‘Fahren­heit 451’ burns again

HBO adap­ta­tion scorches the In­ter­net age.

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Kelly Lawler

The new ver­sion of Fahren­heit 451 has two Michaels but not enough heat.

De­spite a clas­sic Amer­i­can novel as inspiration and a mar­quee cast, in­clud­ing Michael B. Jor­dan, Michael Shan­non and up-and-comer Sofia Boutella, HBO’s adap­ta­tion of Ray Brad­bury’s 1953 novel (Satur­day, 8 ET/PT, ★★☆☆) is a dis­ap­point­ment. In at­tempt­ing to update the sci-fi clas­sic for our dig­i­tal age, di­rec­tor and co-writer Ramin Bahrani glosses over the finer points of the novel, es­sen­tially turn­ing the story into the ex­actly the kind of sen­sa­tional en­ter­tain­ment Brad­bury was cri­tiquing.

This Fahren­heit still takes place in the Mid­west (Cleve­land), still fea­tures “fire­men” who set fires in­stead of putting them out, and still fo­cuses on Guy Mon­tag (Jor­dan), a fire­man who starts to have doubts about his life and job.

It’s still a cau­tion­ary tale about the dan­gers of for­get­ting our his­tory and ig­nor­ing so­ci­ety’s prob­lems in fa­vor of happy ig­no­rance. But the sim­i­lar­i­ties to the book pretty much end there.

The orig­i­nal novel sat­i­rized Amer­i­cans’ grow­ing ob­ses­sion with tele­vi­sion in the 1950s and how mass me­dia could cre­ate mass ap­a­thy. Other as­pects are firmly en­trenched in the 1950s of its pub­li­ca­tion, in­clud­ing fears of McCarthy­ism and Cold War nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion.

Some up­dat­ing was re­quired for a 2018 ver­sion, and the movie ably points its fin­ger in­stead at In­ter­net cul­ture: our con­stant check­ing of our sta­tus and likes on so­cial me­dia and our sub­sti­tu­tion of emo­jis and hate for ac­tual di­a­logue and dis­cus­sion.

But the film doesn’t have much to say af­ter point­ing out that the In­ter­net is va­pid and full of ha­tred. In­evitably, the use of emo­jis in the movie feels a bit ob­vi­ous — Mon­tag’s re­peated boasts that he’s “100” bor­ders on farce.

The movie drops Mon­tag’s wife, Mil­dred, ages up Clarice (Boutella) so that she and Mon­tag can have a ro­mance and pa­pers over much of the book’s in­tel­lec­tual de­bate with generic ac­tion scenes, a govern­ment con­spir­acy and a magic DNA mol­e­cule that holds mil­lions of books, stored in a bird (se­ri­ously). It makes the story con­vo­luted and lu­di­crous, as op­posed to the sub­tle and un­nerv­ing source ma­te­rial.

The ac­tors do their best to add some spark, de­spite the limitations of the script. Shan­non chews scenery left and right as Capt. Beatty, Mon­tag’s com­mand­ing of­fi­cer who strug­gles with the laws he en­forces but mostly just glow­ers and yells. Jor­dan is an ap­peal­ing lead­ing man with a great con­cerned ex­pres­sion (which he de­ploys fre­quently), but he and Boutella lack chem­istry as a ro­man­tic pair.

It’s a shame that HBO has turned a novel fa­mous for its re­sis­tance to mind­less en­ter­tain­ment into some­thing that evokes run-of-the-mill dystopian films.

There’s noth­ing to dis­tin­guish Fahren­heit other than the fire im­agery. And it’s not much of a plea­sure to watch the movie burn.

HBO

Michael B. Jor­dan is con­flicted Mon­tag in the up­dated adap­ta­tion of Ray Brad­bury’s “Fahren­heit 451.”

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