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Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Director: François Truffaut

review by Gary Couzens

In the near future, books and reading are banned. Montag (Oskar Werner) is a fireman, whose job is paradoxically to start fires rather than put them out... in other words, to find and burn forbidden books. His wife Linda (Julie Christie) stays at home and toes the line; entertained by her female friends and interactive TV shows. But then Montag meets Clarisse (Christie again), a rebellious teacher, and soon finds himself picking up a book and beginning to read...
   Fahrenheit 451 - the temperature where book paper catches fire and burns - is based on Ray Bradbury's novel, which he claims is his only work of science fiction. (His other works, including The Martian Chronicles, are all fantasy.) It became Truffaut's first film in colour - shot in bright poster hues, especially the reds, by Nicolas Roeg - and his only one entirely in the English language. Truffaut himself didn't speak English, and oddly enough for an American-financed film made in the UK, much of the communication on set was either in French or via an interpreter. Oskar Werner was cast as Montag, a role that was originally to be played by Terence Stamp.
   This is a flawed film, though there's quite a lot of interest still. Truffaut's sensibility was fundamentally a warm and emotional one, which unchecked could descend into sentimentality. Fahrenheit 451 is a cold and rather distanced film, with most emotion provided by Bernard Herrmann's fine score. Werner (who had worked very successfully with Truffaut on Jules et Jim and had become a Hollywood star in between with Ship Of Fools) seems awkward and wooden, which is only emphasised by his German accent. In any case, Cyril Cusack as the chief fireman acts him off the screen. Julie Christie intentionally plays her two roles in a similar way, only distinguished by clothes and hairstyle. Look out for a brief appearance from Mark Lester, not to mention the distinctive opening credits, which are not printed but spoken by Alex Scott.
   In the end, Fahrenheit 451 is a dispassionate film, from a director who was far from that. It's often been suggested what difference it would make if it were films that were banned, instead of books. A remake has been rumoured from Mel Gibson, with Frank Darabont directing, but its status is unknown as I write this (January 2004).
   Universal have done a good job with this DVD (regions 2 + 4). The film was shot hard-matted in 1.85:1 and the DVD transfer is anamorphic, in that correct ratio. The picture is good too, with strong colours (especially those reds) though overall it is a little soft and there is some grain, though nothing too distracting. The sound is the original mono (Dolby digital 2.0), either the original English or French and German dubs. Subtitles and menu screens are provided in all three languages.
   The extras package is impressive too. The package claims that the commentary is by Christie solo, but in fact she's joined by most people still alive who were associated with the film plus some others: Ray Bradbury, producer Lewis M. Allen, editor Thom Noble, Truffaut authority Annette Insdorf, and DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau. Nicolas Roeg is the major absentee. (Truffaut, Werner, Cusack and Herrmann are all dead.) It's an informative commentary, well edited. Inevitably much of the same information turns up in The Making Of Fahrenheit 451 (45 minutes). There are two other featurettes - an 11-minute interview with Ray Bradbury, and The Music Of Fahrenheit 451 (17 minutes), plus a stills gallery (self-navigating and running at five minutes). Finally, there's an unused title sequence (one minute), visually the same as the one used but with a woman's voice - that of Gillian Lewis, who plays the TV announcer in the film.
Fahrenheit 451

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