I’ve been hearing rumors for years now about plans for a new film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Mystery Man on Film has read a copy of Frank Darabont’s script, and while he hasn’t yet posted the whole thing, his descriptions of some of the choicer bits make me hungry to see the movie get made right away.
His post also sent me back to re-read the Bradbury novel, which I hadn’t opened in decades. It’s still great stuff, certainly Bradbury’s finest novel, and as Mystery Man points out, far more cinematic in its imagery than the inept 1966 movie version directed by Francois Truffaut. It’s also remarkably concise and intensely imagined — particularly when compared with Bradbury’s increasingly blowsy later work.
I have to give the movie some props, if only because it’s the reason I started reading Bradbury in the first place. Truffaut’s film cropped up on TV fairly often, and as a young reader in non-bookish circumstances I was gripped by the idea of getting by in a society than bans reading and routinely destroys books. I think I was in the sixth grade when I first read Fahrenheit 451, drawn to it because I’d seen the movie so many times by then, and it led me to The October Country, The Illustrated Man, The Golden Apples of the Sun and the rest of Bradbury’s core titles. The funny thing is, even then I saw no attraction in becoming one of the Book People — how on earth could anyone decide on which single book to memorize and keep close?
Looking back, I think I was mainly held by the movie’s soundtrack, which was composed by Bernard Herrmann, whom Bradbury had recommended to Truffaut (not that Monsieur Auteur would have needed much encouragement to hire Alfred Hitchcock’s former right-hand man). Herrmann conceived a dreamy, mostly unfocused score that suggested a society held in a kind of permanent childhood by enforced illiteracy, yet still tormented by adult doubts and fear. It’s pretty much the only aspect of the film that still works, and it makes the final scene with the Book People one of the most rapturously beautiful sequences in film.
For a while the rumor was that Mel Gibson wanted to play Guy Montag, the book-burning fireman who becomes consumed by the desire to read, but I think the role calls for someone like Viggo Mortensen who can suggest deep currents of thought beneath an impassive exterior. Either way, let somebody make the movie, soon. And meanwhile, you can re-read Bradbury’s novel — talk about a win-win scenario.