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HBO's Remake of 'Fahrenheit 451' Generates Little Heat
May 19, 2018  | By Ed Bark  | 2 comments

The books go up in flames a bit faster than the movie itself in HBO’s adaptation of sci-fi author Ray Bradbury’s famed Fahrenheit 451.

Directed in oft-plodding and recurrently preachy fashion by Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop), the film is touted as being relevant anew in times where “we have willingly given up our knowledge, identity, books, history, dreams, culture -- everything -- to tech companies, big business and politicians.” 

That’s Bahrani’s stated view in HBO publicity materials. But it hasn’t gotten that bad yet, has it?

The new version premieres on Saturday, May 19 at 8 p.m. ET, two generations removed from François Truffaut’s 1966 Fahrenheit 451, which starred Oskar Werner and Julie Christie. Bradbury wrote the original book in 1953 as a cautionary tale tied to the repressive, Communist-hunting “McCarthy era.”

Some changes have been made by Bahrani and HBO, particularly the omission of troubled “fireman” Guy Montag’s wife, a key character in the novel. Michael B. Jordan’s Montag lives alone, save for the audio companionship of judgmental YUXIE (left), the film’s Alexa of the future.

Montag otherwise is devoted to his very tightly wound mentor and commander, Captain John Beatty (Michael Shannon). At his orders, the flame-throwing members of the fire brigade seek out book-hiding resistors and destroy their contraband in full view of an omnipresent live TV show.

“Do you want to know what’s inside all these books? Insanity,” Beatty assures Montag, who’s also told that too many books espousing too many contrary opinions ended up sparking a civil war in which eight million people died. In the end, survivors “demanded a world like this.”

Beatty dismisses Franz Kafka as a “pornographer and a sexual pervert,” but has a secret thirst for guidance and writes the wisdom of famed deep thinkers on cigarette papers while home alone. Montag also has secrets. He’s stolen a copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground and increasingly keeps company with “eel” (resistor) Clarisse McClellan (Sofia Boutella), an off-and-on informant who hits her off switch again as the plot congeals, er, thickens.  

The film isn’t much of a read, though. Jordan, who’s also an executive producer, is constantly captured in close-up, looking either wide-eyed or vexed. His growing attraction to Clarisse tends to be a snooze, with their not exactly dynamic scenes together seemingly spliced into the film at random moments.

Shannon is accomplished at portraying inner turmoil. His taut, deeply religious FBI agent in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire became adept at self-flagellation in hopes of making himself whole again. But Beatty, for the most part, comes off as one big, prototypical snarl, even while being conflicted.

Fahrenheit 451 briefly shows a taboo Marvin Gaye album but resists resorting to a few bars of The Doors’ Light My Fire. That’s what’s needed, though, with a film whose BIG FINISH fails to ignite much of anything. The optimum book-burning heat from which the title is drawn ends up being a disappointing film that can’t seem to rise above room temperature.

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Superior post, keep up with this exceptional work. It's nice to know that this topic is being also covered on this web site so cheers for taking the time to discuss this! Thanks again and again!
Jan 28, 2023   |  Reply
Very, very, very disappointed. And very, very bored!
More than once they quoted Ben Franklin 'inventing the fire department' --
I waited for the also important "Ben Franklin started the first Library"
Would have been welcome!
(it was far too confusing and strange with it's updating)
May 24, 2018   |  Reply
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