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Ramin Bahrani turns up the heat in HBO's 'Fahrenheit 451'

Rick Bentley, Tribune News Service on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- Ramin Bahrani's efforts to adapt Ray Bradbury's novel "Fahrenheit 451" into a new movie for HBO came with a major obstacle. When Bradbury penned the 1953 tale of a future where all books are outlawed and burned, there was no internet, so eliminating the printed word was a less complicated proposition requiring only a single match.

In writing the screenplay with Amir Naderi, Bahrani had to factor in how Bradbury's "firemen" could do their job when everyone has access to any book ever printed through the cellphone they carry in their pocket.

"It wasn't easy. But you start to get into...how do you take Bradbury's themes, his ideas, which...he was so prophetic -- is happening now -- and adapt that," Bahrani says. "So it wouldn't be very hard to start to manipulate and control what's on the internet if things got more and more centralized. You see that on small scales too. But it was one of the big challenges and one of the exciting things about the adaptation."

His take on Bradbury's work has Michael B. Jordan ("Black Panther") portraying Montag, a young and enthusiastic fireman who begins to question his beliefs as he is exposed more and more to a world where words are so precious to some, they are willing to give their lives to protect them. The mandate the firemen live under is to achieve happiness and social harmony by burning books, whether they be physical or electronic, while deleting and altering history, art, photos and facts. Words are being replaced with simplistic emojis.

Most of the population, known as "natives," stay home, happily interacting with screens and getting anything they need from "Yuxie," an advanced AI personal assistant that listens to and watches them at all times. It is the "Eels" who fight to save books, knowledge and culture. When firemen catch them, they punish Eels in public burnings, which are broadcast to the city on giant building-screens.

Montag eventually begins to turn against his friend and mentor, Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon).

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The cast also includes Sofia Boutella ("The Mummy"), Lilly Singh ("Bad Moms), Khandi Alexander ("Scandal"), Martin Donovan ("Inherent Vice") and Dylan Taylor ("Covert Affairs").

Bahrani was willing to take on the challenge of an updated look at the classic novel because he's been a fan of the work since he was in high school. He again began to think about the provocative themes in the book three years ago as the world appeared to be catching up to what Bradbury had envisioned.

"Between the technological advancements in the last 20 years and politics, I think Bradbury's biggest concern about the erosion of culture is (relevant) now more than ever before," Bahrani says. "I am concerned will we actually be able to get ahead of the dam -- or is it just going to be a flood? -- and it will be up to some other generation to bring back all of Bradbury's heroes."

Bradbury was inspired to write his novel by book burnings done by the Nazis and even in American cities, along with the growth of publications like Readers Digest that condensed full books into much shorter snippets. Bahrani's inspiration is a world where the most reading some people do are the 140 characters in a tweet.

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