Literature -- not just science fiction, but all literature -- lost a titan
last week when author Ray Bradbury died at the age of 91 in Los Angeles.
Bradbury's rich imagination combined with his seemingly effortless and poetic
prose to create a style both unique and vastly influential. Filmmakers and
writers ranging from Steven Spielberg to Stephen King paid tribute to this giant
of a writer upon the occasion of his passing.
Like any other well-known author, many of Bradbury's works made it to both
movie and TV screens with varying degrees of success. It was difficult, perhaps,
for the music of his prose to truly be translated to visual mediums despite the
intensely visual nature of his writing. Yet that didn't stop many from trying.
Here is a sampling of Ray Bradbury's works that were adapted for the large and
"It Came From Outer Space" (1953): While a number of
Bradbury stories had been adapted in the early '50s for various TV anthology
series, this was the first feature film based on something he wrote -- an
original treatment and not a published story. Aliens from a crashed spacecraft
begin taking possession of nearby townspeople, although it's revealed in the end
that they're friendly sorts and merely need help with repairs. A small film, but
a minor classic of its time that's full of eerie atmosphere and a sharp critique
of human nature.
"The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" (1953): Worth inclusion
because it was loosely inspired by a Bradbury short story called "The Fog Horn,"
from which one scene -- a lonely prehistoric beast mistakes a lighthouse's fog
horn for the call of its long-dead mate -- made it into the movie. The
rhedosaurus is awakened from its sleep by nuclear blasts, making this the first
of the '50s' wave of sci-fi films to address the implications of the atomic
"Fahrenheit 451" (1966): Francois Truffaut's adaptation
of Bradbury's seminal work of dystopian sci-fi may be the most controversial
among fans. Visually striking, the story of a society where books are banned and
burned never quite generates the kind of heat that the novel did. The Fireman
Montag's (a colorless Oskar Werner) relationships with his TV-obsessed wife and
a revolutionary schoolteacher (both played by Julie Christie) lack punch too.
But several individual scenes -- such as one where a woman decides to go up in
flames with her books -- are gripping.
"The Illustrated Man" (1969): Rod Steiger plays the
title character, a man covered in tattoos with each one representing a different
story. Three of the 18 tales from Bradbury's collection are adapted here with
largely mediocre-to-poor results. Take "The Veldt," in which parents discover
that the virtual reality device they give their kids (forecasting hi-def TV and
video games, by the way) makes things all too real. The story telegraphs the
plot right from the beginning, the performers lack energy and there's no
suspense or tension. Multiply that by three and you've got "The Illustrated
"The Martian Chronicles" (1980): Although touted as a
novel, Bradbury's masterwork is actually a loosely connected string of short
stories revolving around Mars. This three-part, six-hour TV adaptation tries to
tie many of those together into a single story, but it often plods relentlessly
along in a pedestrian TV way with no-style direction from the bland Michael
Anderson ("Logan's Run"). Many of the special effects have not aged well,
although the actual Martians themselves have an eerie beauty, and the casting --
Rock Hudson? -- is off-kilter too. If anyone could figure out a way to do "The
Martian Chronicles" again, but better, now would be the time.
"Something Wicked This Way Comes" (1983): Bradbury
wrote the script himself from his classic novel about a traveling carnival that
is home to beings that live off the suffering of humans. For a Disney film, this
is surprisingly scary, and Jonathan Pryce brings a true malevolence to Mr. Dark,
master of the Pandemonium Carnival. Director Jack Clayton, who made the
brilliant ghost story "The Innocents" (1961), achieves some haunting images. A
box office flop upon release -- after all, who expected a horror movie from
Disney? -- the reputation of "Something Wicked" has grown over time.
"The Ray Bradbury Theater" (1985-1992): Running for three seasons on HBO and
four on USA, this anthology series featured adaptations of many of the master's
classic short stories, with all 65 of them scripted by Bradbury himself. Among
the works adapted were "The Small Assassin," "The Jar," "The Veldt," "The
Toynbee Convector," "Mars Is Heaven" and "The Long Rain," while stars that
passed through the show included Peter O'Toole, William Shatner, Jeff Goldblum,
Drew Barrymore, Eugene Levy, Lucy Lawless and many more.
"A Sound of Thunder" (2005): Time is not likely to
save this bomb's reputation, nor should it. Bradbury's elegant short story
invoked what became known as the Butterfly Effect: If you step on a butterfly in
the past or present, it can have devastating ripple effects in the future. The
movie pads this out to ridiculous lengths, presenting a group of hunters who
keep hopping through time to increasingly changed pasts and futures. The film
gets snarled in a hopeless tangle of time-travel paradoxes while also suffering
from lousy special effects and direction. If we could go back in time and
eradicate the movie from existence, we just might do it -- damn the Butterfly
Geeking Out On...J.J. Abrams Directing 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars'
J.J. Abrams' 'Star Trek Into Darkness' is set to open this week, then begins the task of directing a new 'Star Wars' film for 2015. Check out this episode where Kurt argues why he's the man for the job and how it's enough already about the lens flares. Also, a few other "double dippers" in the dueling franchises as well as a few others.