT 451 caught my curious attention. Such as it is, being a moth drawn to the flame which happens quite often. The bright, shiny, new things of 2018 are hard to resist and yet sometimes so fundamentally flawed, shallow, and simply disappointing, I still couldn’t resist this blunder. With that said this will not be a pretty, kiss the Pope’s ring, happy-go-lucky kind of review. You’ve been warned.
If you haven’t read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 from 1953, do yourself a favor. Go out and support your nearest used bookstore and buy yourself a used copy because printed books have a smell so gratifying that a glossy Kindle could never compete with. And don’t be lazy buying a freaking audio book where Forrest Whitaker is narrating the story for you. Put a little effort into flipping pages, concentrating on the story ahead. Okay, I’m fired up, get ready for the grill folks as I roast this turkey to high heaven.
This classic is a tale that takes place sometime in the future of a Midwestern town somewhere in America and books are illegal. It’s the responsibility of the firemen to hunt down any remaining literature and those who still own them be discovered as outlaws. The great irony of this woeful, dystopian world is the firefighters use fire to torch all books, instead of water to relieve the atrocities mankind has bestowed upon itself. Guy Montag, the lead protagonist is the best of them, but hits a moment where he’s disillusioned about society and what he does. He simply breaks the law, keeping a book, joins a resistance group of scholars and artists who memorize books to keep the preservation of literature alive.
Now, here we are in 2018, where the era of the internet has a giant hold on anything and everything it touches. Anything you want to read is a click away. Every fabricated story you wanted to create or change a few details about a particular truth to enhance your image is all within your reach as you habitually post on your Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook feeds. Somehow, someone at HBO films thought it was brilliant to incorporate the internet as a major character in their upgraded 2.0 revamped version to make it feel like it relates today. Nice attempt, they get an “E” for effort and that’s being nice. It falls short miserably and kind of annoyingly that this “society” is incorporated with emojis. That’s the extent of humanity in the foreseeable future? Come on, we’re better than that. And why are these so called outcast people called, “eels”? What the hell is that about? I’m lost here, trying to have an open mind since it wasn’t IN the book, but giving little to no context as to what their story is IS a failure. I was slightly intrigued with the flashbacks of Montag’s weary childhood, which generated some creative liberty but came to point where it felt too forced and didn’t mesh well with the story.
Fahrenheit 451 is “somewhat” faithful to it’s source material. No scratch that, it’s so loosely adapted it’s essentially a derailed train that didn’t pass the first safety inspection. First off Montag’s wife Mildred doesn’t exist, which made the original story compelling because he tries to make her see past this oppressive, shallow society and she betrays him. That’s good drama that should have been kept and dynamically weaved into its natural narrative. Nope. Chucked. It had had such great potential especially with those fancy title cards, and somewhat cool looking opening sequence until it metaphorically spun its wheels a little to hard to only smash its front end. Disaster.
I’m of course referring to the point where Montag (Michael B Jordan) and Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon) meet Clariesse (Sofia Boutella) at some Virtual Reality bar, which is absurd and obscure but the whole introduction of her character is so lost and soporific I wanted to smash plates, while screaming, “No! No! No!”. I feel nothing for this character. I don’t even have the wherewithal to root for her, because her story was completely chucked. She was supposed to be cheerful and outgoing, and basically the light that leads us out of the darkness. Nope, she’s shady, unenthusiastic, suspicious, and also a horrible attempt at being “mysterious”. This has driven me to the point of making myself a drink with whiskey in it. Then there’s Michael Shannon who plays Captain Beatty which was fine. In fact, all the actors all did great jobs performance wise, it’s just the writing sucks. The writing pulled me so far out of the story, I might as well praise the VFX guys and gals for producing phenomenal CGI fire. Bravo! And the flamethrowers, those were pretty neat.
What really kills me is how the filmmaker (Ramin Bahrani) seems to skim pass the ultimate crux of Ray Bradbury’s story; mass media and the consumption of technology threaten the vitality of actual printed works of art, music, and literature. And because it’s this story is somewhere in the undated future, where everyone’s sensitivity is heightened and the majority protest, rage, and scream over a classic book because it’s dated ideology offends them exclaiming a logical solution such as burning all copies of the said work. Well, I guess that’s easier than promoting a healthy discourse of the subject matter. A world without literature is a world without creativity. You threaten creativity what are we left with? We can all twiddle are thumbs into mediocrity. Fantastic. Yay! This of course borders on the line of the hot topic of censorship and since we’re in 2018, people are going to go bat shit gaga of its relevancy with the minor faux pas, this story isn’t about censorship. Ray Bradbury from a 1959 interview specifically said:
” I wrote this book at a time when I was worried about the way things were going in this country four years ago. Too many people were afraid of their shadows; there was a threat of book burning. Many of the books were being taken off the shelves at that time. And of course, things have changed a lot in four years. Things are going back in a very healthy direction. But at the time I wanted to do some sort of story where I could comment on what would happen to a country if we let ourselves go too far in this direction, where then all thinking stops, and the dragon swallows his tail, and we sort of vanish into a limbo and we destroy ourselves by this sort of action.”
Well, there you have it. Next forethought….
It’s interesting to note especially since Mildred doesn’t exist but also the existence of these seashell ear-thimbles, which was a very notable aspect of the original that would basically be the equivalent of today’s iPhone, which often times becomes the barrier between connection and interaction leaving us all emotionally stunted.
And as I think about, the skyscrapers (in the film) act as a replacement to the four-walled TV panels that were described in Montag’s home (in the book) as the basis of society consuming all the vast media projected upon themselves. This of course is where Mildred would have been useful to elevate the film version.
All in all, the internet, or should I say, “the nine” as it’s called is responsible for potentially bringing the downfall of civilization to its knees. It muddies everything, disconnecting us from are full potential of being present human beings with veracity to be better versions of ourselves. Whatever happen to true connection? Oh God, I’m trailing back to a Father John Misty song. Has it too been lost? This idea of connecting to someone on all pillars of our being? Fuck no! It still has a fighting chance.
I really wanted to enjoy this updated version but am still struggling to find things I liked about this film. The cinematography was as polished as one can expect in today’s standard of “film”. I just couldn’t feel the warmth even up until the final fade out. I mean the whole phoenix raising from the ashes could have been much more profound if this were written and executed much more thoroughly. It just felt empty. Something went horribly wrong with this adaptation. I haven’t been this upset since watching the cringe worthy adaptation of Herman Hesse’s STEPPENWOLF. I’ll be lenient because it was the 70s and maybe if I were on acid, I totally admire it, but STILL. I feel like there should be some symbiotic relationship when you attempt to adapt a piece of literature into a film. I know not everything is worthy to be made into a film, but doing a poor-piss-job just leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Ray Bradbury deserved better and at least we’ll always have Francois Truffaut’s 1966 version of Fahrenheit 451.