Dystopian, Page To Screen, Science Fiction

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film is an excellent adaptation of the acclaimed 1953 novel of the same name, by American Sci-Fi author, Ray Bradbury. The book and the film highlight that the desire to open ones self up to new ideas will never (hopefully not)die. Books give us access to new cultures, worlds, ideas, perspectives. Both the film and the novel also highlight that when something is forbidden, that ban only increases curiosity about, and a strong desire to seek out the banned thing.

Fictional novels also allow us to relax and to take a break from reality. How is that break different to watching a drama on TV? Reading fiction exercises your imagination, you see in your head the characters, the locations, the clothes etc. Reading is an experience unlike any other as your mind brings the words to life. Written words are some of the most powerful things to be found on this earth, some people don’t like that fact, and they want to silence some of those words and control access to them.

This is a film that made a very strong impression on me when I first watched it a few years ago. As a book lover it makes me so mad to see books being destroyed in this film. It makes me even more angry to see the gaining of knowledge, and the use of ones own imagination being denied and controlled by the state. The film also depicts people addicted to drugs, and when they run out, more drugs are given by the state. Many people have to take stimulants (most likely to stave off the frustration and dullness of what the reality of this life is.) 

It is not hard to see the eerie similarities in the film to the notorious book burnings in Nazi Germany. That state also controlled what was taught, what people did and didn’t do. It also ensured that all citizens followed a strict and controlled life. As we know, if anyone didn’t conform, or anyone took a stand against the Nazi’s they were killed or imprisoned.

The film is also very interesting to look at from a visual perspective. The futuristic buildings look sleek and very Art Deco, yet they also look cold, and there is nothing unique about them (reflecting the confirmative society the film is set in.) The suspended monorail on which people travel to and from work is also very interesting visually. I think that reflects the futuristic leaps made in engineering/transport. This sequence was filmed at the SAFEGE monorail test track in France.

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When I watch this film it makes me think of what books mean to me. Books are a vital part of life for me, just like breathing in the air is vital for me to survive. I simply cannot imagine being without books. It sickens and scares me when access to books is denied, or when they are destroyed. I’m not a fan of E-books, or of Kindles either, they hurt my eyes, and I find them very impersonal. While this technology may encourage some people to read (which is a fantastic thing)I do not want them to ever replace real books.As far as I’m concerned nothing will ever be able to replace the special feeling of holding a book, or of borrowing a book from a Library, knowing that many readers before me have turned these same pages.  

Francois Truffaut’s superb film is set in a future where books (and the reading of them)are banned by law. Some citizens still read in secret though, if they are discovered they are reported to the authorities. Firemen are then sent after these people. The firemen seek out and burn the books in their possession.

With public libraries being closed all around us (or threatened with closure), with younger people being hooked on their phones, TVs, and computers instead of reading physical books or engaging face to face with other people; I would say that this film is terrifyingly relevant for todays society. Too many people are nowadays content to sit back and binge on the rubbish being churned out online or on TV.

Many in society are now just like the zombie like, TV addicted people who are depicted in this film. Many young people now don’t read at all, and have zero interest in ever doing so! Their loss I say, but doesn’t it worry anyone else how dumbed down things are becoming in society at large? How fewer and fewer people are avid readers, and how technology is taking over our lives. If this is the future, then it is not one I’m looking forward to being a part of it.

In the future society seen in the film, books and the reading of them are banned. The state controls the lives of its citizens, and all are expected to watch TV for all (or for most of the )day. Some people still read books in secret, if they are discovered the authorities send firemen after them. These men, clad all in black, search for books, and when they find them they burn them. The title of the book and film refers to the temperature at which book paper burns at.

Montag (Oskar Werner) is one of the firemen, he is a yes man (like the majority of his society)and sees nothing wrong in destroying books. When he meets schoolteacher Clarissa (Julie Christie)he starts to question his entire way of life. He himself becomes a hunted fugitive after he is caught reading. Montag must also make a choice between the two women in his life. Should he make a new life with Clarissa, or remain with his TV addicted, glamorous, drug dependent wife, Linda (also played by Julie Christie. ) This man must make a choice between living a restrictive life, or living in seclusion and being allowed to have intellectual freedom.

Oskar is superb as the man who slowly begins to have his eyes opened to the cruelty and evil being committed daily around him. He starts of as a very closed off character emotionally, and then turns passionate, angry and horrified. His performance is all in the eyes, keep watching him closely throughout.  This is one of my favourite performances by him.

Julie shines in a duel performance. She is a vibrant, passionate, outgoing free spirit as Clarissa. As Montag’s wife Linda, she is self centred, brainwashed, chic, and so dull.

Cyril Cusack is marvellous as the loathsome and cruel Captain who is Montag’s superior officer. This man takes sadistic pleasure out of burning books, and in causing great distress to the people who read them. Cusack is excellent and he steals every scene he is in.

Bernard Herrmann composed the music for the film and it adds greatly to the film. It is a mystical, beautiful and very ominous soundtrack, and its presence is a big part of the overall film experience.

Excellent performances, and striking images abound in this terrifying vision of a possible future for mankind. This is my favourite Truffaut film, and it is one that contains a story that will impact viewers very strongly. The way in which Montag discovers books can be shared without getting caught is very powerful as yet (thankfully)nobody can read your thoughts, they can’t eradicate your memories or emotions.

My favourite scenes are the following. The first time we see the firemen. The opening title sequence (this shows us that this is a TV controlled and conformist society.)Montag reading his first ever book. The old woman burning herself alive so she can die with her books. Clarissa asking Montag if it was true that firemen used to put out fires, instead of starting fires. The finale in the woods. Clarissa and Montag’s discussion in the cafe. Montag being pursued by the flying policemen. Montag’s wife participating in the nationwide TV programme. The Captain getting what he deserves.

Interestingly the film also depicts something that has become a reality for us today. TV is now such a major part of life, and many are sadly glued to a screen more than they take part in real life. As in the film, many people now have flat screen TVs. Many also now have multiple TVs in their home (one isn’t enough obviously)and some even watch tiny TVs (now phones)at times too. Knowing all of this was predicted by Bradbury and depicted by Truffaut decades before it came true is spooky.

Be sure to catch this one on Blu-Ray to see it looking at its best. There’s some good extras on the Blu-Ray too, including an interview with Ray Bradbury.

Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

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Science Fiction

Forbidden Planet(1956)

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One of the greatest Science Fiction films ever made, and featuring some of the most unforgettable images in the history of the genre. The special effects in this were extremely impressive for the 50’s, and they still impress when viewed today.

This is one that really makes you think about what should be feared more; unknown alien beings , ideas and words? Or our own minds, and the terrible things we’re capable of doing and creating? It poses big questions and there are no easy answers, should our quest for improving ourselves be undertaken  with extreme caution? Incase we should ever grow beyond what we are now and lose what makes us human(compassion, rational thought etc)in the process.

Leslie Nielson plays the heroic, always ready for action, Commander Adams. Adams and his crew are sent out to the planet Altair-4, to investigate why there has been no contact with the human colonists who settled there some years ago. On the planet they discover the only survivors from the colony, the highly intelligent scientist Dr. Morbius(Walter Pidgeon),his equally intelligent, mini-dress clad daughter Altaira(Anne Francis), and their loveable companion Robby the robot, part butler, cook, bodyguard and friend.

Altaira becomes fond of the crew, but Morbius is distrustful of them and openly hostile, he just wants them to be left alone in peace.Things get complicated when Altaira and Adams fall in love, and when the crew are attacked by the terrifying unseen creature responsible for the deaths of the other colonists.

I love this film so much, it is a groundbreaking film in the genre, and I think it would be fair to say this strongly influenced the creator of another favourite of mine, the Star Trek series. The device that the crew step into during the approach to the planet resemble the Star Trek transporters, and Adams is a very similar character to Captain Kirk.

The soundtrack in this film is truly one of a kind, instead of music we have an electronic soundtrack which gives the film and otherworldly quality, and I think it really adds something special to the film.

My favourite scenes are the ship landing on the planet, the whirl of dust crossing the horizon which signals the approach of Robby, Adams protecting Altaira from a potential tiger attack, the attack on the ship and Altaira’s first meeting and flirting with Adams, Ostrow(Warren Stevens)and Farman(Jack Kelly).

I love how this one isn’t your typical alien monster film either, when you learn the identity of the monster, and where it actually comes from it’s pretty mind blowing stuff, and adds another layer of complexity and wonderment to what you’ve been watching. This is a film I never get tired of watching, and it always impresses no matter how many times I’ve seen it before.

Walter Pidgeon is excellent as the tragic Morbius,strong and unrelenting, but powerless to resist what  he has unleashed. It’s nice to see Leslie Nielson in a serious role as the heroic lead character; for more serious Nielson performances, check him out in a guest appearance in The Streets of San Francisco as a boozing detective, and in the 1958 Western, The Sheepman. Nielson is one of my favourite screen comics, but I have really enjoyed seeing him in serious roles, I wish he had played more dramatic roles.

Warren Stevens is terrific as Doc Ostrow, Adams close friend. Stevens is an actor who I haven’t seen in very many other things, but I really like him here and think he had it in him to become a big star/character actor. If you like him here check him out in an episode of One Step Beyond called The Riddle.

Anne Francis is superb as the ethereal Altira, perfectly conveying her trusting nature, and her growing desire to spend time with someone other than her father.

Robby the robot is one of the most instantly recognisable characters in film history, a loveable individual who is probably the first thing that springs to mind when someone mentions this film.

As ever, please leave your thoughts below. If you’ve never seen it, check it out and enjoy.

 

 

 

Classic TV, Science Fiction

The Twilight Zone(1959-1964): Come And Take A Trip With Me

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I love this series! Scary, sad, fascinating, shocking and most of all imaginative. Growing up I had heard and read a lot about this series, but had only ever seen a handful of episodes. That all changed a couple of years ago, when I treated myself to the complete series on Blu-ray(the episodes are beautifully cleaned up). It is now one of my favourite series.

I think this is the most human series I have watched. What I mean by that is it so perfectly captures what it means to be human, our weaknesses, strengths etc.

The series shows the best and worst of humanity. Wouldn’t we all love to offer advice/support to our younger selves? By watching Walking Distance we feel like we have.

By watching No Time Like The Past, we can see that good intentions may not be possible or even advisable. Sometimes our desire for self preservation gets the better of us, watch The Shelter for a prime example of this.

Created by Rod Serling, the series first came into being with a script written by Serling, called The Time Element. This unofficial pilot episode was aired on the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, in November 1958. Martin Balsam(who would also feature in the official series)and William Bendix were the stars. This story of a man who claims to be able to time travel back to Pearl Harbor just before the infamous attack, sets the tone for the series we all know today.

The official series aired a year later and would continue until 1964. The series is primarily classed as Science Fiction, featuring many stories of time travel, alien invaders and alien worlds. I like many of those episodes, but my personal favourites are the creepy ones; episodes such as The Grave, Thirty- Fathom Grave, The Hitch-Hiker(the first episode I ever saw),Deaths-head Revisited and The Howling Man, these all scare and make me think in equal measure, and they are all personal favourites.

The powerful performances and different weekly settings ensured the series was popular, but its real claim to fame was the twist ending to each episode. These endings are the series trademark, we are left often reassessing the previous 25 minutes we have watched once the twists are revealed. I love that no matter how many times I watch an episode the twist still retains the shock factor, even when I know full well what’s coming next.

It is a credit to Serling and his superb writing staff that the series is still as powerful today as it was when it first aired. I also like how you never know where you’ll end up next; one episode could be set on an alien world, another set in the old west, and another in the present(50’s and 60’s). Serling’s series also tackled the big issues of his day, particularly racism, fear of nuclear war and fear of people/places unknown to another set of people; the morality tales still stand up well today.

I can also think of no other series where the creator became such an integral part of their own series(not even Alfred Hitchcock on his anthology series.) Serling provides voice over narration for all episodes and filmed intros and outros to the episodes. The face of Serling is as much a part of the series as the music and twists. In the Blu-ray boxset, Serling’s intros/outros are included in all the episodes.

I consider the first three seasons to be the best. I’m in the minority of fans who actually like season 4(locks self in sealed vault to escape onslaught of season 4 hate.) While I will agree with the main critics that the hour long format here was a mistake; I strongly disagree that the episodes found here are the weakest.

Some of my favourites from this season are The Thirty-Fathom Grave, On Thursday We Leave For Home, Miniature(one of the most moving of all Twilight Zone episodes, featuring a young Robert Duvall),The New Exhibit, Jess-Belle and Printer’s Devil.

I actually think season 5 is the worst, many of the episodes are terrible(what went wrong with the writing here?)There are a few gems to be found though: In Praise of Pip, Nightmare at 20,000 feet(perhaps the best known of all the episodes),An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, Living Doll, Night Call and Stopover in a Quiet Town.

Throughout the series there are fan favourites including: Time Enough At Last, The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street(although I think this would have worked better as a paranoia story, without the alien involvement that we later discover), Nightmare at 20,000 feet, Walking Distance, A Stop At Willoughby and The Odyssey of Flight 33; there are somewhat lesser appreciated gems too, including: The Last Flight, Nick of Time, People Are Alike All Over, One For The Angels, Printer’s Devil, The Hunt, The Passersby, I Shot An Arrrow Into The Air(surely the origins of Serling’s film The Planet of the Apes?),Judgement Night, The Silence, Passage For Trumpet and Mirror Image.

I love how many big film stars feature in this series. I envy classic era audiences who got to tune in weekly not knowing who would appear next. A handful of stars made more than one appearance: Jack Klugman(superb in several deeply moving episodes), Burgess Meredith, William Shatner, Martin Balsam etc. I think the quality of the work is evident given the amount of film stars who agreed to guest star in these episodes.

The series also features one of the most instantly recognisable themes in TV history. Chances are if you’ve never seen an episode, you’ll have heard that intro tune at some point in your life.

I suppose there is also the big question as to just what exactly The Twilight Zone is or means? I take it that it is a phrase that perfectly sums up a the weird and unexplainable events in life. I have often found myself saying “I can’t believe this, it’s like I’m in The Twilight Zone”, when faced with bizarre or horrible situations.

My ten favourite episodes are the following: The Passersby, Walking Distance, The Last Flight, The Grave, Printer’s Devil, The Odyssey of Flight 33, The Changing of the Guard, In Praise of Pip, The Howling Man and One For The Angels.

Similar series which I like include: One Step Beyond and Thriller.

Please share your thoughts on the series. What are your favourite episodes? Never seen an episode? What are you waiting for? The Zone awaits you, just make sure you get a return ticket though, because you wouldn’t want to get stuck there, now would you?