REVIEW: Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury’s beautiful prose created a chilling dystopian world in Fahrenheit 451 and given the incendiary times we live in, adaptation seems apt. He goes George Orwell one better by erasing history rather than merely rewriting it. HBO was an ideal forum for this, giving the production room to breathe and without the hassle of pacing for commercial breaks.
The 65-year old novel’s bones are well-translated to the screen with Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan) a dedicated fireman, burning the few remaining books in the world, televising the event to a cheering audience. We watch him begin to question his work and its effects on a world controlled by malevolent forces.
He begins to rebel, aided by Clarisse (Sofia Boutella), and in direct opposition of his superior Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon).
Director Ramin Bahrani shows us how unhappy the people in this world are, how dark the future can get despite the light cast by the burning words. He replaces those words with new terms, ones that smack of Orwell and his dystopian successors, distancing us from the world Bradburty was trying to warn us about.
Bahrani and co-writer Amir Naderi layer on anxieties about today’s reliance on the Internet and social media, things Bradbury wasn’t worried about. That book would certainly have been interesting, but adding them here is retrofitting that doesn’t quite work. We used to revere the printed word but with every passing year, we lament that fewer and fewer people read with any regularity. My high school students uniformly tell me they hate reading (as hey scroll through dozens of texts and group chats). As a result, the entire story doesn’t gel as it should.
Neither does Shannon’s too angry performance, spoiling some of the acting fun. Jordan is fine and Boutella is proving quite an interesting actress to watch (you’ve seen her in Star Trek Beyond and Atomic Blonde).
Bahrani had the challenge of honoring Bradbury’s brilliance and creating his own version so as not to be overshadowed by the superior François Truffaut 1966 adaptation.
The show aired in May on HBO over several nights and is presented here on Blu-ray and looks just fine. The miniseries comes with one extra: Behind the Fire, a pretty perfunctory look at the making of the film.