Ray Bradbury has rarely been well served by the movie adaptations of his work.
Or is the situation really that dire? Somehow one forgets that there have been several quite good adaptations: Fahrenheit 451 is excellent, even if it is more Truffaut than Bradbury, and Something Wicked This Way Comes is nearly perfect – or it would be if it weren’t for all the excessive special effects someone shoved into it in post. Bradbury scripted all the episodes of The Ray Bradbury Theater and for the most part they are quite good.
But then there are the clunkers, like The Illustrated Man, with its weird psycho-sexual emphasis and its general warped 70s strangeness for the sake of strangeness. Or the Richard Matheson penned The Martian Chronicles miniseries, whose first two parts are quite good until it all falls apart in the third with its attempts to tie a collection of short stories into a traditional Hollywood narrative, or the gloriously absurd guilty pleasure of A Sound of Thunder which tramples Bradbury’s dazzling jewel of a short story underfoot in the process of making one of the craziest popcorn movies ever.
Every writer has had this problem, but one wonders whether Bradbury’s vision is too intelligent – and too human – for Hollywood.
Perhaps the least seen of his film adaptations were two movies made in the dying days of the Soviet Union. “The Veldt” is one of Bradbury’s most familiar stories and it forms the basis for a much larger canvas built from snippets of some of Ray’s other stories.
The film is also the darkest of any of the adaptations of his work ever made. Like many of the SF films that came out of the dying days of the Evil Empire, The Veldt portrays a crumbling world, where terrible things are happening and no one seems to be able to stop them.
While a lot of people have complained that this darkness doesn’t fit Bradbury very well, they may not be familiar with his early horror stories. It took me a while, for example, to recognize that one story taken from The Martian Chronicles had been grafted onto a far, darker story which I remember but haven’t been able to identify (possibly “Pillar of Fire“, but I can’t be certain). And “The Veldt” itself is one of his darkest stories as it deals with one of his constant themes: our fear of the strangers in our midst – our children. Except, perhaps, in the Soviet Union, where the schools taught children to inform on their parents, this goes well beyond what Ray had in mind.
While “The Veldt” was clearly a science fiction story, many of the other stories tied in here are more horror or fantasy, including a mysterious opening in which Knights in armor try to fight a “dragon.” Another sequence, with a man constantly calling a friend to listen to the sea, sounds like one of Ray’s more serious non-genre stories from the later part of his career.
However, I have no idea what to make of the film’s final sequence, with one of the characters plowing a field with the Cross. Whether or not it came from Bradbury, its purpose and meaning are baffling.
The Veldt is not so much frightening as dark and unsettling, set against a world which no longer seems to know what it is doing or why. This is not – and it has no intention of being – The Electric Grandmother.
But it is a good adaptation? I find that hard to answer. It is a fascinating film and surrounds its often doomed characters with a lovingly detailed crumbling world. Somehow, though, it is hard to picture the gloomy mansion shown here with the up-to-date electric house of the original story.
Still, the film has much to recommend it, and is probably worth a look – as long as you can distance yourself enough to watch it as Soviet era horror film and not a Ray Bradbury film.
(english subtitles available here)