Monday, December 22, 2008

Nostalgia Just Ain't What It Used to Be

Having worshiped Ray Bradbury since I was twelve, I was thrilled to find out that The Ray Bradbury Theater - an 80's cable series dramatizing some of his short stories - was finally available on DVD. I had missed it the first time around, as back then my parents thought that cable = Satan, (they actually have FIOS now.) Netflix only had the first two disks from a set of five for some silly reason, but Amazon was offering the box set along with The Martian Chronicles for about $25. Cool beans.

Let me start off by saying the DVDs are of unbeliveably crappy quality. There are videos on YouTube that look better than this. The DVDs are about five hours each. Maybe six or seven DVDs would have been better than five. Consumers can buy a stack of fifty blanks for an average of $40 at Best Buy and a DVD publisher probably gets an even better deal for buyuing in bulk, so I can't imagine that the extra DVDs would cut into the bottom line that much.

Now we come to the adaptations themselves. Hmmm...

Perhaps the oddest problem is that Ray himself wrote the scripts. Bradbury's stories can be broken up into eras: Horror, Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Nostalgic. (Clive Barker made up the wonderful phrase, "to wax Bradburian" to describe nostalgic writing.) Sadly, this TV shows suffers from the same problem as Ray's script for his own Something Wicked This Way Comes: the source material was written by a young man in his horror phase and adapted by an old man in his nostalgic phase. (Seriously - how terrifying could a Disney horror movie be?) Many of the stories are changed, usually for the worse. Sometimes it's an updating of a 40's era story to the 80s. (In The Man Upstairs, for example, the plot device of a stained-glass window is changed to some sort of silly captain video binoculars) In some cases, it's taking a connection that the reader made for his or herself and making it painfully obvious for the viewers. (In The Playground, the annoying kid now chants "I'm the daddy, you are Steve" over and over again.) In most cases, however, the problem is simply that some five to ten page short stories - no matter how well written - just can't be stretched to 1/2 hour episodes. (The Pedestrian is a perfect example: An Orwellian robot cop arrests a guy for taking a walk. That's it.)

It's not all bad, maybe I'm just nitpicking because I love the stories so much. The Coffin is very well done (and it's pretty funny to see Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) playing a bad guy while the CEO of OCP (Dan O'Herlihy) plays the goody.) Michael Ironside's portrayal of a not-to-smart murderer in The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl is another gem, and played out almost like an old episode of Alfred Hitchkock Presents. I have to wait until I get the rest of the DVDs, but here's hoping there's more gems than turkeys.

Any other life-long Ray Bradbury geeks out there?



String said...

Actually that just reminded me that I read most of those years ago, and saw some...I agree, some can't be filmed right - and thanks for the heads up on the DVD's - I won't buy them. I was considering buying every book Vonnegut ever wrote, just to have them...wonder if someone has done a compilation yet? Now I can't remember for the life of me what happened to my Bradbury books...humm...

french toast girl said...

Me me me me me me me meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee... I love me some Ray. He's one of my top ten favorite authors ever.

RHoward said...

I still claim Ray Bradbury as my favorite author; and my favorite short story is The Rocket. I always hoped for a film adaptation of Fire And Ice although I'm not too sure on how they'd pull off the rapid aging.