Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

bradbury2Ray Bradbury (Ray Douglas Bradbury) passed away June 5th, 2012. He was 91.
Bradbury was perhaps the best known writer of fantasy and science fiction in the United States. The poetic, literary quality of many of his stories helped improve the reputation of science fiction from its critically dismissed pulp beginnings.
Unlike many writers in the SF genre, Bradbury was not particularly interested in technology or scientific theory; it was the memories and emotions of the characters that he captured so well. He considered himself simply as a writer, and indeed many of his works are mysteries, horror, and other genres. His output counted 27 novels and over 600 short stories. When pressed, Ray Bradbury might call himself a fantasy writer.
Born in Waukegan, Illinois, and spending his early childhood there before moving to Los Angeles, his tales often involved nostalgia, homesickness, characters feeling displaced, and a yearning for simpler times.
Many of his short stories were adapted for radio and early television, on programs such ad X MINUS ONE, LIGHTS OUT, and SUSPENSE.
Brad_beastIn 1953 he contributed to the story of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, and in a complicated way his Saturday Evening Post story became THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. Only a single scene was used, of the dinosaur attacking a lighthouse. Bradbury would subsequently re-title the story The Foghorn, to set it apart from the film. 
BEAST featured the stop motion work of Ray Harryhausen, who was a good friend of Bradbury’s, first meeting at the home of Forrest J. Ackerman. All three were part of SF’s “First Fandom” and among the first genre enthusiasts to make the jump from fan to professional.
Also in 1953, Ray Bradbury  began the screenplay for John Huston’s MOBY DICK (1956), and turned the story of his involvement into the fictionalized Green Shadows, White Whale.
A number of Bradbury’s mysteries were adapted for ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS from 1956-62.
Surprisingly, given the many thematic similarities between their work, only one of Ray Bradbury’s stories was adapted for Rod Serling’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE: I Sing The Body Electric. This would be later remade as the TV movie THE ELECTRIC GRANDMOTHER (1982).
Bradbury mentioned in later years that he was friendly with Gene Roddenberry, who wanted him to write a STAR TREK episode.  However, he had to turn him down, as Bradbury felt he had no talent for writing to fit other people’s fictional creations.

 FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966) was directed by François Truffaut. Despite it’s stilted dialog and performances, Ray Bradbury was fairly pleased with the film, something that would not be true of many of the other adaptations of his work, such as THE ILLUSTRATED MAN (1969) and the TV mini-series THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES (1980). Brad_Martain Chron

Although Bradbury had consulted with Richard Matheson on the CHRONICLES  teleplay, he publicly announced that the results were “boring” and found fault with the decidedly uneven and dated special effects. Hard to disagree on that point, the whole production seems  bland, unimaginative, and half-hearted.
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983) was a better attempt to capture Bradbury’s writing on film, and the film does have it’s moments, though it’s a flawed production.
From 1985 to 1992, over 60 of Ray Bradbury’s stories were adapted for the syndicated RAY BRADBURY THEATER. Some of the Martian Chronicles tales were adapted by the show, and making allowances for  its low budget are as good or better than the network mini-series.
A moderately high budget didn’t help 2005’s A SOUND OF THUNDER, a film I can’t comment on because (like most people, I suspect) it’s one I have never seen. I have heard it called laughingly bad.   That’s a shame—it’s a great short story. Maybe that’s the problem, it’s a SHORT story: Setup, Small Error, Swift Conclusion.  Being inflated into a feature film was probably a mistake.
Still, disappointing adaptations and the desire to revisit them and get them “right” just point to the power and influence of Ray Bradbury’s work. 
He will be missed.

Celebrating Ray Bradbury's 90th Birthday: CFQ Post-Mortem Podcast 1:28.1

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August 22, 2010 represented fantasy author Ray Bradbury’s 90th birthday. In celebration of that event, this week’s Post-Mortem podcast examines his career, including the many film and television adaptations of his work: FARENHEIT 451, THE BEAST FROM 20000 FATHOMS, THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, etc. Plus, correspondent Lawrence French fills us in on the details of the celebration in Los Angeles, which declared August 22-28 to be “Ray Bradbury Week.”


Ray Harryhausen Receives Accolades from BAFTA on his 90th Birthday!

Ray Harryhausen with the Medusa model from the 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS
Ray Harryhausen with the Medusa model from the 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS

Watch the Video of the BFI and BAFTA special achievement award presented to RAY HARRYHAUSEN on the occasion of the master animator’s 90th birthday:
This fabulous 42 minute minute video includes comments from:

  • James Cameron
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Guillermo Del Toro
  • Nick Park
  • Frank Darabont
  • John Landis (Host)

With guest speakers:

  • Sir Christopher Frayling
  • The Tortoise and the Hare Animators
  • Randy Cook
  • Colin Arthur (mask-maker)
  • Gary Raymond and John Cairney
  • Phil Tippett, Dennis Muren & Ken Ralston
  • Tony Dalton & Vanessa Harryhausen
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Peter Jackson

(Jackson shows his rare amateur film inspired by Harryhausen and presents a special BAFTA Award to Ray.)

LAWRENCE FRENCH: In your earlier films, although you didn’t have star names, you always had excellent British character actors, such as Douglas Wilmer, Laurence Naismith and Patrick Troughton. In fact, all those actors appeared in Sir Laurence Olivier’s film version of Richard III. Did you see Richard III when in came out in 1955?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh yes, although that was many years ago. And as you say, we always had very talented actors, even if they were not what today you would call stars. But they were all very competent actors: Douglas Wilmer was brilliant as King Pelias in Jason and later we used him in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad as the Grand Vizier. Laurence Naismith was also in Jason, and we used him again in The Valley of Gwangi.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What led you to stop making movies after Clash of the Titans?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: I had enough of spending my time in a dark room after everybody else went home. I spent most of my life in a dark room, painted black, which can be depressing if you are aware of it, although I was never aware of it. I also felt that tastes had changed. After Clash of the Titans, we were going to do a follow-up and I helped Charles develop a script with Beverly Cross called Force of the Trojans, although a lot of the effects work would have been farmed out to someone else. But even though Clash had made a lot of money for MGM, they didn’t want to back it. They felt costume pictures weren’t suitable and the pictures the studios wanted you to make all had to have explosions in them every five minutes. So I’m grateful that I got in on the tail end of the great days of Hollywood.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: So once MGM passed on making Force of the Trojans, you finally decided to retire?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, pretty much. I was able to spend most of my time doing the things I had always wanted to do for a long time. I began making bronze figures of some of the characters used in my films, and doing many other things, including getting re-acquainted with my family. Unfortunately, when you devote too much time to a film, you have very little time to see your family.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Now that all your fairy tales and early films are out on DVD, are there any animation scenes that got cut which might be included on future DVD releases—such as the Ghoul fight from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: There’s not a great deal and once I finish a picture it’s out of my hands. I don’t recall the Ghoul sequence having been cut that much. It couldn’t have been that important, because I’ve looked at the picture on DVD and it didn’t bother me. I did have a sequence we cut from Jason and the Argonauts during the skeleton fight. After Jason cuts off one of the skeletons heads, the skeleton got down on his hands and knees to look for his head, but it slowed the whole pace of the scene down, so we decided to cut it out. Unfortunately, I never kept that footage. I should have saved it, but once you finish a film, you are so glad to be done, you don’t think about those kinds of things.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What are you thoughts about the current state of the movie business compared to Hollywood in the forties when you were first starting out?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Well, today everyone is saturated with all sorts of entertainments, where in the good old days you looked forward to going to the movies on Saturday night and it was a big event in your life. The people who made pictures in the forties, the big studios and producers had great imagination. When you look back at some of those pictures, you see that they knew how to make the average person see things bigger than life for two hours. It was a relief or an escape that we all loved. But today, you are bombarded with so many different things: DVD’s, Television, the Internet, and everything else, so I think people become rather jaded. That means you have to go over the top, in the sense of showing more, to make it bloodier and more ghastly in order to top all previous productions. Where that will eventually lead, I have no idea. At the rate some of today’s horror films are going, only people who work in the slaughterhouse would care to see them. I think also, that today, the fantastic image is so overdone it no longer amazes you and they tend to do overly violent things. It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes—you have to disguise the fact that there’s nothing really there in the story with smoke, loud noises, 8-frame cuts and zoom-in and zoom-outs—all the techniques that cover up the fact that there’s no story. In some of today’s movies, you don’t even know what you’re watching. I saw The Matrix and I didn’t know what the picture was all about. When I see a picture I want to know what I’m looking at. When characters are introduced I want to know who they are and what relation they have to the hero. But today there are no more heroes. There are only anti-heroes. So it’s a different world. Everything is so negative I don’t even feel like I’m part of the film business anymore.

'Martian Chronicles' Headed for Screen Again?

The L.A. Times says “sources” tell them that John Davis, a 20th Century Fox-based producer who was involved with ALIEN Vs. PREDATOR and the will Smith vehicle I, ROBOT has optioned the rights to Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.
The book is a loosely connected selection of short stories, some that have little to do with the planet, others that are more refelctions on Bradbury’s feelings about a view of Mars that he read about and loved as a child, and knew as an adult writer had no substance in reality. So many of them are delicate fables, morality tales, or slight slices of subdued nightmare.
Trying to adapt them into a cohesive science fiction narrative is somewhat akin to attaching a jet engine to a child’s kite made of newspaper and balsa wood. Martian_Chron_DVD
Richard Matheson made a game attempt in the TV mini-series THE MARTIAN CRONICLES (1980).
Despite a cast that included Rock Hudson, Roddy McDowall, Darren McGavin, Barry Morse, Bernadette Peters, and Fritz Weaver, the production was generally turgid and disappointing, though with a few moments that captured the magic of some of the stories. Variable production design (from imaginitive to extemely bland), and substandard FX work gave it a slightly cheezey look.
Various stories from The Martian Chronicles that appeared on the very low-budget RAY BRADBURY THEATER worked as well or better, freed of the need to link together.
So, the idea of a major feature film version of a short story collection does not strike me as a very good idea. Could the rights have been obtained to make a film like I, ROBOT (2004)?
That film was based on a screenplay called Hardwired that Fox liked, and had some similarity to Issac Asimov’s robot stories. So, since they had the rights to the I, Robot collection, the Susan Clavin character and Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics were inserted into the story.
The results were an entertaining Sci-Fi action-murder mystery that held little savor for readers of the original stories.
Will the same road be taken? Only time will tell.

Sound of Thunder (2005) – Retrospective Science Fiction Film Review

A Sound of Thunder (2005)A SOUND OF THUNDER, a science fiction film based on the Ray Bradbury short story of the same name, is a colassal disapopintment – unworthy of the memorable source material. It seems as if the film wants to be an old-fashioned B-movie, but it is nowhere near that good; even worse, the idea is one that requires an A-Movie budget in order to work at all. Consequently, instead of a neat little movie told with modest production values, the film looks cheap and unconvincing, thanks to the terribly cartoony computer-generated imagery – not only for the dinosaurs but also for the futuristic cityscapes (which, with their awkward staging and camera angles, suggest that the actors were working on blank sets, onto which the digital backgrounds were added later – an effect done much better in SIN CITY). Weirdly, the design team includes Syd Mead (BLADE RUNNER) and Ray “Crash” McCreery (JURASSIC PARK), but you would never guess it from the on-screen results.
Briefly, the story involves time travel for profit: rich people pay big bucks to go back in time and shoot an allosaurus. Unfortunately, something goes wrong on one trip, and “time ripples” from the event begin changing course of evolution on a daily basis, forcing our characters to go back to fix what went wrong.
It’s not a bad idea for an action movie, but it falls prey to all the usual time travel paradox problems. The most obvious is that the hunt always goes back to kill the same dinosaur over and over, without ever meeting any of the previous hunting parties. Yet, when trying to “fix” the problem, our hero goes back in time and does see the hunting party that made the mistake, issuing a warning to one and preventing the catastrophe from happening. Whether or not time travel can ever make sense, the story should at least be internally consistent, and this clearly is not.
This kind of nitpick stuff might be forgivable if the film flowed along at an exciting pace, but it just lays there. It sort of almost works on an “I wonder what will happen next” level, but the action is tepid, the charactes thin, and the cast just doesn’t have the charisma or the talent to sew a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (exception being Ben Kingsley, who actually is the one bright spot here, as the greedy businessman who owns the time travel company).
Director Peter Hyams (who also photographed) used to be a decent filmmaker back in the 1970s, when he often wrote his own scripts. He was never great, but at least he was trying to make films with some personality and competence. Now, he seems to be nothing but a professional hack, churning out soulless movies just to make a living. But at least his John-Claude Van Damme movies (SUDDEN DEATH and TIME COP) had a tiny bit of pizzazz to them; even THE RELIC was a more interesting monster movie than SOUND OF THUNDER.
It’s too bad. The Ray Bradbury story is very good. Expanding its simple concept into a feature no doubt presented difficulties, but it deserved better treatment that it got. The batting average of Bradbury story-to-film adaptations is very low, and SOUND OF THUNDER only makes it worse.
A SOUND OF THUNDER (2005). Directed by Peter Hyams. Screenplay by Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer and Gregory Pointer; screenstory by Donnelly & Oppenheimer, based on the short story by Ray Bradbury. Cast: Edward Burns, Catherine McCormack, Ben Kingsley, Wilfred Hochholdinger, David Oyelowo, Jemima Rooper.

Bradbury & Halloween Horror

Fantasy author and sometimes screenwriter Ray Bradbury will be appearing at the American Cinematheque on October 10 and 11 for screenings of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (which he adapted from his own novel) and MOBY DICK (which he adapted from Herman Melville’s classic). dapting MOBY DICK for director John Huston.
Also just around the corner: the Cinematheque promises to run a great marathon of classic creepy films from October 30 through November 2, including HORROR OF DRACULA, BRIDES OF DRACULA, CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, THE GORGON, and two versions of DR. JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (the 1932 version with Frederic March and the 1941 version with Spencer Tracy).  Specific dates and times have yet to be announced, but you can check out their website for updates.
All screenings will take place at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury!

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms attacks a light house.Cinefantastique Online wishes a belated Happy Birthday to Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles and so many other great worst of fantasy fiction. Finding Dulcinea (which bills itself as the “Librarian of the Internet”) has a nice tribute here.
Bradbury has been a major influence on fantasy and science-fiction, although his screen credits are relatively few and far between (something about his whimsical, imaginative prose defies translation to celluloid). Several of his novels and short stories have been turned into movies or television episodes (THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES). He wrote only one episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (“The Electric Grandmother”), but many of Rod Serling’s most famous episodes bore notable similarities to Bradbury’s work (the focus on the common man encountering strange and wonderful experiences).
Perhaps the film that had the biggest impact on sci-fi cinema featured, ironically, his smallest contribution: THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) portrayed a prehistoric creature that destroys a light house as in Bradbury’s story “The Foghorn.” The script was not officially an adaptation until Bradbury’s friend Ray Harryhausen, who provided the visual effects, show him a copy; when Bradbury noted the similarities, he received a payment and screen credit. The film launched the giant radio-active monster sub-genre of the ’50s and inspired Japan’s GODZILLA (1954), which in turn launched a tidal wave of giant monster movies that extends to the current decade.
Something about Bradbury’s story, his appreciation of the monstrous mysteries that may lurk in the depths of the ocean, inspired legendary filmmaker John Huston to ask him to write the screenplay for his 1956 film version of MOBY DICK. (You can read Bradbury’s reminiscence about that collaboration here.)
Says Bradbury of his work on that film and what it meant to him and his life in general:

We’re endowed with the gift of life. It’s a total mystery, and we try to make sense of it. We wake at night and say to ourselves, ‘This is incredible. We’re living on this world, and we don’t know how we got here.’ Scientists haven’t figured it out; they have theories, but they don’t know. The very existence of life is impossible. All the great religions have this mystery at their center, and Moby Dick is that mystery, and Ahab chooses to interpret that mystery in his way, and it’s not necessarily true. The mystery is not evil; it just is. And we are a mystery to ourselves. I feel this every day of my life. Moby Dick helped open this up to me.

Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

The Grand-Daddy of Giant Radioactive Prehistoric Monster Movies.

Ray Harryhausen’s first solo opportunity to supervise special effects (after apprenticing under Willis O’Brien, the technician behind 1933’s KING KONG) is the archetypal model for dozens of sci-fi monster flicks that followed, during the 1950s, and beyond. The story begins with an H-Bomb test, which awakens a predatory dinosaur from a multi-million-year sleep, frozen in icy tundra. A nuclear scientist (Paul Christian) who saw the creature tries to warn the military (in the form of Kenneth Tobey), but no one listens to his story until several boats are sunken, the survivors telling tales of sea serpents. A sympathetic paleontologist (Cecil Kellaway) and his beautiful assistant (Paula Raymond) identify the beast as a rhedosaurus and deduce that its path of destruction is taking it toward New York, where it goes on a rampage. The Beast carries unknown disease that preclude blasting it to pieces (which would only spread the germs), so the nuclear scientist devises a radioactive isotope that will kill the monsters and the bacteria it carries. The lethal antidote is fired (by Lee Van Cleef, later to be a gunslinger in Italian Westerns opposite Clint Eastwood) from atop a roller coaster when the Beast attacks Coney Island, for a fiery and spectacular conclusion.The story of BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is derivative of KING KONG and, more particularly, O’Brien’s 1925 silent effort THE LOST WORLD (which was based on the novel by Sherlock Holmes-creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Like those earlier works, BEAST features a prehistoric monster let loose on a modern city. But those stories had been more or less adventure-fantasies that unearthed their monsters in unexplored, exotic territory. BEAST, with its use of the H-Bomb, added a modern science-fiction edge, coming at a time when audiences really did fear the Bomb, which had the potential, for the first time in recorded history, to bring about the end of recorded history.
Thus, the BEAST becomes a walking metaphor for real fears, a sort of fantasy mirror into which audiences can gaze at something to horrible to contemplate directly. The effect is somewhat muted by the fact that the film ultimately assures us that radiation is okay (a radioactive isotope is used to kill the beast). In this regard, at least, the BEAST’S Japanese clone GOJIRA is considerably more powerful. Nevertheless, BEAST is an effective template from which many other subsequent films were fashioned (including Sony’s misnamed 1998 effort GODZILLA, which far more resembles this film than its namesake).
Unlike many of the movies that worked from its blue print, BEAST has a decent script. The story movies along nicely, with a minimum of downtime (even the obligatory romantic subplot fits in smoothly and unobtrusively). The writers appear to have done their homework, as the scientific jargon rings true and there are few obvious factual howlers. The dialogue is reasonably terse and even displays some clever wit. (At one point, Kellaway chides Tobey for not believing in flying saucers – reminding viewers that Tobey starred in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, which featured a flying saucer that brought an alien invader to Earth.)
The cast is made up of competent character actors who bring a decent level of conviction to their roles, spouting off paleontology terms like “Cretaceous” and “Jurassic” as if they know what they are talking about. There is little or none of the flat, cardboard feeling you get from similar films from the era, which tended to be filled with squared jawed heroes and fainting women.
A former production designer, director Eugene Lourie gets everything possible out of his limited resources, using lighting and camera placement to disguise the low-budget. The film looks atmospheric and moody, not cheap, and the judicious use of stock footage adds a sense of scope to the proceedings.
But of course the real star of the film is the special effects. Harryhausen used stop-motion to bring the titular character to life, but instead of creating a KONG-like fantasy world with the use of glass paintings and miniatures, Harryhausen kept the budget down by relying on “plate photography” of actual locations. (In other words, footage of New York streets, etc., was shot and then projected behind the tabletop miniature where Harryhausen animated the armature puppet of the Beast, one frame at a time.)
Being a dinosaur, the Beast cannot win our hearts in the same way that Kong could. But Harryhausen does invest some personality into the creature. Although fearsome and destructive, the rhedosaurus does not seem malignant; he’s just a creature lost in time, returning to the only home he ever knew. He manages to inspire a certain amount of awe, and you’re actually sorry to see the creature collapse and die at the end.
BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS admirably stands the test of time. Despite its financial restrictions, it is a solid effort that works on all levels. Not a masterpiece, perhaps, but definitely a classic of its genre – and vastly better than the 1998 GODZILLA.


The paleontologist who wants to preserve capture and preserve the rhedosaurus descends in a diving bell to search for the creature. When he makes visual comment, his enthusiasm for his discovery blinds him to any danger. He enthusiastically describes the variations between what he expected from fossils and what he is actually seeing (“the dorsal spine is singular, not bi-lateral as we thought”). His final words are “But the most amazing thing is…” – just before the dinosaur’s open mouth lunges for the diving bell.
A New York cop, obviously not one to let monsters rampage through his neighborhood unopposed, walks down the middle of the street like a gunslinger, firing six shots from his revolver into the rampaging Rhedosaurus. Stopping to reload, he looks down at his gun – the hungry dinosaur reaches down and lifts him up in his mouth, flipping his body like a cat swallowing a minnow.


The inspiration for the screenplay is credited to Ray Bradbury, but it appears that the script was not actually based on his short story. When he was offered the chance to do the effects, Ray Harryhausen showed the script to his old friend Bradbury, who noted that the scene wherein the Beast attacks a lighthouse was similar to his story “The Foghorn.” The rights to the story were purchased in order to avoid any legal problems. Since then, Bradbury has speculated that the screenwriters had read the story and incorporated the scene, whether consciously or not. Harryhausen provided a slightly different version of events at a 2006 screening of the film, stating that, after the script was written, the film’s producer came in with a copy of the Saturday Evening Post (which had published the story) and insisted that the lighthouse scene should be added.
This was the directorial debut of Eugene Lourie, who went on to direct two other movies about reawakened rampaging reptiles: 1959’s THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (a.k.a. THE BEHEMOTH, which, ironically, featured special effects by Harryhausen’s one-time mentor, Willis O’Brien) and 1961’s GORGO.
Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was, according to legend, inspired by THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. After a co-production deal fell through to make a large-scale war movie, he conceived of a Japanese version of BEAST. The result was 1954’s GOJIRA, which was released in the U.S. two years later as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. However, it remains unclear whether the late Tanaka had actually seen BEAST or had merely heard about it.

The prehistoric monster roars at the modern surroundings.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. (1953). Directed by Eugene Lourie. Written by Fred Freiberger and Louis Morheim, “inspired” by the short story “The Foghorn” by Ray Bradbury. Cast: Paul Christian (a.k.a. Paul Hubschmid), Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, Kenneth Tobey, Donalds Woods, Lee Van Cleef.

Ray Bradbury on Adapting Melville's Allegorical Sea Monster, Moby Dick

Moby Dick is not an obvious choice of material for adaptation to the screen. Nor is Ray Bradbury the obvious choice to have collaborated with famed director John Huston on a sea-going adventure that had little appeal to Hollywood studio chiefs. The science fiction author’s prose work, filled with different combinations of nostalgia, atmosphere and a sense of wonder, has often defied adaptation to the screen; and more often than not, his subject has been the future rather than the past—unless that past involved dinosaurs. Nevertheless, Bradbury somehow found common ground with Herman Melville’s tale. For all the novel’s allegorical ambitions, the white whale Moby Dick evokes a terrifying sense of awe; he is a beast bigger than any dinosaur, a behemoth as powerful as any sea monster. And much more than that, he is an enigma, a symbol of the mystery of the universe, a literal embodiment (if Captain Ahab is correct) of evil.
How did Bradbury come, in the middle of the 20th century, to be scripting a 19-century story about a mad captain’s hunt for a white whale of almost mythical proportions?
“Years ago,” Bradbury recalls, “people said, ‘When are you going to write a screenplay?’ I said, ‘When John Huston asks me.’ I knew exactly who I wanted to work for, because I’d seen his films, and I loved The Maltese Falcon; I saw it fifteen times. I finally had the chance to meet him: I had dinner with him one night in 1951, and I gave him all my books. I said, ‘If you like these books half as much as I like your films, someday hire me.’ He wrote me from Africa, where he was filming African Queen, and said, ‘We’ll work together. I don’t know on what, but we’ll work on something someday.’ In August of 1953,I was down in Long Beach looking for dinosaur books with my friend Ray Harryhausen, and when I came home that night, my wife said, ‘John Huston called; he wants to see you.’ The next day I went to John Huston’s hotel; he put a drink in my hand; he sat me down, stood over me, and said, ‘Well, kid, what are you doing during the next year?’ I said, ‘Not much, Mr. Huston.’ He said, ‘How would you like to come to Ireland and write the screenplay for Moby Dick?’ I said, ‘Well gee, I’ve never been able to read that damn thing!’ He said, ‘Why don’t you go home tonight, read as much as you can; then come back tomorrow and tell me if you’ll help me kill the White Whale.’ I went home and said to my wife, ‘Pray for me.’ She asked why, and I said, ‘Because I have to read a book tonight and do a book report tomorrow!’ I read through the book, as much as I could, and saw the metaphors and discovered that I am essentially a 19th Century author, loving metaphors. I went the next day and took the job.”
What had Huston seen in Bradbury’s work that convinced him to hire the young writer? The author credits a single short story for getting him the job.
The 1954 film THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS was inspired by Bradbury's story 'The Foghorn,' which convinced John Huston to hire the author to adapt MOBY DICK.“I lived in Venice, California back in 1950,” Bradbury recalls, adding that he and his wife “walked along the shore one night and came upon the ruins of the old Venice peer, which had just been torn down; and the ruins of the roller-coaster were lying there in the sand, being covered by the wind and the water. I looked at the bones of the roller coaster and said to my wife, ‘I wonder what that dinosaur is doing lying here?’ My wife was very careful not to answer. The next night, I heard a sound and woke in the night. I looked out the window, and for ten miles down the coast there was nothing but wind and rain and sand. But a voice way out in the Santa Monica Bay called me; it was a foghorn, blowing over, and over, and over again. I said, ‘That’s it. The dinosaur is lying on the beach because it heard another dinosaur calling from a billion years, and it swam for an encounter with this other beast and discovered it was only a light house and a damn fog horn, and it tore the whole thing down and died of a broken heart. So I sat down and wrote ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,’ which became ‘The Foghorn,’ which I gave to John Huston in a book. He read my description of the melancholy sound of the foghorn, and based on that one story, he gave me the job of writing MOBY DICK.” (NOTE: Bradbury’s short story is now usually anthologized under the title “The Foghorn,” to distinguish it from the feature film THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, with special effects by Ray Harryhausen, which features a brief scene of the titular beast attacking a lighthouse—the only element the film and the story share in common.)
Bradbury moved his family to Ireland, where Huston lived at the time, and worked on the script for eight months. With 135 chapters, plus an Etymology, Epilogue and several pages of “Extracts,” Herman Melville’s novel was far from an ideal fit for a screenplay. Simply shoe-horning the narrative into a two-hour running time demanded the sacrifice of over three-quarters of the original text. Bradbury eliminated characters, combined elements of different chapters into single scenes, added new material, and changed many of the details. His first big decision was to eliminate Fedallah, Ahab’s Parsee confidant—a sort of Mephistophelean figure with no real characterization, whose function in the novel is almost totally symbolic.
“When we started, I said to John Huston two things: First, Can we throw Fedallah overboard? If you’ve read the book, you know Fedallah is a bore; he gets in the way. All the stuff that he does should be done by Ahab. John said, ‘Heave him overboard.’ So I threw him out. The second thing was, I said, ‘You must remember, during the screenplay and the film, to do the Shakespearean asides. This is the flesh of Melville; it’s very important. We’re doing a film of metaphor, so we have to have those moments of truth, which will speak to the audience, so they’ll know what’s going on from the soul’s midnight. I tried to find things in Melville to use constantly. We had to use the language as much as possible, to keep the Shakespearean flavor of Melville.”
Bradbury later wrote of his experiences in his episodic novel Green Shadows, White Whale (which is being republished this year). As Peter Viertel had previously done with White Hunter, Black Hear (written after working with Huston on The African Queen), Bradbury used his fictionalized version of reality to his relationship with director John Huston, who comes across as brilliant and talented, but sometimes cruel and abusive. Looking back on the experience today, Bradbury says that the relationship was not at all stormy or adversarial.
“We were both ignorant,” he says of grappling with the subject matter. “We were struggling against ourselves, not against each other, and when revelations came, it was wonderful. I must say, he was very patient with me. When I finished the first fifty-five pages, I gave them to John Huston and said, ‘Here’s the script so far. If you don’t like it, today is my last day of employment, because I don’t want to take money under false pretenses. If you don’t like it, fire me.’ He said, ‘Go upstairs and take a nap while I read it.’ So I went upstairs and took a nap—like hell I did! I lay in the bed sweating, waiting for some word from down stairs. At the end of an hour, I heard a voice calling up the stairs. I went and looked down at Huston, and he said, ‘Ray, come down and finished the screenplay.’ Well, I came down the stairs crying. I loved the project so much; it was such a relief to know that I was going to be able to finish.”
However, this was far from the last hurdle that the writer would have to leap. The film was something of a gamble for Huston, who had struggled for three years to get a Hollywood studio to back a film without a love interest or even a major female lead. “Eight weeks into writing the script, I was with Huston one afternoon when a telegram came from Warner Brothers in Hollywood,” Bradbury recalls. “It said, ‘Dear John, Insist that a woman’s part be written into the screenplay, or we cannot proceed with the productions. Jack Warner.’ I took this telegram, threw it on the ground; I jumped on it and called it all sorts of horrible names that I can’t repeat. In the middle of my jumping on the telegram, I looked up. Huston was rolling on the floor with laughter—he had sent the telegram himself!”

Jokes aside, there was plenty of hard work that went into the script. “It took seven months of reading and re-reading this book,” explains Bradbury. “You can’t intellectualize about adapting anything. You’ve got to really absorb it into your bloodstream. Then you begin to dream about it and think on a deeper level. After seven months of excruciating agony—there were times I wanted to kill myself, I didn’t know a damn thing about Melville when we started, and I discovered John Huston didn’t know anything, either—at the end of seven months, I got out of bed one morning and said, ‘I am Herman Melville.’ I ran to my typewriter and in eight hours of passionate typing, I finished the screenplay in one day—thirty-five pages, the whole ending of the film. I ran across Dublin with the screenplay and threw it in John Huston’s lap. I said, ‘There, I think it’s finished.’ He read it and said, ‘My god, I think it is; let’s roll the cameras. What happened?’ I said, ‘Behold, Herman Melville stands before you. But hurry up, because he’s leaving in five minutes.’ So that’s the way you write a screenplay of a book like this. I would like to think that if the ghost of Melville had seen this, he would find some of these [changes] okay. I don’t believe in running amok on people’s work; I try to find the essence.”
Inevitably, what emerged in 1956 was not a transcription but a condensation of Melville. And yet, despite the liberties taken with what many consider to be the closest thing to the proverbial “Great American Novel,” the film somehow manages to stand on its own feet (although, considering the subject matter, the metaphor should perhaps read “swim with its own flukes”). If there were any doubts that Huston and Bradbury made the right choices, these were put to rest by the 1998 television adaptation, starring Patrick Stewart as Captain Ahab. With a running time of 180 minutes, writers Anton Diether and Franc Roddam (who also directed) could retain more of Melville, and yet what emerged was curiously lifeless—like the well-preserved subject of an embalming, it captured the appearance but not the soul of its subject. Seen from this perspective, Huston’s MOBY DICK stands alongside Stanley Kubrick’s LOLITA as an example of a film that honors its source material with far greater artistic merit than the subsequent attempt at a “faithful” adaptation.

Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck) grapples with his mortal enemy.

Just what is that mysterious essence of Moby Dick that Bradbury captured? What is the secret that lies behind “The Whiteness of the Whale” (as Melville titled one chapter)? “How many interpretations do you want?” Bradbury jokes. “We’re endowed with the gift of life. It’s a total mystery, and we try to make sense of it. We wake at night and say to ourselves, ‘This is incredible. We’re living on this world, and we don’t know how we got here.’ Scientists haven’t figured it out; they have theories, but they don’t know. The very existence of life is impossible. All the great religions have this mystery at their center, and Moby Dick is that mystery, and Ahab chooses to interpret that mystery in his way, and it’s not necessarily true. The mystery is not evil; it just is. And we are a mystery to ourselves. I feel this every day of my life. Moby Dick helped open this up to me.”
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Snyder will Illustrate Man

“Each illustration is a little story. If you watch them, in a few minutes, they tell you a tale. In three hours of looking you could see eighteen or twenty stories acted out right on my body, you could hear voices and think thoughts. It’s all here, just waiting for you to look.” – from The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

Zack Snyder, hot off the success of 300 and currently prepping a big-screen version of WATCHMEN, has signed on to produce and direct a remake of THE ILLUSTRATED MAN. Alex Tse, who scripted WATCHMEN for Snyder, will adapt the screenplay, based on Ray Bradbury’s celebrated collection of short stories. The previous film version was made in 1969, with Rod Steiger in the title role.
Like Bradbury’s The Martian ChroniclesThe Illustrated Man is an attempt to present an anthology of short stories as if they were a novel; in this case, the linking device is the title character. An unnamed narrator, while on a walking tour of Wisconsin, encounters the Illustrated Man, who is covered with tattoos that seem to come to life at night, telling stories that predict the future. The book contains eighteen tales (not counting the linking segments); the 1969 film adapted only three of these, spending more time on the interaction between the narrator and the Illustrated Man. Although interesting, the film lacked the sort of visual poetry necessary to capture the feeling of Bradbury’s writing; hopefully, the new version will have the magic spark that the original missed.