This week marked the birthday of visionary science fiction icon Ray Bradbury. He was dubbed the “Poet of the Pulps” in 1953 for his lyrical style, which lent creditability to a genre that often struggled for legitimacy. With over 600 short stories and 27 novels to his credit, Bradbury’s works have always attracted filmmakers and producers looking for descriptive, emotional, and engaging narratives. We’ve highlighted just a few of our favorites, but feel free to share your own picks, below.
Something Wicked this Way Comes
A sinister carnival and a top-hat wearing Jonathan Pryce terrified children everywhere in 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, based on Bradbury’s 1962 novel of the same name. The author considered the Disney retelling one of the finer adaptations of his work. It’s rather chilling and evocative for a movie from the Mouse House, depicting a fall from rosy-cheeked innocence when Pryce’s diabolical magician reveals the dark secrets of a small town.
The only English-language film directed by François Truffaut (his first film shot in color), the French New Wave icon’s adaptation of Bradbury’s 1966 classic, Fahrenheit 451, captures the spirit of the dystopian saga. Bradbury took issue with some of the casting, but felt satisfied with the results. “The mistake they made with the first one was to cast Julie Christie as both the revolutionary and the bored wife,” he told LA Weekly. The film also features inspired cinematography from Don’t Look Now director Nicolas Roeg.
If you haven’t seen the 1993 Hanna-Barbera-animated TV movie The Halloween Tree before, we hope you’ll dig in and embrace Bradbury’s spooky, yet charming coming-of-age tale. Bonus: Bradbury provided the voice of the narrator and wrote the screenplay, while Leonard Nimoy lent his voice to character Mr. Moundshroud.
Science Fiction Hall of Fame short story “Mars Is Heaven!” was one of almost 30 Bradbury tales adapted by EC Comics during the 1950s. Former Mad Magazine editor Al Feldstein penned a gripping remake for Weird Science #18 in 1953, with art by legendary artist Wally Wood. The EC Comics and Bradbury relationship started off on the wrong foot, as the company started using the author’s work without permission. In typical Bradbury fashion, the writer sent a clever letter to editor Bill Gaines requesting that EC do the right thing:
Just a note to remind you of an oversight. You have not as yet sent on the check for $50.00 to cover the use of secondary rights on my two stories “The Rocket Man” and “Kaleidoscope.” … I feel this was probably overlooked in the general confusion of office work, and look forward to your payment in the near future.
The Ray Bradbury Theater
The Ray Bradbury Theater TV anthology grabbed viewers right from the opening with an eerie synth-tinged score and the shadowy figure of Bradbury lurking around his eclectic office — “one-half exhilaration, exactly one-half terror.” The stories were usually culled from Bradbury’s short story canon. Many featured famous actors during the start of their career. This clip from “The Screaming Woman” stars baby Drew Barrymore.
It Came from Outer Space
Based on Bradbury’s short story “The Meteor,” 1953’s It Came from Outer Space was Universal Pictures’ first 3-D film. Science fiction filmmaking icon Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man) directed the tale of accidental alien invaders. “I wanted to treat the invaders as beings who were not dangerous, and that was very unusual,” Bradbury once noted. He submitted to different narratives to the studio, featuring evil and innocent aliens. “The studio picked the right concept, and I stayed on.” The screenplay is credited to Harry Essex (Creature from the Black Lagoon), but a large portion of the script was copied from an original film treatment by Bradbury.
The Twilight Zone
Bradbury wrote the teleplay for the 100th episode of The Twilight Zone about a robotic grandmother, adapting his 1969 short story, “I Sing the Body Electric.” It wouldn’t be a Bradbury tale without a little literary wit, which he maintained in the episode, keeping his nod to Walt Whitman (in the title and a scene featured above).
The making of John Huston’s 1956 adaptation of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick was a tumultuous experience for Bradbury. The author admitted to the director that he had “never been able to read the damned thing,” and later described writing the screenplay as “agonizing work, subconscious work.” After ensuing creative difficulties with the filmmaker, Bradbury completed the script:
I got out of bed one morning in London, looked in the mirror, and said, “I am Herman Melville!” I sat down at the typewriter, and in eight hours of passionate, red-hot writing, I finished the screenplay of Moby-Dick, and I ran across London, I threw the script in John Huston’s lap, and said, “There! It’s done!” He read it and said, “My god, what happened?” I said, “Behold: Herman Melville.”
The film debuted to mostly positive ratings. Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote:
One could have plenty of quarrels with this as an adaptation of the Herman Melville novel, but it’s still one of the better John Huston films of the 50s. Ray Bradbury collaborated with Huston on the script, and some of the poetry of the original is retained
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
If you want to see what Tim Burton was up to before directing his supernatural comedy classic Beetlejuice, watch this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, titled “The Jar.” During the series’ 1985 revival, newly filmed stories were added to the mix and colorized versions of Hitchcock introductions were added, “The Jar” features Burton-esque lighting and quirky characters in a story about a struggling artist (Griffin Dunne). You can read Bradbury’s short story version over here.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen was lifelong pals with Bradbury. The two even joined a Science Fiction League founded by Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman in 1939. They also worked together on the 1953 creature feature The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn” became the basis for the film after producers ditched their original concept. They snatched up rights to the author’s story hoping to bank on Bradbury’s reputation for thrilling science fiction.