A Look Back at the Movies of Ray Bradbury

A Look Back at the Movies of Ray Bradbury

Jun 08, 2012

The literary world lost a truly great man this week: The outrageously talented, powerfully prolific, and overwhelmingly adored Ray Bradbury passed away at the age of 91. His body of work would be the envy of any working writer, and science fiction fans in particular quickly embraced the author as one of their favorite ambassadors. Heavy readers will of course know Mr. Bradbury from classic titles like The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and It Came from Outer Space (both 1953) -- Beast was loosely based on Bradbury's "The Fog Horn" (and boasts some fine Ray Harryhausen work) and Sea was an original story treatment that the author delivered to screenwriter Harry Essex. Jack Arnold's Outer Space is still considered one of the best alien invasion flicks of the 1950s. By me, anyway.

Moby Dick (1956) -- When the highly respected filmmaker known as John Huston decided to mount an adaptation of Herman Melville's classic maritime adventure, he went to ... a science ficion writer? Yup. Boasting some fine work from Gregory Peck, Orson Welles, and Richard Basehart, this is arguably the best big-screen version of the white whale's tale.

Fahrenheit 451 (1966) -- There are literary purists and hardcore science fiction aficionados who have specific issues with Francois Truffaut's adaptation of Bradbury's incendiary novel -- and film critics of the day were none too kind -- but like most good sci-fi films, this one has enjoyed a solid shelf life as, at least, a curiosity. And yes, "incendiary" was a bad pun. Sorry.

The Illustrated Man (1969) -- There are 18 stories in Bradbury's 1951 collection, and three of them are translated here, rather poorly in my opinion, with Rod Steiger as the central over-actor in each segment. Not including its truly arcane wrap-around segment, the tales covered here are The Veldt, The Long Rain, and The Last Night of the World. While this odd and mostly unpleasant relic is not what you'd call a good film, it's worth seeking out as a late-'60s sci-fi weird-fest.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) -- Now here's a Bradbury adaptation that has some actual nostalgia value. Movie nuts of my approximate age probably remember this Disney release (and/or perhaps Watcher in the Woods) as one of the first truly spooky family films. Although the film had a troubled production, with Bradbury leaving and then later returning, the author noted that he liked the final product. I mostly remember Jonathan Pryce, as Mr. Dark, scaring the poop out of me. (Not literally.) Plus it's not every day you see a Disney film that co-stars Jason Robards, Diane Ladd, and Pam Grier.

Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989) -- I vaguely remembered this late-'80s Japanese import, but since it looked like kiddy stuff plastered with new American voices, I probably didn't care all that much. A closer inspection reveals that this movie has all sorts of weird bells and whistles. Not only is Ray Bradbury credited for "concept," but it's an American author being adapted by Japanese animators, and Chris Columbus is credited as one of the screenwriters, AND Mickey Rooney is in the voice cast. Also Jean "Mobius" Girard worked on the film. Wow. Now I really want to see this flick.

The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1998) -- How have I never seen this movie? Not only is it Ray Bradbury adapting his own play, which he adapted from his own story, but the director enlisted to bring it to life? Stuart Gordon! Yeah, the mostly horror guy! I feel shame at never having seen The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, which stars Joe Mantegna (excellent!) and Edward James Olmos (sweet) and tells the tale of a magical suit that ... does Netflix have this?

A Sound of Thunder (2005) -- One of Mr. Bradbury's most memorable ideas is that if you went back in time and crushed a butterfly, it would have horrible "ripple effects" that echo through time. This frankly fascinating idea is handled rather poorly in this Edward Burns / Ben Kingsley version. Boasting some terrible special effects and a dreary screenplay, this flick was quickly forgotten. Until now, because I have a weird urge to revisit the film for some reason.


Regardless of how powerfully Mr. Bradbury's work may have impacted the silver screen, there's no doubt that he was a literary giant, a power on the small screen (hint: The Martian Chronicles) , and an admirable man in many important ways. Our condolences to the man's family, friends, and millions of fans.

(Thanks to IMDb and Wikipedia for their assistance, as always.)

Categories: Features, Sci-Fi
Tags: Ray Bradbury
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