HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 changes were bound to happen in their adaptation but unexpectedly fumbles what should’ve been a scorching five alarm hit.
Let’s start on Jump Street and work our way down: the book is better than the movie. HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 changes the novel dramatically. In general, this is the case every time a book is adapted. Especially for Fahrenheit 451. For those of you who haven’t read the book, here’s a taste:
“Her face was like a snow covered island upon which rain might fall, but it felt no rain; over which clouds might pass their moving shadows, but she felt no shadow.”
That’s just poetry, right? Do yourselves a favor and read this book. It’s about a future where firemen are now tasked with burning books instead of putting out fires. Pure classic. At only 158 pages (around 790 tweets, millennials) it’s basically a micro read.
Ray Bradbury was so vivid and detailed in Fahrenheit 451 that a straight copy and paste job by HBO would’ve sufficed. But, at the same token, the writers and director are artists after all and should leave their own mark. But subtracting Bradbury’s key elements drains a story where there’s barely room for drainage. HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 changes the most basic elements of the story. For instance…
1 – No Hound!
No, not the warrior who’s afraid of fire on Game of Thrones, that guy wouldn’t survive one second in 451 land. We’re talking about the sleek, hunting machine that puts humans to sleep for a change.
Not having this doberman of destruction in the film is a grave disappointment. Whether it was due to budget restrictions or plot change, they could’ve used this beast for some seriously intense action sequences. In the novel, published in 1953, Bradbury even describes slo-mo moments that we’re used to today, using the hound as a focal point.
Guy Montag, played by the ever talented Michael B. Jordan, has a contentious relationship with the poisonous puppy from the beginning in the novel. It’s tasked with tracking down people who have somehow preserved books, Eels aka illegals in the HBO version, and tranquillising them if they try to escape.
The mechanical hound is actually sent sniffing and hunting for Montag in the book and serves as another fantastic metaphor against technology. The pets of the future only serve as coldly and obediently, the complete opposite of a fluff ball’s purpose today. No Scooby Snax would subdue this monstrosity.
The spark of omissions is set by HBO right out the gate.
2 – Mildred Montag & Professor Faber are M.I.A
Mildred & Professor Faber are representatives of the status quo in 451. Mildred represents the way people mask their feelings in the face of tyranny. This is reflected in her attempted suicide, then denial of it later on. All Mildred wants to do is converse in the parlor with her three TV walls. Perhaps, she will get a fourth one to hide from the horror of impending war in the real world.
Professor Faber, however, is Montag’s conscience trying to keep Montag together. They hatch a plan to setup fellow firemen by planting books in their residences. Doing so would make them see the error of their book burning ways, prompting them to abandon the practice altogether. An ear piece invented by Faber makes for some pretty heart pumping scenes throughout the book.
This subtle push and pull of complacent versus subversive ‘commoner’ would’ve been nice to see boiled down to these two characters. Instead they’re replaced by Yuxie, an Alexa/Siri home device that substitutes as your personal companion. That idea is as good as letting Siri Home have access to Best Buy reviews. While we’re at it, Hey, Alexa, what are some of HBO’s other Fahrenheit 451 changes?
3 – Clarisse McClellan is far from a freedom fighter
In the novel, Clarisse McClellan is meant to be the childhood curiosity that pushes Guy Montag’s own questioning over the edge. She’s the one who carefully prods and pries to get Montag to open up and feel the world around him again. She’s the physical manifestation of a seed that’s slowly growing within Guy for a year.
In the movie, she’s been hardened by the world around her, the exact version of Montag only serving the do-gooders deeds.
Her character may have been changed so she could represent the strong female lead. If that’s the case, a new character could’ve been introduced and moulded as such. Or, apply those values to the woman who sacrifices herself and sticks to her moral code by refusing to leave her burning books. There’s a delicate metaphor represented with Clarisse in the book and that is of a pure view of the world gone by, tucked away somewhere that won’t die in our minds. Speaking of minds…
4 – Memory is turned to ash
The keepers of the sacred word have invented a way to keep the precious tomes safely hidden away in our DNA called OMNIS. While I admit it’s a pretty cool idea, it’s also quite creepy. Just like real life RFID Chips. What this does is minimize the capacity of the human brain, namely, how it can and has preserved the written word for thousands of years.
The film does to the story what its memory dampener eye drops do to its characters. Though the film does a great job encapsulating that thought, it contradicts itself with the mutated DNA. Leave that to Marvel.
Bradbury even makes this detail well known as he describes human interactions as an indelible ‘thumbprint on the mind’. It’s an amazing way of looking at it really. While they keep the idea that the information can be stored within us, they’ve genetically infused it, abandoning the need for our brains. Why think or construct ideas when it’s already infused within us?
The humanity is almost removed with this change, fanning the flame of HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 changes.
5 – It’s not the end of the world, as we knew it
Montag and his cohorts make it out alive, each holding a book or part of a book in their minds. They’re far enough away from the city that they are safe when it’s nuked but not too far so that they can’t feel the death force from the impact. Once the city is levelled, they slowly walk towards it, bringing life to literature. It’s a great way to end the book, leaving room for hope that we can start over and make things better.
But the movie version is even more hopeful, even though we lose Montag. A biblical sacrifice mixed with a Noah’s ark olive branch aka OMNIS DNA delivering salvation to the world. It’s the ‘sacrifice one for the good of all’ method at work. Killmonger is going to have a few words with Montag in the afterlife.
Sifting through the ashes
Everything considered, HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 is definitely a decent sci-fi flick. Michael B. Jordan can do no wrong and Michael Shannon nails it as Beatty. While some of HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 changes may have missed the mark, it’s worth the watch. Especially if you’ve read the novel. The lesson: pick up a book kids! Reading is FUNdamental! That’s a Reynolds! (as in wrap…Reynolds wrap…ah, never mind.)
If you like comparisons as much as we do, check out How Riverdale Differs From The Archie Comics here.