It used to be that we didn’t expect that much from our TV movies. For a long time, there was a good reason a movie would head to television instead of the theater.
Then outlets like HBO started developing or snapping up major projects, and we entered the era of prestige television. Now, we expect our TV movies to be just as artful as anything we see at the multiplex.
But while we have to give a lot of credit to HBO for raising our standards, they don’t always get things right. Take the new adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, released on HBO last weekend, and a throwback to those earlier days when TV movies were… not so good.
The movie sets up like Bradbury’s novel, taking place at some point in the future when books are banned, and fireman Guy Montag is tasked with sniffing out and burning any books he can find. We’ve updated things a bit for the digital age, and the movie eventually departs significantly from the book, but the basic story is pretty much what you remember. But for having such distinguished source material, the movie goes very wrong.
The dialogue is the worst part-- hackneyed, wooden, and clunky, with characters talking about important things like “transponders” and “The OMNIS” and reading lines like, “If you hide from me in your sleep, you better wake up and apologize.” And even though the movie stars probably the two hottest Michaels in Hollywood right now, Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon, they do little to try to save it. Jordan is as bland as I’ve ever seen him, and Shannon mostly plays a low-rent version of his usual stone-faced villain. If they don’t care, why should we?
Even more disappointing is that Fahrenheit 451 was written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, who made two of the great movies of the past 20 years, the deeply human Man Push Cart and Chop Shop. But somehow, with this movie, he’s made a deeply empty experience. Here, I’ve got an idea: go watch Bahrani’s earlier work, go read Bradbury’s novel, and burn this movie.