Between Hulu’s meteoric hit The Handmaid’s Tale, Netflix’s Black Mirror, and HBO’s Westworld, today’s audiences seem to be fully poised for thought-provoking social science fiction taking to the airways. Critics and viewers alike are flocking to sci-fi TV shows that deal with hard social questions on things like sexism, technology, and morality in a digital age. As such, it would seem apropos for HBO to commission a high-value TV movie adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 starring current Hollywood superstar Michael B. Jordan and perennially engaging bad guy Michael Shannon. However, according to the AV Club, the new adaptation doesn’t quite make it to greatness.
Aside from the irony of a TV production of a book about the dangers of TV taking over books, reviewer Danette Chavez feels as though the movie tries too hard to modernize itself to the technological status quo of today. Whereas the original story (written in a time decades before the internet or mobile phones) focused only on books, this version of the story takes the technological advances of the successive 65 years and targets all analog methods of distributing information. In perhaps trying to grasp at the relevance that its contemporary sci-fi kin on the tube enjoy, the adaptation by indie director Amir Naderi devotes so much to be currently relevant, it forgets to be subtle.
The basic premise of the story remains: Jordan plays Guy Montag, a “fireman” working under Captain Beatty whose duty is to seek out those who are holding onto mediums promoting independent thought– primarily books– and eradicating it via flamethrower. Society is coddled via cheap entertainment such as wordless pornography and near constant TV. As the story progresses, Montag begins to question his role in destroying books and rebels against the anti-intellectualism of the government. The world of the TV adaptation is roughly similar if updated for modern day. However, a prominent figure– Guy’s wife Mildred whose obsession with TV drives Guy to understand his world’s plight– is gone from the adaptation, eliminating major character growth.
This is not to say the HBO film is without merit. The two leads– Jordan and Shannon– play their roles with as much passion and care as to be expected from these two great actors. Their struggle between knowledge and blissful ignorance is the key to this film. There are also some inspired pieces of imagery, particularly at the end which help to elevate this well-meaning but ultimately flawed film.