As a writer, I often cite John Steinbeck and Hunter S. Thompson as significant influences, and it’s true. But they are writers I discovered as a teen, long after my affection for words and stories had firmly taken hold. They are writers I came to love.
But they were not my first love.
My first love was presented to me as a set of paperback books filled with short stories about time travel and glistening silver rockets shooting through space.
They were stories about electric grandmothers and ancient races laid low by the folly of man. They were the sort of stories young boys identify with and are affected by, written in beautiful prose by a writer who continued, over the course of a very long and prolific career, to write nostalgically about the future.
The writer, Ray Bradbury, was one of the talents we lost in 2012. For the remainder of the year I’m dedicating this column to significant talents, some legendary and some unsung, that passed in 2012. As a writer, I felt like a writer should be first.
Though Bradbury is best known for his short stories and occasional novels, he did work in Hollywood some, adapting his own work and the work of others. Here is a list of five favorites either inspired by or written by Bradbury – a talent that will be sorely missed.
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953): One of Bradbury’s more imaginative, and perhaps even romantic, short stories was titled The Fog Horn. It’s about an ancient sea monster that falls in love with the lonely call of a lighthouse fog horn. While the horn plays a minimal role in this somewhat standard giant monster movie, it’s an interesting atomic parable that predates the more famous Godzilla by a year.
MOBY DICK (1956): When director John Huston, another fan of Bradbury’s singular style, asked the writer to pen the screenplay for his dream project, Bradbury had to admit he had never made it through the epic whaling tome. It might have made him the perfect man for the job. Though far from a perfect film – lead actor Gregory Peck was far too young to be believable as a captain at the end of his career – he kept the story relatively lean while retaining the mythic qualities of the original novel.
FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966): Bradbury’s original was a pointed attack on censorship and the slippery slope involved when governments become involved in the business of dictating decency. The film version is often derided as being a sterile art film that loses much of that message. Whatever your opinion, this story of a man in the business of burning books is an interesting intellectual exercise.
THE ILLUSTRATED MAN (1969): Bradbury, at his best, was a short-story writer. This anthology film, which uses a carnival tattooed man’s illustrated body as the starting point for a series of creepy tales, takes some of Bradbury’s best and presents them as short, sharp shocks that are frightening, engaging and inspiring.
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983): I’m not going to lie to you, when I saw this movie in its initial release, it freaked me out. Certainly part of the problem was Disney had no idea how to promote its dark-carnival movie, so nobody was sure what it was about. But there was also the story itself, the story of youth and experience, of innocence and guilt, of good and evil. It had so much going on that it reminded me, once again, why I loved Bradbury. I think I’ll watch it again because, truth be told, I love him still.