Bradbury torched (well, kinda) early draft of HBO’s dystopian “F-451”

by Glenn Lovell

CinemaDope scored one of the last interviews with Ray Bradbury. We talked to the author about HBO’s proposed adaptation of his never-more-prescient “Fahrenheit 451,” published in 1953, when the stench of Nazi book burnings was still in the air.

In the telefilm, scheduled for this weekend, Michael B. JordRayan (“Creed”) plays protagonist Montag, a fallen-away fireman in a near future society that has outlawed the printed word as seditious. Near future? Sounds more like the here-and-now.

If the scripts Bradbury sampled were any indication, the new version would be less successful than Francois Truffaut’s sadly neglected 1966 adaptation, starring Oskar Werner, Julie Christie (as both member of the book underground and Montag’s horny wife), and one of Bernard Herrmann’s most evocative scores.

A bookseller friend in Atlanta had somehow come into possession of draft No. 6 of the script, commissioned by Mel Gibson’s Icon Films. He sent it to Bradbury, who — curmudgeonly under the best of circumstances — let out a loud Yeeech!

“I was afraid to open it. Finally I turned to page 42, very gingerly. It’s where Fire Chief Beatty comes to Montag’s house and Mildred asks, ‘Would you like some coffee?’ Beatty replies, ‘Dfahrenoes a bear s— in the woods?’ I closed the script and didn’t read the rest. I couldn’t believe it.”

He then, fittingly, fed it to his backyard barbecue. (Not really, but he thought about it.)

Bradbury remained dumbfounded that Hollywood kept screwing up his dystopian classic. “It’s stupid,” he said, all they have to do is shoot the pages.”

Back then, Tom Hanks and Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) were connected to the project, as well as a proposed $70-million HBO serialization of Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles.”  Bradbury thought Darabont a good choice. “He’s does beautiful work. When I saw ‘The Green Mile,’ I called him and said, ‘Is the ending a Bradbury ending?’ He said, ‘Yes, I read you in high school.’ ”

Darabont and Hanks eventually left the project.

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