Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation

To read Ray Bradbury’s chef-d’oeuvre, Farenheit 451, some 56 years after its original publication is to be gobsmacked all over again by its proleptic acuity, passion, poetry, and polish. On the predictive tip: A housewife and her interactive flatscreens: “They mailed me my part this morning? When it comes time for the missing lines, they all look at me out of the three walls and I say the lines.” The death of old media: “I remember the newspapers dying like huge moths. No one wanted them back. No one missed them.” Political correctness: “The bigger the market, Montag, the less you handle controversy? All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean.” ESPN: “Organize and organize and super-organize super-super sports.” Diminishing attention spans and Wikipedia: “Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fit a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume.” With its acid-tongued depiction of suburban anomie and national cultural vacuity, the novel holds its own with John Cheever’s short stories, and with Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), a title almost perfect for Bradbury’s book as well. Tim Hamilton’s loving and skillful efforts to translate this small perfection into a graphic novel result in a certain stolid gravitas and eye-candy appeal. It righteously honors the original’s core message and the pure storyline, but ultimately fails to capture any of the fever-dream intensity of Bradbury’s prose. Nor does it adequately provide any objective correlative in graphical terms to the protagonist’s deracinated mental states. Hamilton’s drawings, somewhat reminiscent of Eduardo Risso’s, shine with naturalistic verve in an intelligent palette. His page compositions are always alluring and conducive to narrative flow. He utilizes visual tricks of the trade to overcome the novel’s limitations as artwork. For instance, on page 74, parts of Faber’s long speech are given not as talking-head shots, but as shots of the things being referenced. But two choices conspire against a perfect rendition. In search of universalism and relevance, Hamilton deliberately eschews any futurism, either of the retro or postmodern sort. He gives us a puzzling 2009 landscape which jars with all the accumulated speculative elements, rendering them logically impossible. And his failure to invent a visual vocabulary to reflect Montag’s many bouts of stream-of-consciousness insanity detracts from our insights into what made one special book-burning fireman flame out so spectacularly.