Hollywood Beckons Again for Bradbury: Adaptations of Ray Bradbury’s Work
By Spencer Blohm
Chances are, whether you realize it or not, you’ve heard of Ray Bradbury. Not only a prolific writer of science fiction, fantasy, and children’s novels, Bradbury wrote stories that were adapted into comic books, stage plays, television episodes, and movies. One of the most recent adaptations – a recently debuted ABC series The Whispers (based on the Bradbury short story “Zero Hour” and executive produced by Steven Spielberg) – is just the latest in a long line of work that has made the jump from page to screen. Before you decide to catch The Whispers pilot episode (which debuted last week and is easily watchable on ABC Go or DTV) there are other Bradbury adaptations you might want to check out first. Given Bradbury’s long and storied history with Hollywood, it’s no wonder that creative types keep looking to his work for inspiration.
One of the most famous Bradbury novels to transcend its original format and get the film treatment was Fahrenheit 451. This classic science fiction novel about a future where humanity has given up deep thinking for lives of leisure and pleasure under a government that is happy to keep them indolent and docile became the first color film and only English-language film from French director Francois Truffaut. The film featured Julie Christie and Oskar Werner as main character Montag, a ‘fireman’ who goes from happily doing his duty and burning books, to reading one of those books and having a whole new world opened up to him. While many critics didn’t quite understand the point the film was trying to make, it still managed to get a Hugo nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation.
Reception for the film version of Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man was also not favorable. The anthology film included adaptations of three stories – “The Veldt,” “The Long Rain,” and “The Last Night of the World” – from the short story collection of the same name. Jack Smight directed, Rod Steiger starred as main character and storyteller Carl, and each part of the film was connected (though somewhat tenuously) through the tattoos on Carl’s body. Bradbury himself had no hand in adapting the stories to a screenplay or making the film and some critics blamed its lack of cohesiveness on his lack of involvement.
For the television episode version of his story “I Sing the Body Electric” Ray Bradbury was involved. He wrote the teleplay adaptation that became the 100th episode of classic surreal science fiction/horror/fantasy series The Twilight Zone. In the episode a family purchases a robotic grandmother to replace the mother they lost. While at first not all of the family is accepting of the machine, over time they all grow to love her and see her as an important part of the family. It is a beautiful, heartwarming and heartbreaking story with elements that can be seen in more recent films such as Toy Story – where a child relies on love from non-human things that he eventually grows out of.
Another classic television series – Alfred Hitchcock Presents (the 1985 reboot instead of the original 1955 version) – adapted a Bradbury story for a popular episode. This time it was “The Jar,” directed by a (then) up and coming Tim Burton and starring Griffin Dunne. In the original story a farmer buys a mysterious creature in a glass jar and becomes famous for it, while his wife becomes jealous and disbelieving of it. In the remake, the main character is an artist that has known better days and the ‘creature’ in the jar helps re-make his career – but still seems to ruin his marriage. It is not the most faithful adaptation of a Bradbury story ever made but it was popular at the time it aired for its surreal, bizarre concept.
Another of the more famous Bradbury works is Something Wicked This Way Comes, a story of two boys who are pulled into a living nightmare when an ominous man with terrifying carnival attractions invades their small town. The book is one of Bradbury’s more known novels because it is taught in middle school and high school English classes and the film version made in the early 1980s was popular with critics and audiences. It was directed by Jack Clayton and started Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce. It also won Saturn Awards for Best Fantasy Film and Best Writing, which was more than most adaptations of Bradbury’s work had done in the past.
Whether they are filmed for the small screen or silver screen, Ray Bradbury’s stories have been regular source material for decades. Their mix of fantasy, horror, science fiction, politics, philosophy, and more has made them relatable and enduring even as the real world has changed around them. The themes and elements of his stories continue to be seen throughout other media, and will probably continue to influence the genres of fantasy and science fiction for a long time to come.
For more about Bradbury, read this post from our archive marking 60 years since the publication of Fahrenheit 451.
Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment, lifestyle and culture blogger. He lives and works in Chicago where he can often be found at one of the many festivals and street fairs around the city.
Image: Ray Bradbury in 1975, photo by Alan Light, Wikimedia Commons.