BRADBURY ‘S WRITING INFLUENCED FUTURE GENRE FILMS
By Robin E. Simmons
Back in the 70s, I got to know Ray Bradbury when I was writing YOUNG HITLER’S SECRET LIFE, a controversial movie intended for NBC from Bob Banner Productions. Our facilities were on Rodeo Drive just off Wilshire. Often during lunch, I’d literally run into Mr. Bradbury, who had an office around the corner.
One day he asked me what I was working on and I told him. He was immediately intrigued and asked if he could read what I had written. I was hesitant at first, but said OK and he came up to my office and we talked about the problems of making Hitler human and why the boy became a monster. Bradbury asked if he could take my treatment home and think about it. Not many days later, I got a detailed letter with all kinds of observations and questions about portraying human evil. The network and sponsor’s fear was that “some viewers would always sympathize if Hitler was made too human.” But as Bradbury observed, that’s why it’s a horror story — Hitler was one of us. Even though the movie never aired as written, I will never forget the generous gesture to a young writer from a master. Over the years I saw him intermittently, and his energy level was always up and his creative enthusiasm remained high. Maybe that’s the secret of longevity. He said he wrote at least 1000 words every single day of his life since he was a teen. His mantra: “Do what you love and love what you do.”
However limited the film writing and adaptations of and by Ray Bradbury, his movie influence was tremendous. Consider these titles in context of what was yet to come in the wider world of popular cinema.
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS
This early “dinosaur goes to town” movie from 1953 was included a scene from Bradbury’s Saturday Evening Post short story “The Fog Horn.” The at-the-time cutting edge visual effects were by Bradbury’s friend, stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen.
Bradbury memorable scene features a prehistoric beast lured from its lonely depths by a foghorn’s plaintive “mating call” and a lighthouse’s beckoning beam. It rampages, people die and finally the military is called in to quell the misunderstood monster. It’s hard to imagine all the variations on this theme, including JURRASIC PARK, not being heavily influenced — and inspired — by this innovative for its time title.
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE
Originally released in 3-D, this creature from another world was hip and fresh in the early 1950s. It was based on Bradbury’s screen treatment “Atomic Monster.” Would there be an ALIEN or its numerous imitators without this Bradbury story that is now a certified cult classic about an amateur astronomer who spots a earth-bound spaceship — with a menacing passenger.
Arguably Herman Melville’s sea saga is the greatest American novel. However, it’s not really about hunting a great white rogue whale but about challenging God. What a perfect fit for Bradbury. Although director John Huston insisted on shared credit for the screenplay that irked Bradbury, it’s obviously a Bradbury adaptation and it is magnificent, hitting all the right metaphorical beats. This superb 1956 film deserves a Blu-ray transfer that is properly formatted. Gregory Peck is fine as mad Captain Ahab and Orson Welles steals his scene as a Nantucket parson booming his sermon on Jonah from a podium shaped like a ship’s prow.
From 1966, Francois Truffaut‘s first English-language film is a somewhat faithful adaptation of Bradbury’s tale that’s set in a dystopian future where firefighters start fires for book burning. Bradbury has said the novella is not about censorship but rather the addictive entertainment culture that fills our minds with meaning factoids that finally steals our very souls.
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES
Bradbury spoke often of a sideshow entertainer called Mister Electro who tapped his teenage shoulder with an electrified wand that made his hair stand on end as he shouted, “Live forever!” Bradbury said at that moment his life changed. This 1983 film is adapted from Bradbury’s 1962 novel about a traveling sideshow performer man who claims to have the power to make one’s deepest dreams come true – for a price, of course. Bradbury wrote the screenplay that’s centered on two teenage boys who get more than they bargained for when the “dark carnival comes to town.
This story almost screams for a redo with Johnny Depp in the lead and Tim Burton at the helm. I think Disney has the rights. Someone tell Disney’s new family friendly studio chief Alan Horn.
THE ILLUSTRATED MAN
Consistently in print since it’s 1951 publication, this collection of 18 Bradbury sci-fi stories about the human condition and the threat of technology was directed by Jack Smight and includes “The Veldt”, “The Long Rain”, “The Last Night of the World” with an expanded opening and closing. The screenplay was not by Bradbury. Rod Steiger’s over-the-top interpretation of the man with the living tattoos (that tie the stories together) has been much criticized but has its rabid fans.
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Ray Bradbury died on June 5th. The day before, I thought of him out of the blue, and wondered if he was OK. I was startled to hear hours later that he had passed away. He often expressed that he was confident there was more to life than meets the eye. He felt he had been here before and will be again. But for us left behind, the world is somehow a lesser place.
Three days before Bradbury’s 91st birthday in 2011, producer Mike Medavoy announced a planned film of Bradbury’s autobiographical “Dandelion Wine.” Also planned is a new version of “The Illustrated Man” with a screenplay by Frank Darabont to be directed by Zack Snyder.
Ray Bradbury: 1920 – 2012. RIP.
Listen to my movie updates on Michael Knight’s 94.3 KNWZ show Friday mornings. RobinESimmons@aol.com