Monday, February 17, 2020

The Martian Chronicles revisited?

According to The Illuminerdi, a new screen adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is in development. As usual with such announcements, I caution against getting too excited: "in development" just means someone is signed up to write a script or treatment. Whether said script ever goes into production is another matter entirely.

The new, big name atached to the project is James Gunn, filmmaker of considerable talent - and not a little controversy. In 2018 he was fired by Disney when some decade-old tweets came to light which showed poor judgment and poor taste. (He was later re-hired when Gunn apologised and recanted; and when the unearthing of the old tweets was found to be the work of alt-right activists.)

The bigger picture is that The Martian Chronicles spent most of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s "in development". Back in the 1950s, Ray Bradbury and Kirk Douglas tried to get the Chronicles onto TV and then into film, with scripts and treatments by Ray. Then in the 1960s, he worked with Alan J. Pakula and Robert Mulligan on a film version. None of these came to anything. The Martian Chronicles did eventually get onto the screen in the late 1970s/early 1980s, in the wake of (a) the unexpected global success of Star Wars and (b) the unexpected stage success in Los Angeles of Ray's theatrical production of the Chronicles.

After the critical flop of the 1980 TV miniseries version of The Martian Chronicles, Ray adapted various of the constituent stories of his book as episodes of his TV series The Ray Bradbury Theater. And then attempted, yet again, to get The Martian Chronicles on the big screen, with his own screenplay adaptation. Various attempts were made through the 1990s and early 2000s.

So the latest news is actually nothing new. Once again, a big Hollywood name is attached, but we've seen this all before. Whatever happened to the remakes of The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes? It is Hollywood's way to spend a lot of time (and sometimes money, too) on development, but somehow never quite get to an end product.

I hope things will turn out differently this time. It would be a nice way to celebrate the Bradbury Centenary, and the seventieth anniversary of The Martian Chronicles book. But don't hold your breath!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The official Ray Bradbury website

In case you haven't visited it recently, please note that the official Ray Bradbury website is now under new management, and the old site has been completely replaced.

The new-look site has some excellent text content, mostly supplied by the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies. There are also some fascinating images, some never published before.

The new site keeps a link to the previous discussion board, which is the only facet of the old site to be retained. And it carries a Centennial page which list all the Bradbury-related events due to take place in 2020.

I was given a sneak preview of the site a few weeks ago, when I was invited to comment on the content. I found very little to criticise, but lots to like. But now it's publicly available.View the new site here:

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Bradbury Centenary

Well, we're finally here. 2020. Cue all those jokes about 2020 vision, and people drawing parallels with (19)20s flappers. For Bradbury fans, 2020 is a nice big round number: one hundred years since the birth of Ray Bradbury.

When I first became aware of Ray Bradbury's fiction, he must have been in his fifties. The first time I saw his photo, probably on a book cover, he would have been about 58 - which was quite old to me at the time; much older than my parents, for example. I saw Ray a lot in magazine interviews and on TV when he was in his sixties. And I finally met him when he was 87, and again when he was 90. Old, quite old. And yet...

His fiction was always so young and lively. What I didn't know when I first read Bradbury was that his amazing stories of dinosaurs, time machines, rockets, youth and death were mostly written when he was young and lively. His peak years, measured in terms of "best stories" were in the 1940s and 1950s, when he was aged between 20 and 40. And yet...

His amazing peak of productivity which produced The Martian Chronicles in 1950 (age 30), The Illustrated Man in 1951 (age 31), and Fahrenheit 451 in 1953 (age 33) was followed by a long tail of work which would never quite gain the same recognition. Bradbury continued writing right up to his final days, which means that there is nearly sixty years' worth of material out there (or hidden away) which most people are unfamiliar with.

A lot of books and essays about Bradbury talk of his career somehow petering out after those classic works of the 1950s. He stopped writing fiction, they say. He turned to poetry and plays, they say. He went to Hollywood, but didn't have much success.

Well, all of that has some grain of truth. His early success in Hollywood - It Came From Outer Space (he created it, but someone else did the final screenplay), Moby Dick (he adapted it, but John Huston nabbed half the screenplay credit), scripts for the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents - must have given him a taste of an alternative career, not to mention a significant alternative income stream. It can be argued that the alternative income enabled him to indulge in poetry, and to produce his own plays. Bradbury himself said that his income from Hollywood options is what put his children through college.

Ironically, Bradbury was a far better poet when writing short stories than he ever was when writing poetry. And yet he still managed to get books of poetry put out by major publishers. These things sold. They may not have been bestsellers, but they did the business.

As for his plays, they tended to fall into two camps. There were the original plays, mostly "Irish" stories which had been inspired by his time in Ireland writing Moby Dick, and most of which eventually also came out as short stories. And then there were the adaptations, of numerous short stories and his major novels. Some of these worked, and some didn't. If you ever get the chance to see his stage version of "The Veldt", see it. It's great, and in its reliance on the imagination of the audience, it works far better than any of the screen adaptations of it created so far. Similarly, if you get the chance to see Bradbury's stage version of Fahrenheit 451, grab it - but beware that Bradbury couldn't resist rewriting the story somewhat, so that it has some twists and turns which differ from the original novel.

As Jon Eller's biographies of Ray have pointed out, Bradbury's career was split into two halves. In the first half, he was an extraordinary short story writer and novelist. And in the second half, he might have run dry of original ideas, or he may have been distracted by those other media (poetry, plays, films). And also in that second half he must surely have been distracted by being a figure in the public eye, especially as the space age evolved and he became something of a spokesman for science fiction and an advocate of space exploration. I have always been amazed that he was able to get any real work done at all during this period.

By the 1980s, with Ray now into his sixties, he finally had his own TV series, the excruciatingly low-budget Ray Bradbury Theater. This show was a pioneer of original programming on cable TV, being one of HBO's first original productions, but with none of the investment that HBO today puts into original programming. At times the show was an embarrassment of poor production quality, but at other times it was able to produce some gems. Sixty-odd episodes were made, shot all over the world, with every one scripted by Bradbury himself. In the seven or so years that the show was in production, it is again hard to imagine how he found time for any other work. And yet...

The 1980s and 1990s saw a new burst of activity from Bradbury. Now in his 60s and 70s, he turned out a series of remarkable new novels and short story collections. The best of these were among his best (and the worst were among his worst). And in his final years, in his 80s and 90s, Bradbury put the finishing touches to a number of works-in-progress. A sequel to Dandelion Wine. A new patchwork novel tying a set of short stories together in From The Dust Return. Long-delayed novellas "Leviathan '99" and "Somewhere a Band is Playing".

One hell of a life of writing!

And now, so soon, we reach 2020. The Bradbury Centenary. There will be celebrations, that's for sure. Bradbury's home town of Waukegan, Illinois, has some plans. So does the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, based in Indianapolis.

And if anyone out there wants me to talk about Bradbury, just ask. I'm available for conferences, lectures, podcasts, possibly even barmitzvahs!

Watch this space for news and further developments...

ADDENDUM:  I thought I should use this post to keep a record of planned centenary events. I will add to the list as more events come to light. Here goes:

Feb 9, Pasadena:

Feb 21-23, 28-9, March 1, Pasadena:

March 5-8, San Diego:

March 11, Gurnee, Illinois:

May 17, Bath, UK:

May 20, New York:

July 24-25, Bicknell, Utah:

For more events, please also keep an eye on this web page:

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Bradbury on The Simpsons

Ray Bradbury has been referenced many times on The Simpsons. Here's one instance, from "Treehouse of Terror XXV", in which Bart Simpson finds his school is (in) hell:

See also:

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Podcasts - all in one handy place

I've taken part in a number of podcasts over the years, discussing various Ray Bradbury works in film, television, theatre and radio. I thought it was time to put links for them all in one handy place.

So, without further ado, I give you Phil's podcasts!

A Sound of Thunder - short story, film and other adaptations - Take Me To Your Reader 

Fahrenheit 451 - novel and 1966 film - Take Me To Your Reader 

Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen - The Ray Harryhausen Podcast 

Fahrenheit 451 - novel and 2018 TV film - Radio Free Acton

Fahrenheit 451 - novel and 2018 TV film - Take Me To Your Reader

Fahrenheit 451 - novel and 2018 TV film - Studio 360/American Icons 

The Halloween Tree - book, film and radio play - Take Me To Your Reader 

The Illustrated Man - short story, book and film - Take Me To Your Reader

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Illustrated Man - Podcast episode

 I always enjoy joining the gang from the podcast series Take Me To Your Reader - and today my latest appearance goes live. The discussion this time centres around Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man.

The Illustrated Man has a complex history. Bradbury first published a short story with that title, and shortly afterwards he published a short story collection with the same title... but the collection didn't include the short story! Instead, he took his tattoed-man character out for another stroll, and used him to provide a framing device for the other short stories in the book, using the conceit that each story dramatises one of the man's tattoos.

Many years later, the short story was incorporated into the book, but only in some editions.

In the early 1960s, Bradbury wanted to turn The Illustrated Man into a film, and wrote a full screenplay. Unfortunately, it became another of Bradbury's "lost films". But later in the decade, a completely different script was used for the film that was made. Starring Rod Steiger and his then wife Claire Bloom, the movie is a portmanteau film which adapts three of the short stories from the book - with Steiger and Bloom inexplicably playing different characters in each story.

You can find out what I think of the film by listening to the podcast:

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Find that story!

Ever wanted to re-read a particular Ray Bradbury story, but didn't know which collection it was in? Allow me to introduce you to a handy feature of Bradburymedia: the Short Story Finder!

The Short Story Finder lists (nearly) every Ray Bradbury story, and tells you where it was originally published, and which Bradbury collections you can find it in.

It also includes the "Eller Reference" for each story. This is a two part number-code which indicates the year of original publication, and the position of publication within that year. For example 46-04 indicates the fourth Btradbury story published in the year 1946. This numbering scheme originated with Jon Eller, Ray's literary biographer, who used it in Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction and in the ongoing Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury series of books.

So, without any further ado, I give you:

The Short Story Finder!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Ray Bradbury wins another Retro Hugo

Ray Bradbury's classic short story "King of the Gray Spaces" has won a Retro Hugo Award from the World Science Fiction Convention 2019, which began yesterday in Dublin.

Retro Hugos are special awards given for years where the standard Hugo Award was not awarded for some reason, mostly due to the Second World War interrupting the usual continuity of the Worldcon.

Bradbury has been awarded Retro Hugos in the past - the 1939 award for Best Fanzine, and the 1954 award for best novel (Fahrenheit 451).

"King of the Gray Spaces" is an early Bradbury science fiction tale, and is typically considered as the first to show the emotive style he is associated with. First published in Famous Fantastic Mysteries magazine in December 1943, the story has frequently been reprinted under the more familiar title "R is for Rocket".

In the story, fourteen year old Christopher and his friends long to be chosen for the space corps. They know that they can't "apply" for this; they have to be chosen. The key emotion of the story comes when Chris is indeed chosen, but as part of the selection process he has to keep it a secret even from his best friend Ralph. Chris's elation is contrasted with his sadness at having to leave Ralph behind, and with Ralph's muted understanding of what is happening to Chris.

Some elements of the story are quite dated now, and in fact Bradbury was aware of this when he made it the title story of his 1962 collection R is for Rocket: he made some changes to the story to bring it more up to date.

When the story first appeared in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, it was accompanied by a magnificent illustration by Lawrence Sterne Stevens (shown above).

When the Retro Hugo win was announced, my friend Jason Aukerman of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies took the stage to receive it on behalf of the Bradbury family and the Bradbury estate. Jason took the opportunity to remind the Worldcon audience that in exactly one year and one week it will be Bradbury's one hundredth birthday. The awarding of the Retro Hugo makes a fine lead-in to the Bradbury Centenary.

Here's the award announcement and Jason's speech.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Family Tree

I occasionally get emails asking about Ray Bradbury's ancestry. So, as a public service, here's a link to an earlier post (wow, it's nearly ten years old!) where I unveiled his family tree:

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Another Fine Mess

Twenty-four years ago, in April 1995, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction debuted a new Ray Bradbury short story. "Another Fine Mess" is one of Bradbury's tributes to Laurel and Hardy, and another of his laments for the old Hollywood of his childhood.

Bella Winters, newly moved into a house near Effie Street in Los Angeles, awakens one night and hears voices outside. And what sounds like a piano being hit. She becomes convinced that she is hearing, in the darkness outside, Laurel and Hardy attempting to get a piano up the steep concrete steps. She calls her friend Zelda, a silent film fanatic, and Zelda too becomes convinced that Stan and Ollie are somehow haunting the steps. Perhaps, Bella suggests, they have returned because no one has ever told them how much they are loved...

The piano reference is, of course, to Laurel and Hardy's classic, Oscar-winning short film The Music Box (1932), in which the comic duo repeatedly attempt to get a boxed upright piano up an impossibly long flight of stairs.

As a longtime resident of Los Angeles, and a lifelong fan of Laurel and Hardy, Bradbury knew and loved the old Hollywood. Bella and Zelda represent aspects of himself, both characters being around his own age, and speaking of seeing Laurel and Hardy films in their early childhood. The old Hollywood may be gone, but vestiges of its geography survive even today, and Bradbury's story is partly a celebration of this. Bradbury had previously returned to old Hollywood in his 1990 novel A Graveyard for Lunatics, a fictionalised account of his own adventures in 1950s Tinseltown.

Oddly, for all his Angeleno knowledge and familiarity with Hollywood, Bradbury doesn't place "Another Fine Mess" at the real location used in The Music Box. The steps seen in the film are located in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, and run between Vendome Street and Descanso Drive. For some reason, though, Bradbury sets his story on nearby Effie Street. It's a similarly hilly place, and does indeed have some long concrete steps. But it has nowhere quite like the real Music Box steps. Of course, the story is a fantasy - Bella Winters' waking dream - so has no obligation to reflect reality. But it makes me wonder if Ray was basing the story's location on a particular house that he knew.

Laurel and Hardy purists might further object to Bradbury's Ollie repeatedly saying "Another fine mess" - when the real Hardy tended to say "Another nice mess". However, I'm going to give Ray a pass on this, since there is a Laurel and Hardy short called Another Fine Mess (1930). If Laurel and Hardy are allowed to misquote, then so is Ray!

Bradbury refers to The Music Box in another of his short stories, "The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair" (1987), and he put "the boys" into yet another story, "The Laurel and Hardy Alpha Centauri Farewell Tour", in 2000. And he famously saw Laurel and Hardy live on stage in Dublin in the 1950s, when he was in Ireland to write the film version of Moby Dick (1956). The love for Stan and Ollie declared by Bella and Zelda is heartfelt, and undoubtedly reflects Bradbury's own love for Laurel and Hardy.

Today, you can find "Another Fine Mess" in two of Ray's books: Quicker Than The Eye and Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales.

And you can learn how the once-lost Music Box steps were "re-discovered" here:

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Fifty Years Beyond Apollo

If you didn't already know it, you will soon. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first Moon landing, and you can be sure there will be all sorts of celebrations and commemorations all over the world. Of course, it's not the first time Apollo 11 has been commemorated. Just one decade after Neil Armstrong's one small step, it was celebrated in a TV documentary presented and co-written by Ray Bradbury.

Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo seems to have begun life as an undated Bradbury script titled Beyond 1984, probably written in 1978. The documentary's presenter, called "Interlocutor" in the script, looks back on the Moon landing and asks philosophically what it was all about, whether it was worthwhile, if there is any hope, and what happens next. The tone of the script reflects Ray's frustration at humankind's greatest achievement - escaping the Earth and setting foot on another world - being cast aside and forgotten.

Ray's view was reflected in his other writings of that era. While at the peak of the US Moon preparations he had written eagerly about Houston Mission Control for Life magazine ("An Impatient Gulliver Above Our Roofs", 1967), a few years after Apollo he wrote a poem called "Abandon In Place", inspired by the now-deserted rocket pads of Apollo at the Kennedy Space Centre.

Ray developed his Beyond 1984 script through various drafts and titles - "Remembrance of Things Future" (March 1979) being one of them. By this draft, the "Interlocutor" was to interact with such futurist luminaries as Isaac Asimov and Alvin Toffler. The final version of the script, now titled Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo was written jointly by Ray and his producer-director, Malcolm Clarke. In this version - as in the finished documentary - Ray Bradbury is clearly identified as the presenter, stepping into the interlocutor role.

Malcolm Clarke would go on to an illustrious career as a film-maker. He received Oscars for best short documentary in 1989 and 2014 (You Don't Have to Die and The Lady in No. 6 respectively), and his other awards include those from the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, Cable ACE - and an Emmy.

Incidentally, this wasn't the first time a Bradbury script had cast him as a presenter. In 1966, he drafted a TV science special called Tomorrow is Now where he would have shown the viewer a history of science from the Ancient Greeks to the present day. And in 1970 he wrote Death Warmed Over, another TV special with himself as host, this time on the subject of horror. Neither of these specials was produced as far as I know, although Death Warmed Over re-surfaced as an essay in a magazine.

Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo first aired on 17th July 1979 on ABC-TV, ten years and a day after the launch of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins on Apollo 11. The final page of the script talks of humankind taking to the stars in solar-powered ships, like giant kites flying in formation, and like Christopher Columbus' ships heading out into uncharted waters. (Bradbury was never afraid of mixing his metaphors.) Ray's final lines echo Tsiolkovsky: "For Earth is only our birthplace after all. It needn't be our home forever."

A cut-down version of Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo can be viewed on, here:

My thanks to the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies for providing access to Bradbury's papers, which include the various draft scripts referred to above.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Repairs complete!

Following the migration of Bradburymedia to a new web host, repairs are now complete!

There are probably still some broken links around the place - particularly links to other websites, which I haven't had time to systematically check - but everything should now be back to the way it was before the migration. If you spot anything that looks wrong, please post a comment below and I'll check it out.

In case you're wondering what else is here, other than the blog posts, here's a selection of pages which you may find interesting:

My review of the classic feature film It Came from Outer Space (original screen story by Ray Bradbury):

My review of episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (scripted by Bradbury and adapted from Bradbury stories):

My overview of the classic radio series Bradbury Thirteen (based on Bradbury stories):

Thanks for your patience during the refurb - and check back soon for some new content! 

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

My Scribblings

While Bradburymedia undergoes much needed maintenance, perhaps you'd like to peruse some of my more academic writing? I've collected many of my conference papers, journal articles and books chapters in two places, so take your pick:

Phil's writings at Researchgate:

Phil's writings at Academia:

Maintenance continues...

I'm still doing repairs to Bradburymedia following its migration to a new web host. Most pages still work, but there will be dead links a-plenty.

Once the basic mechanical stuff is fixed, I'll begin posting new material. ("At last!" I hear you cry...)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Under maintenance...

Image result for roadworks sign

I'm doing some behind-the-scenes maintenance work on Bradburymedia, so don't be surprised if there are some glitches.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Ray Bradbury's Christmas Gift

This is actually a re-post from 2013, but it's a perennial favourite - and seasonally appropriate to boot!

Seasons greetings, everyone!

I've noted previously that Ray Bradbury wrote very few Christmas-themed stories, but one of his best-known is "The Gift". It was first published in Esquire magazine in 1952. The artwork above (click to embiggen) is by Ren Wickes, and in the child's face beautifully captures the good old "sense of wonder" people used to talk about in science fiction stories.

To find out why the child is so astonished, read "The Gift" here.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Challenge to Scholars!

I was commissioned by an American publisher to provide a short annotated bibliography of the best critical writing about Ray Bradbury's short stories. This meant ploughing through a list of about a hundred candidate essays looking for a dozen or so worthy of comment. And I discovered something rather interesting.

The essays tend to divide into two major groups: those written in the 1980s, and those written in the 2000s. In itself, nothing new. Not to me, at least. I've long been aware that Bradbury was a popular study in American high schools from the 1980s onwards, and that this had prompted a mini-industry of books about his work. Some of the best studies date from this period, including Wayne L. Johnson's book Ray Bradbury and Greenberg & Olander's essay anthology Ray Bradbury. (You'd think publishers would be able to come up with more distinctive titles.

And then, of course, Ray's death in 2012 provided the impetus for some re-evaluation, and hence we get new critical essay collections such as McGiveron's Critical Insights: Ray Bradbury and Critical Insights: Fahrenheit 451, and Gloria McMillan's Orbiting Ray Bradbury's Mars.

Now here's the really interesting thing. These newer collections of essays - and most of the individual essays on Ray published between 1980 and the present - stick to the same old stories. Fahrenheit 451 gets a lot of attention, and rightly so. The Martian Chronicles and the individual stories it comprises also get a lot of attention. But I can count on the fingers of... well, on one finger how many essays consider stories in any of the books shown at the top of this blog post.

Perhaps you recognise those books?

They are the seven new collections of Bradbury short stories published between 1980 and today. Seven collections, covering about thirty years. That's an awful lot of fiction, covering one-third of Bradbury's life. Nearly half of his professional career.

Which leads me to this challenge to scholars:

Enough of your re-assessments of "And The Moon Be Still As Bright" and applying a new "critical lens" to "The Veldt". How about picking something from that seven-volume, thirty-year range of short stories which no one else has considered?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Ninety-Eight Years of Ray Bradbury

It's hard to believe that Ray Bradbury was born nearly a century ago, but it's true. Today would have been his 98th birthday.

How to celebrate?

Well, if you're in Indianapolis, you could attend the fifth annual Ray Bradbury Memorial Lecture at the city library: Jon Eller of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies will be giving an illustrated talk about Bradbury and art. Details are here.

Or if you're in the Los Angeles area, you could attend a free exhibition in Pasadena entitled Dreaming the Universe: The Intersection of Science, Fiction, & Southern California.

But if you're elsewhere in the universe - like me -  you'll have to make your own entertainment. I will spend the day reviewing my notes and documents relating to The Ray Bradbury Theater, because next month I will be presenting a conference paper on Ray's authorship of the sixty-five episode series which took up more than seven years of his professional life. After the conference, I will be submitting an extended version of the paper to an academic journal, and after that it will be expanded further into a book on the series. As with my PhD thesis (which examined Ray's screenwriting), I'll be presenting my findings as something of an archaeological dig into Ray's archives, trying to establish to what extent Bradbury the screenwriter can be seen as the "author" of his TV series. The answer is not as straightforward as you might think.

Happy Bradbury Day - and here's looking forward to the Bradbury Centenary in two years' time.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Bahrani Looks Back on Fahrenheit 451 (2018)

A new interview has appeared on the HBO film of Fahrenheit 451 (2018) in which writer-director Ramin Bahrani looks back on his film. All previous articles presenting his views were part of the promotional push when the film was released.

Seeing his comments here, it is unfortunately obvious that the weaknesses of the film come largely from a flawed approach to the adaptation. Bahrani points out that he had never adapted a novel before; that he had never made a film with such a big budget; and that he had never made an action film before.
It shows.

He says he wanted to make a film that would work for teenagers. Hence all that nonsense jargon, all the reliance on emojis, and almost forgetting that F451 is about book-burning.

He says it's supposed to be set in a parallel present, rather than in the future - but there isn't a single indication of this in the film itself, and I don't recall any of the reviews picking up on this.

And he attributes the negative response to the film as coming from hardcore fans of the book.
Er... no, sorry: 25% on Rotten Tomatoes suggests a WIDESPREAD rejection of the film, not hostility from a narrow audience of Bradbury readers.

I remain a defender of the film, which isn't nearly as bad as that 25% rating would suggest. But nor is the film worthy of the Emmy Award it has been shortlisted for.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

I Made A List: July

There seem to be a lot of Ray Bradbury stories dealing with summer. Dandelion Wine of course (and its late sequel Farewell Summer), "The Day it Rained Forever", "The Burning Man", and many more.

Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that a lot of his short stories first saw the light of day in the month of July. Take a look:

July 1941

To Make a Long Story Much, Much Shorter

July 1942

Eat, Drink and be Wary

July 1943

The Scythe

July 1944

Killer, Come Back to Me
The Long Night
There Was an Old Woman

July 1945

Corpse Carnival
The Dead Man
Dead Men Rise Up Never

July 1946

The Night

July 1948

The Undead Die

July 1949

The Changeling
The Lonely Ones

July 1950

The City (under the title "Purpose")
The Illustrated Man

July 1954

The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone

July 1955

The Trolley

July 1957

The Day it Rained Forever

July 1964

The Cold Wind and the Warm

July 1966

The Dragon Danced at Midnight (under the title "The Year the Glop Monster Won the Golden Lion at Cannes")

July 1975

The Burning Man

July 1984

By the Numbers!

July 1988

The Thing at the Top of the Stairs

July 1995

Grand Theft

If you want to track any of these stories down, use my Short Story Finder to locate them in Bradbury's many books.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Fahrenheit 451's missing Millie

HBO's Fahrenheit 451 finally went to air last night, receiving some very mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes shows a surprisingly low score from critics, but a somewhat higher score from viewers.

One puzzle is: whatever happened to Millie, Montag's wife?

I'm on record as saying that I didn't miss her while I was watching the film, because some of the story function of Millie is instead transferred to Montag himself. But after the film I began to wonder whether she had been cut for time, or for some other reason. She certainly existed in earlier drafts of the script, and the role was certainly cast. Laura Harrier, the Millie who never was, says that she was cut because she would have made the film too long, and because Millie had no part in the story that director Ramin Bahrani was developing. What isn't clear is whether Millie was shot and left on the cutting-room floor, or whether she was cut from the script before shooting began.

Maybe she'll show up in a DVD extra some day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

HBO's new Fahrenheit 451

I was given access to a preview screener of Fahrenheit 451, the new HBO film which premieres on 19th May. I'll be discussing it with Bruce Walker on the podcast Radio Free Acton ( - the interview starts at 20:29).

My overall reaction after watching the film: relief.

Relief that they hadn't totally screwed up the adaptation.

This is probably quite a common reaction to seeing a beloved book adapted to the screen, but is particularly important to me for any Bradbury adaptation - because too many previous adaptations of his work have totally missed the point. Classic examples of missing the point include The Illustrated Man (1969), Picasso Summer (also 1969 - not a good year for Bradbury, evidently) and A Sound of Thunder (2005).

This doesn't mean that I'm a stickler for "fidelity" in adaptation; far from it, I enjoy seeing film-makers wrestle with adaptational strategies, especially when they can shine new light on the book they are taking as inspiration. But there is something peculiar about Bradbury's writing - its pictorial vividness combined with its poetic non-literalness - which seems to attract film-makers of limited vision.

I find that Ramin Bahrani, the director and co-writer of the new HBO Fahrenheit 451, is far from being in this camp. The new Fahrenheit does take many liberties with Bradbury's story (what, no Millie? Clarisse as a police informant?), but it knows what it's doing. Specifically, it knows what Guy Montag has to learn, and what he has to become; and it knows what Beatty is in relation to Montag. Most importantly, it knows how to show the relevance of Fahrenheit to today's world of sound bites, clickbait headlines and fake news. Bradbury said that you don't have to burn books to destroy a culture; you just have to get people to stop reading. And that's exactly the world Bahrani has created here.

The film has one annoying addition, a bizarre and unnecessary science-fictional twist to do with DNA (I'll say no more, because spoilers) which suggests the film-makers' lack of confidence in the strength of Bradbury's original ending. But, like Francois Truffaut - and Bradbury himself in his stage play version of F451 - Bahrani has dropped the idea of an atomic war as a dramatic conclusion and perhaps felt the need to add something else of symbolic value to close the story.

Overall, the film has a good look to it, sitting somewhere between Blade Runner, Nineteen Eighty-Four (the 1984 film version) and Gattaca, but occasionally revealing its presumably low budget. It has a fine pace. It does some lovely things with Beatty, the fire chief who represents one possible life-outcome for Montag. It has some strong performances, with Michael B. Jordan the standout as Montag, and Michael Shannon as Beatty mostly managing to control his histrionics.

My only disappointment is with the old woman who sets fire to herself and her books. This pivotal scene in the book is inherently cinematic and dramatic, and really needs little adjustment for screen, as Truffaut proved back in 1966 (with Bea Duffell entrancing as the martyr). Bahrani's version of the scene misses the tension, and has a central image which is unfortunately comical. A shame, because the immediately preceding scene where Beatty shows Montag the old woman's attic full of books is done extremely well, and updates Bradbury's explication of how the world of Fahrenheit came to be.

While not a masterpiece, this new take on Fahrenheit 451 is possibly the best feature-length adaptation of a Bradbury work to date, and is worth a look.

Update,17 May 2018:

I've added the link to the Acton Institute interview above.

Since writing the above review, I've remembered a few additional points about the new film which I just wanted to capture:

'Colour blind' casting and the question of race - Going into the film, I was very happy that Montag is played by a black actor. A fine example of colour-blind casting, I thought. And Michael B. Jordan is certainly up to the job. But then comes one brief scene whether the question of race arises, and it's in Beatty's account of how the world of F451 came into existence. It becomes apparent that Montag has no knowledge of black history, and suddenly we get it: these characters have no knowledge of their own history. This is one of Bradbury's themes in the novel, as Montag struggles to even remember where he first met his wife. The moment in the film works precisely because Montag is black, and makes for probably the most profound insight the film has to offer.

The book people - I may have drifted off for a while, but the film seems to introduce the book people (outcasts from society who memorise books to preserve the texts for future generations) without much of an explanation, and without any sense of surprise from Montag. He should be surprised. This is one area where the new film is not as strong as Truffaut's film. Truffaut makes light of the apparent absurdity of the idea, but then demonstrates in a series of brief scenes, how it would work - even showing how mistakes will be made and corrected, and how the knowledge will be passed down the generations.

Generation gap - it is implied that it is mainly the older generation who cling to their books, while the younger people are just hooked on social media. There's a nice scene early on with Keir Dullea which captures this idea. It's also a fair reflection of real life. But it also helps explain why there are still caches of books to be found.

The guy who looks after the bird - I won't give any spoiler about the bird or its function in the film, but the guy who is responsible for that whole project is presented as having some kind of savant syndrome (think Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man). The character is there only briefly, and serves as an extreme model of how rote-memorisation of books can work. I think this is a smart move in helping to establish the plausibility of the memorisation take, and it is very  understated. It's a shame, then, that the story with the bird is allowed to overshadow this character.

One last missed opportunity - the firemen are shown several times chanting their firemen's song, a bit like a football or rugby crowd getting carried away with their chanting. It's a primitive but effective way for human beings to commit a text to memory. And yet the film does nothing with it. I was reminded of David Calcutt's radio play version of F451 which carefully builds nursery rhymes and oral tradition into the background of Montag's world, except that Calcutt does it for a purpose and ties this idea tightly to Bradbury's story. The new film makes it a throwaway.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Countdown to FAHRENHEIT 451

HBO's new film adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is due to air on 19th May, so my friends in the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies have begun a countdown. Every day, they are posting the opening line of the novel in a different language, taken from the many foreign-language editions held in the Center's archive.

You can find these posts all over social media, including the following:


The countdown has begun!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

RIP Michael Anderson (1920-2018)

Martian Chronicles director Michael Anderson has passed away, at the ripe old age of 98.

Anderson's long career in film included a number of landmark works: The Dam Busters, 1984, Around the World in Eighty Days and Logan's Run among them.

When Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles was being adapted for TV in the late 1970s, Bradbury provided the producers with his list of preferred directors. Anderson was on the list, but according to Bradbury was a long way down the list. Unfortunately, Anderson's direction of the eventual miniseries was not stellar, and certainly not consistent with his reputation for helming complex spectacle. On the contrary, The Martian Chronicles was visually pedestrian, and the performances lacking in dramatic impact. Ray Bradbury famously described the miniseries as "boring".

It is proper, therefore, to remember Anderson primarily for those earlier works. The Dam Busters is a British classic, and is close to the heart of many British viewers, both the older generation who saw it on first release, and younger generations who have seen its many appearances on TV. Around the World in Eighty Days, for which Anderson received an Oscar nomination, remains a colourful spectacle, despite its flaws. And while 1984 isn't a patch on the BBC TV production by Nigel Kneale and Rudolph Cartier, it's still a bold early attempt at dystopia, paving the way for Anderson's later box office success with the dystopic Logan's Run.

Having said that, The Martian Chronicles is set for a BluRay debut later this year, which will no doubt draw fresh critical attention to it.

Read more about Michael Anderson's career here: