Ray Bradbury wrote "Fahrenheit 451" in a time where technology was used for an analog existence. Tools of the trade, using your hands, making something immediate, personal, and close gave people their own sense of independence. It took Bradbury only nine days to write the entirety of his own paperless dystopia on a rented typewriter in the UCLA library. The irony then is just as potent as it is today. People depended on technology to have independence in the world, but new technology is taking away that freedom.
Most readers were introduced to banned books from the required reading lists in middle school. Most of these banned books were science fiction: "1984", "A Clockwork Orange", "Brave New World", "The Handmaid's Tale". The genre is multiplicative, bending the facts to make a social commentary to get to a truth. Having read "Fahrenheit 451" three times, the plot reads as succinctly and detailed as a movie script. The future however holds true to an unfortunate fact: a book cannot be read on the silver screen.
Michael B. Jordan is the enured firefighter Guy Montag and Michael Shannon is his ever sly and stern fire captain, Captain Beatty. The relationship between them remains at an uncomfortable yet curious arms length. The hypocritical yet severe use of poetic language by Beatty (especially in reference to a famous whale; the script for which Bradbury wrote for film) was a nice nod and stays true to the authoritarian novel in this respect. This world of "Fahrenheit 451" has its advances but it is not without its detractions.
It is often better to be in chains than to be free. - Franz Kafka
The plot of burning books to keep society from knowing anything potenitally crippling, harmful, or truthful to remain oblivious but happy is there. A society of people called Natives, a gang called Eels, a digital network called Dark 9 run by a tech hive mind syndicate called the Ministry, a voice-activated equivalent of Siri called Yuxie, and Oculus eye drops are also somehow in the mix. These technologies and the world-building as a result of them felt Orwellian and too much of a contrast from Bradbury's novel. They distract the viewer, who with any luck remains a reader, from getting back to the basics of an analog world. A film about burning books based off a book about burning books is a double irony; "Fahrenheit 451" is a book to be read, not watched. If that is the point, how many people are really reading into this?
Like any book, every page can't make it on screen, but a reference to a page rather than through a scene would be enough to get the idea across. The irony that HBO has thrust onto its viewers is that Hollywood intersperses quick moments of entertaining actions and visuals with a heavy hand, something Ray Bradbury despised with new cinema and television programming and broadcasting. There is no time to be a critical thinker as you witness a film or news reel move faster than you can see it. Images are easier to digest than they are to think of, but the meaning of them will be lost when the expectation is to keep the attention of audiences.
The Eels, the replacement for the book's defunct English professor Faber, a member of the Book People, upload text images, e-books to the Dark 9 or the internet. They are the readers and writers who will not part with self-expression and new perspective. The Natives are a digitally simple society that hate literature or what they call grafitti who use the Dark 9's emoji-like language in place of letters to represent books in a literal and debased sense (a person running, a lightbulb, and a house represents the title and entirety of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse). HBO's adaptation shows a society that is desensitized to spoon-fed information with no context for the "fast facts" which by today's standards is how people read, and read very little of, the brain food they chew.
It is better to be happy than free. - The Bill of Rights
The movie shows a reflection of our current technological times and proves that ignorance is not bliss. The slogans like "Stay Vivid" and "See Something, Say Something" inspire and instill the I-tell-you-to-jump-you-say-how-high mentality. We didn't need Montag to cash in on the presidency however: time to burn for America again? HBO's Montag says they burned every book in America, but he's not afraid to burn a few servers with e-book files on them either. Over kill much? Isn't there a delete key in the future? It's forced clichés like this that make for bad writing, bad screenwriting, and bad social commentary dealing with a theme that reaches farther than politics.
HBO must only watch films because they neglected to read a few pages. Clarisse McClellan is working as a double agent for the firefighters instead of being the elusive, born-in-the-wrong-age free spirit readers know her to be. Granger is now Montag's father instead of another Eel or member of the Book People reading off the grid. Montag's wife Mildred is nonexistent and there is still no Mechanical Hound, two perfect examples of the unhappiness and undesirable fear that ignorance brings. A firetruck tells us the movie also takes place in Cleveland, Ohio, a state away from Bradbury's birthplace of Waukegan, Illinois, which is fair; the novel takes place in an unspecified city.
The wackiest plot point of course is the one that goes unexplained but accepted, the one that makes the plot passable. Science fiction was not made exclusively for wonderful excuses like lasers and teleportation, that is called sci-fi. Ray Bradbury's novel dealt with the dangers of super science, nuclear warfare, and HBO has instead taken Ray's return to nature too literally. If you watch until the last twenty minutes, you'll know the difference between science fiction and a wonderful excuse right away.
The one thing HBO did right was capture the theme of censorship, how we censor ourselves from being more open-minded, and that even when it burns us, we learn from the fire's touch. As Ray put it, without libraries there is no past and no future and "if you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn."