Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Fahrenheit 451

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, July 11, 1999

What’s this, Montag? Something wrong between you and the pole?

A very good adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s science fiction novel of the same name. “Firemen” have evolved from people who put out fires to people who create them—in order to burn books. Fireman Montag begins to question this existence after a run-in with a young girl on a train.

DirectorFrançois Truffaut
WritersRay Bradbury, Jean-Louis Richard, François Truffaut, David Rudkin, Helen Scott
Movie Rating7
Transfer Quality5
Overall Rating6
  • Letterbox

Fahrenheit 451 suffers from poor sound levels: the soundtrack is okay, but it is used to pound us over the head on occasion that “this is an important scene”. Since the movie is otherwise quite laid back, letting us freely decide what is important, the soundtrack can be very jarring.

Otherwise this is a very good movie, and a good adaptation of Bradbury’s story. The basic idea is this: books are illegal. Firemen have the job of burning them. The story follows the life of one of these firemen, Montag, a nice boring young man with a wife and no kids who is up for a promotion. (Having kids is bad—why is not explained in the movie, it just is.) His only real flaw is that he doesn’t like television or drugs, and he hasn’t anything to fill up the extra time that he has as a result. “Keep them busy,” says the Captain to him about new recruits, but Montag doesn’t realize this applies just as well to himself.

The movie alternates between humor and “horror”, sometimes in the same place. The “Family” interactive television show is the most immediately scary part of the movie, when actors on the television converse with, or appear to converse with, individual viewers.

As a nice touch, there are no written credits: the credits are spoken at the beginning of the film, along with close-ups of television antennas. Watch things like the newspapers that Montag reads, and the paperwork that the fire station uses. No written words are harmed in the making of this film except the ones that were burnt. They use numbers occasionally, and a few symbols to mark who has been arrested and who is at large, but by and large get by without much in writing.

The ending is very beautiful and touching. I’ll not spoil it for you. The two best parts are the ending up the river, and when the Captain is explaining the evils and stupidity of books to Montag, in a secret library that they’ve just found and are about to destroy.

It is interesting to watch the titles that Truffaut chooses to burn. The Marquis de Sade gets burned into ashes along with Jean Genet and Henry Miller. “Burn them all,” says the Captain, tossing “Mein Kampf” onto the floor. Reading is a forbidden fruit, a motif that Truffaut may be playing with: watch the use and misuse of apples throughout the movie.

The movie was made in 1966, and the set design and props reflect that time. Telephones are rotary, and have separate microphones and receivers, just as phones of that time did. But they do have phones in every room in the house. They also appear to have widescreen televisions. There may or may not be a population problem of some kind. Children are discouraged, heavily (Montag would probably not have received his promotion if he had children), but houses are laid out spaciously (and people live in houses, not in apartments). One of the more humorous parts is when Montag has to call for medical assistance for his wife, and medicine has been reduced to a sort of high-tech garage mechanic style (performed by two men with lower-class United Kingdom accents).

The movie is in English. It is Truffaut’s only English-language film. The actors speak in a variety of accents. It was filmed in Pinewood studios. Montag (Oskar Werner) speaks in a vaguely German accent. The aforementioned nurses speak in a possibly cockney accent? I’m afraid that’s just a wild guess on my part. There is no indication within the movie where it takes place. It could be anywhere, although it looks more British or European countryside than American. The unnamed town has a very “village” atmosphere.

If there is anything I dislike about the movie, it would be the ease with which people burn. They fall unconscious very quickly, making burning a relatively easy way to die. I haven’t personally seen any burnings, but the descriptions of witch trials that I’m familiar with make it sound like a horrible, long, tortuous way to die.

There are no extras on this DVD. The main menu is just the list of chapters. There are definite problems with the transfer, though that is to be expected in a film this old, and nothing that really gets in the way of the movie.

I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to want to watch this often enough to justify purchasing it. There are some parts I will definitely want to see again—but I will probably watch it again before I return it, since I have it for seven days. I do recommend that you put this on your list of “must see” movies, whether purchase or rental.

Recommendation: Rent

DirectorFrançois Truffaut
WritersRay Bradbury, Jean-Louis Richard, François Truffaut, David Rudkin, Helen Scott
Based onFahrenheit 451
Spoken languageEnglish
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