05 February 2009

DVD: "Fahrenheit 451"

Fahrenheit 451
Written for the Screen and Directed by François Truffaut
Based upon the world famous novel by Ray Bradbury
Starring: Oksar Werner, Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack
DVD Release Date: 1 April 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
List Price: $12.98
Cinescope Personality Types: Passionate Maverick, Existential Savior

The Film
Opening with spoken credits, this adaptation of Ray Bradbury's novel is faithfully disturbing.  At no point does the film become comfortable.  We follow Guy Montag, a book-burner, as he is lured out of the insular world in which he and everyone else lives.  Because this is an adaptation, several of the novel's threads are absent.  The only real problem that results is that Montag's transformation is much more abrupt in the film.  There really is no obvious reason why he would take home a book one day, save for having vaguely discussed reading previously with his neighbor.  Truffaut wisely chose to focus not on the science-fiction elements of the story, but rather on the humanity of it.  The story may be set in a not-too-distant future, but it's ultimately about Montag and his evolving relationships--with his wife, his coworkers, his neighbor, with life itself.

Mimicking the film, all the DVD features are introduced by spoken credits.  This is jarring each and every time, and contributes to the uneasy atmosphere.  There are three features: one highlighting the original novel, one on the making of the film and one on Bernard Herrmann's score.  Julie Christie recorded a commentary track (which I did not play), and the original theatrical trailer is included along with a photo gallery.  Insights abound in the features, such as the on-set strife between Truffaut and Werner, and later Truffaut and Herrmann, as well as Bradbury's thoughts on some of the jettisoned plots (he advised them to drop the atomic war plot, but lamented the absence of the mechanical dog).  Fahrenheit 451 is the only entry in Truffaut's filmography that is in color, or English, and knowing this helps re-contextualize it not only as an adaptation of a powerful novel, but as a curious work of an artistic filmmaker.

The Recommendation
If I were to recommend any one book to be read, it would always be Fahrenheit 451.  The film is fairly faithful, though it is discomforting where the novel is truly urgent; awkward, rather than upetting.  Some of the emotions evoked by Bradbury's prose simply cannot be conjured by a visual enactment, though that should not prevent one from seeing this film.  I would argue, though, that you should unequivocably read the novel prior to seeing the film.  I checked this out of the library, and would suggest you do the same (if possible).  Due to the nature of the content, it's only fitting.  Otherwise, this should at least be a rental.  The list price is only $12.98 and would be a worthy blind-buy at even that price.

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