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HBO has announced an adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, based on the famous book published by Ray Bradbury in 1953. Depending on where your county fell on the blue-red political spectrum, you were probably required to read Fahrenheit 451 in high-school English. Or it was banned and you never heard about it. It was one of the most controversial books of 20th century, in part for rough language but in part for the critical lens it pointed at social apathy, a taboo subject during the McCarthy era when it was written.
451 is set in a dystopian future and follows the story of a “fireman”, Guy Montag, a worker who burns the belongings of people found in possession of banned books. It preaches the message that knowledge is power, an idea you might agree with, or consider counter-culture, depending on your views. Bradbury determined that 451 degrees was the temperature at which paper burned (it actually happens within a range somewhat close to that number.)
When the book was published, in 1953, it came as an alarm bell after the longstanding patriotic governmental trust that got the country through WWII. In 2004 filmmaker Michael Moore co-opted the title for his film Fahrenheit 9/11, an investigation into the Bush administration’s actions following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Fahrenheit 451 enjoyed a brief resurgence, but at the moment few people were in the mood to take dystopian tales to heart, and interest waned.
Now may be the perfect time. HBO won an auction against companies like Legendary and Hulu for the rights to Bradbury’s story. They’ll be working with writer/director Ramin Bahrani on the adaptation, a man Robert Ebert called the “director of the decade” for the 2000s. Bahrani’s films have been critical hits on the indie circuit, drawing stars like Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron to his more recent features. His work typically centers on small fictionalized dramas that touch on social issues like the income gap, orphans, or aging. His 2009 feature Plastic Bag showcased the voice of Werner Herzog and music of Sigur Rios to follow the journey of a plastic grocery bag in search of its maker, which leads it to companionship in the Pacific trash vortex.
According to Deadline the rights to 451 moldered at Warner Bros. for more than a decade with names like Mel Gibson and Frank Darabont occasionally attached. The property was last adapted for the screen in 1996 in François Truffaut’s only English language film.
In truth the delay may work in the project’s favor, since the recent focus on teen-led dystopian movies might have led to a radically revised adaptation that bombed at the box office. HBO, with a strong reputation for literary adaptation, may be the right place to produce a version of the story that would make Bradbury proud.
Bradbury spoke on his writing inspiration during Comic Con 2007:
Of course Game of Thrones is top of mind when HBO is mentioned but the network is also working on the adaptation of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and Sharp Objects from Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl), among others. Adaptations seem to be the hottest properties in town right now as John le Carre’s The Night Manager airs on AMC, Stephen King’s 11.22.63 receives rave reviews on Hulu, and Outlander and Sherlock receive continued renewals at Starz and BBC.
Early discussions center around whether the film should be set in the past or updated for the current era. The latter would make it more difficult, as e-readers and cell phones have changed the way we read, and our nation is less homogenized than ever, less likely to all follow one path. HBO will surely consider all options, so it may be a while before we hear production details.