Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Cast: Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, George C. Scott
"Fahrenheit 451" is one of those rarest of movies – an ambitious and critical work that does not actually end once it has finished running. Based on the 1960 novel by author Ray Bradbury, "Fahrenheit 451" is an insightful study of our society and the fears of the Cold War. It presents us with an oppressive future society in which reading is considered criminal conduct. This society is brought to life by the visionary French director Francois Truffaut.
Montag (Oskar Werner) is a fireman in this future – a man whose job it is to incinerate books and the property of those who read them. The movie’s title plays off this, as Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper catches fire. In this vision of the future, firemen are the executive watchdogs of an all-controlling culture that does not allow the written word and marks offenders as first-degree criminals. One day, on his way home from work, Clarisse (Julie Christie) approaches Montag and questions him about his profession and the damage it causes on society. She gives herself away as a reader and challenges Montag to decide on the evils of reading for himself by experiencing it firsthand. Montag, intrigued by the rebellious Clarisse and the thought that there might actually be a better life to be found in the books, steals a book from one of his jobs and begins reading it at night. The book devastates him emotionally, freeing his mind, expanding his horizons. He becomes a devoted reader, torn between the call of his duty and his adoration for books. When his conformist wife (also played by Julie Christie) discovers Montag’s reading habit, she denounces her own husband. Montag is declared an outlaw, on the run from the regime, searching for a better future.
Francois Truffaut portrays this movie’s society as frighteningly real, with a multitude of fascistic references and communist undertones. The social pressure that is put on each individual shines through on various occasions, giving us a better understanding of the dilemma in which Montag finds himself. By sheerest non-coincidence, Montag is the German term for "Monday", mirroring the expelled character "Friday" in Daniel Dafoe’s classic novel Robinson Crusoe. The people in this futuristic vision lead a dreary live without any individual responsibilities, succumbing to an oppressive rule. The only meaning in their shallow lives is to work, obey, and watch manipulative TV shows. Neither personal nor intellectual freedom are allowed in this uniform, permanently-supervised society.
The world of "Fahrenheit 451" is masterfully directed and adapted for the silver screen by the late Francois Truffaut. This lethargic and dreary world is portrayed as a dull and colorless environment, perfectly syncopated by purposeful usage of color accents. It is a rather slow moving movie, yet also a deep and demanding one. While the relevance to today’s society is not as pronounced as it has been back in 1966, "Fahrenheit 451" is still a movie that will leave you pondering our own society and the decay of social values. One really nice touch is that the movie’s credits themselves are not printed, but spoken at the beginning of the film. It puts the viewer into the right mindset from the very first second. The sonorous, distorted voice from a megaphone also adds to the creepy introduction of this rigid and omni-controlled society.
"Fahrenheit 451" comes as a 1.85:1 <$PS,letterboxed> transfer on a single sided DVD disc from Image Entertainment. The image is stunning in its level of detail and sharpness, with no compression artifacts. The movie does not show any scratches or signs of wear, which is surprising, considering the movie’s age. The colors are rock solid and seem to jump off the screen. They are rendered natural and not even the fiery red of the fire trucks exhibits any signs of <$chroma,chroma noise>. Bernard Herrman has contributed an excellent, unobtrusive, but powerful musical score to the movie that comes in a crisp and clear mono <$DD,Dolby Digital> transfer. This disc has only an English language track and is also close captioned in English only. This is sad, considering the high percentage of Latino citizens in the US, not to mention and the Franco-Canadian population, who might also have greatly enjoyed and appreciated this excellent film.
Although "Fahrenheit 451" is an old movie, it is still a very impressive piece of film history. It is well crafted, with every piece fitting neatly into the other. It also has a loud political message, teaching us about the importance of intellectual freedom. It is a demanding disc and as such an outstanding antithesis to the many shallow movies available on DVD.