Batty About Fahrenheit 451 - The Movie

My Batty About Books buddy (@thebrainlair) and I are revisiting our old posts about Fahrenheit 451 as we prepare to read some other classics that we feel tie into the issues facing us today. With the elections in the US bringing real concerns about freedom of speech and authoritarian government styles, we want to read and discuss literature that may help us make sense of it all. We read and watched Fahrenheit 451 in 2012. Next up will be 1984. Look for that discussion soon!

This post is specific to the movie adaptation of the book. TL;DR - read the book instead....

Our posts about the book itself can be found at
The Brain Lair
Maria's Melange

******** Original Post dated June 2012 *******

from IMDB

This week Kathy and I decided to watch the movie version of Fahrenheit 451 and chat about that. It seemed like a fun thing to do. I often have my students watch some or all of a movie adaptation of the books we read. We've watched Wrinkle in Time, the animated Hobbit, the NIMH movie, and Patrick Stewart's version of Christmas Carol. Their most common complaint is about how the movie is just not what they imagined from the book. So, let's take a look at what we thought about how well this adaptation (from 1966) compared to the book we adored last week. 

As always, my thoughts are in purple with Kathy's in blue. Her blog - The Brain Lair - hosts her thoughts with my responses. Check it out, and chime in. Don't forget to read our post from last week where we have a rich discussion about the book itself!

Well. I’m just not even sure where to start with this one. I guess when you love a book so very much it’s often hard to see a movie adaptation of it. (Though the Narnia and Middle Earth movies were - overall - pretty darned good).

I’m going to start with some “nit picky” issues, and then dive into what I felt were the main reasons I didn’t like the movie.

Nitpick #1 - the music. Yes, I know that the music was typical for the time in which this movie was created. I still hated it.

Nitpick #2 - the lack of a “futuristic” feel. Okay, I get that this movie was created in the 60s. But Bradbury clearly describes the WALLS of televisions in the house. What does she have? A single screen that looks only slightly more futuristic than the small one in their bedroom? Even though the movie was created so long ago, I still think they could have done a better job with this - based solely on the descriptions Bradbury uses in the book.
Kathy: Agreed! - I mentioned this too! They were able to green screen the flying policemen but they couldn’t green screen a wall-sized television? Also, it was a big deal to Mildred that they be able to get a fourth wall in the book. In the movie, Linda did NOT seem to care as much about getting a second screen, possibly because they had so many already.

Nitpick #3 - Apparently “comics” don’t count as reading? His newspaper looked like a set of comic strips - granted they had no words.
Kathy: I know. What was the purpose of that? Was it because it was only pictures? Was it  gov’t propaganda? That scene had no reasoning behind it!

Nitpick #4 (though this one is also true of the book, but just occurred to me while watching the movie) In a world where NO ONE is allowed to read - how does everyone know HOW to read?
Kathy: Haha! Also, how would people know what to say when there names were included in the wall plays? Of course, there were books before so at some point they’d learned to read. I would imagine that those people who had books taught the younger generations to read.  They just didn’t do it anymore. In the book version, Montag struggled to understand the meaning behind the books he’d stolen, so he must have know how at some point.  Though, the firemen were supposed to have been established a long time ago. Kinda ignoring our history in favor of what parts we want to remember?

Main Reasons:

1) Major character alterations. Clarisse was NOT the girl she was in the book. I’m not sure why they felt the need to change her age. At first I was afraid they would build in a romance with Guy - and that was the reason for that alteration - but they didn’t even go there. Bigger than that, though, was the fact that we NEVER saw her just soaking in life experiences. Talking about the grass, lifting her head to catch a raindrop - nothing. Guy also had alterations to his character. The biggest was that he didn’t already have a book hidden away when the story begins. It made his change feel too abrupt.
Kathy: This was my first problem too! Where was her lightheartedness? Her character made no sense. When she asks about him being happy - it just seems to come from nowhere. Why would he risk his life to help her? There was NO development. And really, she was less attractive a character than “linda”.

2) Major plot alterations. Clarisse. She needed to die. Sorry, but really...
Kathy: Again, agreed! Her death fuels (pun intended) Montag’s change.  Gives him something to think about in terms of his choices. But, no, we overlook that necessity leading to just shallow people on the screen.  Also, where was Faber? Who was there to help Guy?

3) BIGGEST flaw? The complete change in the overall theme of the story. It’s like the creators of the movie talked to some high school students. The kids said the book was about burning books, so that is the focus of the film. I’m sure if I were to dig into the historical context - when the film was created - this would make perfect sense. Maybe I’m even reading too much into the book’s theme based on MY current world view. (Don’t get me started on my pet theory about how all works - historical fiction, legends, science fiction -  reveal more about the time in which they were created than the author even intends). Yet I still felt disappointed that the film stripped away this whole other layer of the story.
Kathy: I believe many people miss the point of the book. Your theory is not really a theory though. I hope people understand that their schema affects all they do. Your background, your reading, your viewing habits, your interactions with other, are all important in shaping how you think and feel. That’s what’s scary about social media. Yes - and it’s not just how YOU perceive the story - but it’s also in how the author (or screenwriter) alters the story to fit their own schema. I love to look at how things like the Arthurian stories or fairy tales change with each time period. We write our own history into the story, even in historical fiction. This is even more obvious to me as I read the Newbery award books.

One other thought - this movie could be a valuable tool in media literacy and studying the time period of the 60s. My guess is that a high school (or college) class that studied that period would find countless connections to the 60s in the movie. That would be an interesting discussion or project, don’t you think?
Kathy: You could also take a look at American culture vs French culture. Did different culture experience the 60s differently? It would also be interesting to do an indepth analysis of the choices Truffaut made.  Was this a reflection of what he’d gained from the book or the times he lived in? Have no idea how you would do this but would be interesting to talk about.

What I’d love to see is a current version of this book made into a movie. Yes, I complain that movies have lost their ability to create “new” works of art. Yet this story is SO incredibly timely I think it could be done, and done well, today.
Kathy: You mean an updated version? What it would look like today? Same basic premise but with new technologies? No - just a movie made today that attempted to honestly depict the movie. If we wait much longer, too much of it will be completely present tense. And I think we could do a much better - much more true to the book adaptation than this one.

Now it's your turn! Have you had discussions about movie adaptations? What are your favorite and least favorite adaptations? How can you use these discussions to help teach students to think critically as they read - and watch?


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