HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 is a friendly (though highly imperfect) reminder that we’re probably doomed. Based on the 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury, this latest iteration of Fahrenheit 451 is not what you’d call a faithful adaptation. Spoilers ahead.
Director/writer Ramin Bahrani takes some serious liberties with the novel. While it still has Guy Montag (Creed and Black Panther’s Michael B. Jordan), Captain Beatty (The Shape of Water’s Michael Shannon in fine Shannon-y form), and Clarisse McClellan (The Mummy and Star Trek Beyond’s Sofia Boutella), much of the rest of the novel gets an unnecessary facelift.
While the film still takes place in a dystopian future where society has essentially opted to self censor and burn books, in HBO’s version, extremely select works are allowed to exist in a digital format (including the Bible). They’ve also adapted it slightly to include media mediums that were invented after the original book’s publication. I guess that means they’d be burning a … printout of this article?
The most dramatic changes are to the backstories of the characters, and to the ending. Montag is a young, single man instead of a family man whose wife plays a role in his betrayal and awakening. McClellan is aged up in order to develop a somewhat unnecessary romance with Montag. Beatty is probably the most true to the original material. God, I love Michael Shannon at his intense weirdest, even if the script doesn’t quite do him justice.
The ending of the movie is much darker (if that was possible) than the novel’s finale. It ends with Montag sacrificing himself in order to release a database named OMNIS of censored/banned materials into the world. Oh, and did I mention that OMNIS is stored in genetic code, which some rebels hid in a pet bird? Yeah, you can bet that that isn’t in the original…
OMNIS feels like a convoluted way to try to enhance the way in which Bradbury solves the information distribution plot point. In the novel, exiled rebels memorize books in order to preserve literature — the idea being once things have equalized they’ll be able to restore the works to written form. You’d think Bahrani’s version would have one or the other, but instead it tries to have both methods of preserving information. It ends up being messy and somewhat confusing.
Bradbury’s ends in Montag surviving and with the hope of starting society anew. His character arc feels much more motivated than the hints and glimmers of reasoning we see in this film version. It makes the end when he is able to join the efforts to build up civilization feel organic. HBO’s ending tries to leave us with a sliver of hope for mankind, but it ends up not feeling particularly impactful.
The performances are fine, while the visuals are a little derivative of just about every dystopian future movie we’ve seen of late. There are several points in the film when the imagery is presented like an unwrapped 360 degree image, which fails to serve the story.
It’s a shame that this version doesn’t do anything to positively distinguish itself from the source material. It certainly had potential, though perhaps some novels aren’t meant to be changed. If anything at least hopefully it’ll inspire folks to pick up the original Fahrenheit 451 and read it again.