I was excited to see what HBO cooked up when I saw the initial preview to their film based on the novel Fahrenheit 451 (https://www.hbo.com/movies/fahrenheit-451). I mean, I talk about the book all the time and I do love to teach it. Little did anyone know that the filmmakers apparently burned the book they were making into a movie before they even got started.
It is hard to say if this new film is better or worse than the original 1966 Truffaut version but they are close. Now, I am not one that needs a film based on a book to be a word for word reproduction. However, I do expect that a film based on the book will at the least get the central theme correct. This one does not.
In this movie, the filmmakers thought it fitting to eliminate a couple of key characters like Mildred (Montag’s wife), Faber (a mentor of Montag), the electronic hound, and in all practical purposes Granger (another mentor), who only shows up briefly as a leader of a ragtag group hiding a bird and a child who can memorize books. This is not to go into detail on how Clarisse’s character is so radically changed as to not be recognized at all.
I may find myself on a small island here but I will argue that the book Fahrenheit 451 is not actually about burning books. More accurately, I should say it is not solely about burning books. In the novel, the character of Faber makes this explicitly clear to Montag,
“You're a hopeless romantic," said Faber. "It would be funny if it were not serious. It's not books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in the 'parlor families' today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios, and televisors, but are not. No, no it's not books at all you're looking for!”
“It’s not books”, “It’s not books at all”, are Faber’s exact words but when the filmmaker decides to eradicate his character it is a little difficult to have him explain this. In the novel Faber does explain what he means but the McGuffin of the burning book is all we, the viewers, seem to get.
It appears as if there is some attempt in the movie at creating a long-term relationship between Montag and Beatty. By the way, this is not in the book at all. They make it seem as if Beatty is Montag’s surrogate father. Beatty is a replacement for Montag’s real dad, Apparently, Montag’s dad was caught, hiding books and was taken away. This is never really developed, just hinted at through fragments burned into Montag’s memory.
The burning of books is supposed to be symbolic it’s a metaphor. The novel addresses universal themes such as happiness, love, relationships, technology, and beauty, but this new movie does not. In the novel, the character, Granger, tells Montag to “stuff his eyes with wonder.” There is none of that in this film. Instead we are left wondering what is this film really about? Apparently, just burning books. Oh, and freeing a bird.
Check out my book Watching Movies, Watching Stories on Amazon: http://a.co/d/eI4FztE