Rated: 2 / 5
So they did it, they made a modern adaptation of the novel (itself I have reviewed). How is it compared to the novel? As in most novel-to-film adaptations, not as good. And it suffers from some of the problems that I feared it would. Yet does have some balls with some of the subject matter contained, which is something that is much needed today. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go as far with it as it should have, which is something the book did.
Oh, by the way, I will be spoiling both the book and the movie here. But I’ll be doing this review under the assumption that you’ve read the novel. Because if you haven’t, you should. Plus it’s a short book anyway.
Anyway, so the film is in a more modern, somewhat futuristic (by our present day standards) setting, with the only real technological advances being that video is shown along the entire outside of a building. So sort of like modern day New York, but more extreme than that. And it just doesn’t seem practical. You know how fucking difficult it is to keep something like that cleaned? What if it breaks? What if there are pixels that need to be repaired? Plus the film doesn’t do the one thing I was expecting it to do from a technological standpoint, and that’s having a living room with all the walls made out as television screens. Considering that was something not only in the main protagonist’s home in the novel, but also that it was considered common, and considering the film has entire skyscrapers that act as one big-ass tv screen, you would think the movie would’ve had that in it.
But I digress, it does have some nice modern touches to it, such as having an Alexa-like unit in most places, responding to questions, offering advice, and spying on you (even when you think you’ve shut it off). And it does have the whole “brainwashing kids in school” thing, though the film is being a bit devious about this by having law enforcement figures be shown doing the brainwashing (thus metaphorically saying, “Cops are bad, m’kay?”). And it does a bit of satire on social media, by having all the news stuff showing little facebook-like icons floating all around live feed bits, showing people’s reactions to them (in a far too simplistic manner in my opinion; The Orville did that better in one of its episodes, and I thought that show was mediocre).
But other than that, the film is just a typical by-the-numbers movie, rather boring at times, and not all that interesting. It doesn’t get across the important bits of wisdom as effectively as the novel did. Probably because it dumbs it down, which is rather ironic considering what the novel’s message is. The acting is decent, but none of the actors seem to have any real chemistry, and the relationships all come off as forced.
It also doesn’t help that our protagonist Montag, played by Michael B. Jordan (who’s casting has been met with some reservation by die-hard fans of the book, for reasons I’ll get into later), doesn’t have a wife in this adaptation, like he did in the novel. Instead, it opts to let him have a more close relationship with the captain of the fire team, a sort of father-son relationship (even though they’re not actually father and son), or sort of bromance, a comradery thing. This causes the film to suffer in a great way compared to the novel. For starters, the relationship in the novel demonstrates how isolated the husband and wife are from one another, how they don’t really love each other, how the wife is more into television shows and chatting with her friends about said-shows. The media creating a kind of isolation, something I pointed out as a danger to society in that film Suicide Club. And it shows just how far gone she really is, how much the way society is, the instant gratification mindset, the materialistic mindset, has led her to not care about Montag at all. It’s a symptom most in this society have (at least in the novel version), which showcases the overall problem on a smaller scale. We don’t get that in this film. Rather, it just does the typical totalitarian society ala 1984. Look, if you wanted to do a modern adaptation of 1984, then just do a modern fucking adaptation of 1984. Fahrenheit 451 isn’t supposed to be like that. It’s about how society has become its own worst enemy, rather than those in charge being the ones as the primary cause of the harm.
The other issue with the film is that these firemen (and I assume many in the society) take drugs via eyedrops, which I guess is supposed to suppress emotions and/or emotional memories. You know, like the drugs in the film Equilibrium. And none of that shit was in the novel either. So why did they do it? As I indicated in the last paragraph, it dumbs down the ideas in the novel. In the movie, they take drugs to make their job easier, to function in society with less emotion and less remorse. In the novel, members of society drifted into this direction without drugs because of the instant gratification mindset, because of the simplistic tv shows (doubtful they have full-length movies, considering the attention span). Sure, people took drugs in the book, but not for the same reason they do in the movie. It was mainly anti-depressants, a side-effect of becoming so isolated via technology and the lifestyle. Montag (in the novel) also has this mindset; he smiles and acts happy even though he isn’t. And he has been doing this for so long he has forgotten what true happiness is, and just assumes he really is happy even though he isn’t. This is not something the film contains within it, for anyone. Makes the film shallow and uninteresting.
In fact, the manner in which Montag gets an awakening from this mindset is also far different than in the novel. In the novel, he meets, by random chance, some little girl who acts carefree and different from everyone else. This is to highlight what the children are actually like, what they’re expected to be, and emphasizing an important quality that all humans should have, lest they lose semblance of meaning and happiness. Now, this little girl isn’t in the movie per-se, but there is an older substitute (otherwise I guess some would mistakenly assume Montag is a pedophile or something, because we can’t have adults having an innocent conversation with a child, in the middle of the night, alone on the street, with no one else around; the 50s were a more innocent time period). An older substitute that he eventually makes out with (well now that would just make the novel version awkward). The thing is though, she doesn’t awaken Montag to this way of thinking so much as she brings him in to the revolution. Yep, it all comes back to challenging the totalitarian pricks in power, as opposed to pointing out how society is flawed because of its own self-inflicted wounds. Again, why the fuck do this and call it Fahrenheit 451 as opposed to 1984?
Oh, and also, there’s no killer robot dog in this. Ah, whatever.
There’s also this strange plot development halfway through the film. The revolutionists, somehow someway, have utilized digitized versions of old novels and created an artificial DNA molecule that can be implanted into DNA. It’s not explained too well, but I guess the implication is that, once this spreads into more humans, it will eventually infect everyone with this DNA strand, and they will naturally know about all these books on an instinctual level. The more I think about it, the more dumb it seems compared to the ending plan in the novel, which was also far-fetched but at least seemed more achievable compared to this. Besides, this plan never made it to the human stage, it only got into a single bird species. How the fuck is it supposed to spread to humans? DNA spreading doesn’t cross-species like that! And even if it did, it would take so fucking long it wouldn’t even matter by the time it kicked in! The bird species might have died off by that point! Honestly, this would be one of those contexts where that speech Yoda makes in The Last Jedi would actually work (sure as shit didn’t work in that movie). Plus it all ignores the other plot element in the novel about the other danger to society being the way it is. Lack of compassion leads to not caring about impending doom to the point where no action is taken when a fucking missile blows up an entire city! I don’t know, maybe it was a budget thing.
Lastly, the main actor himself. He’s black. Some have an issue with this, and they’re not KKK members or neo-nazis. They take issue with this the same way they take issue with having the human torch from Fantastic Four being black in that one incarnation no one liked. Not accurate to the novel/comic. Now, personally, in this film’s case, I didn’t have a problem with it in terms of being faithful to the novel. But it is worth bringing up an element of the novel that I just knew this film wasn’t going to have the balls to do. The novel mentions that minorities are one of the potential faults in society. Not necessarily because minorities in of themselves are bad people so much as it’s easy to put the blame on them for when something goes wrong, like the stock market crash of 2008 or some shit like that (indicated in the film The Big Short). However, while they can be used as scapegoats for something they didn’t do, there are some bad things they are responsible for, and it’s addressed in a very brief manner that gives something for the reader to think about. And when this book was written, blacks were considered minorities. Today, many would still attribute that label to them. And considering the manner in which the captain has a conversation at certain points with Montag (in the novel), he addresses him as a white man, telling him how black men are (grouping them with other minorities). It’s not done bluntly, it’s on the more subtle side, but it’s there.
With that being said, I didn’t really give much of a shit about them changing the main protagonists race, he could be played by anyone (don’t push it with the sex change though, we’re already getting enough of that shit with Ghostbusters: Answer the Call and Ocean’s 8). But I do take issue with the intention behind it, and this is a thinking outside the box sort of thing that is inconsequential to the events that happen within the movie itself. It’s the same reason why all the villains are white, and why the leader of the revolution is a black lady. The whole subliminal thing of making blacks out to be the good guys, and whites out to be the bad guys (excluding Black Panther, where Michael B. Jordan played the villain, but that film is an exception). Another one of those films which we’re going to see much more of that take little jabs at the white guilt complex. It’s really petty stuff honestly. Did find it a bit strange that Montag was pretty much the only black guy on the fire team though.
But anyway, at the end of the day, the film is dull, a poor adaptation of the novel, and dumbs down if not altogether eliminates the important points made in the original source material. Plus I don’t think they had the budget to pull it off. It’s just not that interesting of a film, which is frustrating when it has such interesting subject matter. The potential is there, which makes it all the more tragic and infuriating that it has been wasted. The irony.