HBO's take on Ray Bradbury's classic novel Fahrenheit 451 will be different from the source material but will stay true to it thematically, co-writer, executive producer and director Ramin Bahrani told reporters Thursday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour.
The drama, which HBO pursued for years, is based on Bradbury's 1953 dystopian tale, which depicts a future where media is an opiate, history is outlawed and "firemen" burn books. It revolves around Montag (Michael B. Jordan, who also exec produces), a young fireman who forsakes his world, battles his mentor and struggles to regain his humanity.
Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Boardwalk Empire) plays Beatty, Montag's fire captain and mentor. Sofia Boutella (The Mummy, Kingsman: The Secret Service) portrays Clarisse, an informant caught between the competing interests of Montag and Beatty.
"It was daunting to take on Bradbury because he's such a genius and a legend," said Bahrani. "Me and so many people love his work. When you do an adaptation, you're going to change things. I knew I would upset somebody. I tried to stay true to the themes, even if I changed certain characters and plot lines. To take them and modernize them. It wasn't easy."
Bahrani, who co-wrote the telepic alongside Amir Naderi and reteams with Shannon after he starred in their feature 99 Homes, confessed that he told his agent at one point that he should call HBO and refund the network's money because he felt that he couldn't finish the script. He spoke at length about the parallels between Bradbury's 1953 work and what's happening in the world today.
"I don't want to focus so much on [President Donald Trump] because I don't want to excuse the 30 to 40 years prior to that; he's just an exaggeration of it now," he said. "I don't want us to forget what Bradbury said — that we asked for this. We elected [politicians] over many decades, we're electing this thing in my pocket [pulls out his cellphone]. Between the technological advancements in the last 20 years and politics, Bradbury's biggest concern about the erosion of culture is now."
Bahrani said he never had the opportunity to meet with Bradbury before his death but did an extensive amount of research, watching and reading multiple interviews and more. "Bradbury's novel was set in the future where he was predicting having screens on the wall that you could interact with. Social media and supercomputers like my phone are real now. [The film] is not set in the distant future, like Bradbury's novel, but an alternate tomorrow where technology is here right now — like Amazon's Alexa," he said. "One of the things in the film is storing knowledge, books in DNA. This exists now. All your drives could be stored 100-fold in DNA. There was no reason to put it in the future; it's just [set in] a strange tomorrow."
Bahrani noted that he has loved Bradbury's book since college and felt it was important to address the wealth of knowledge that exists on the internet as well in his take on the source material. "How do you take Bradbury's themes — some were so prophetic — it wouldn't be hard to start to manipulate and control what's happening on the internet," he noted. "Bradbury was concerned about mass entertainment — Reader's Digest, short soundbites. He thought all that would destroy concepts of thinking, reading and knowledge. [We] get into tweets and Wiki entries, which are shorter versions of Reader's Digest. We're all guilty about reading headlines. That goes to what one of the things I think is different between Bradbury's novel and 1984. Bradbury says we've asked for this. In the movie, it's Sofia's character who says that to Michael."
Jordan, who was scheduled to appear, was unable to make the TCA panel as he was home with the flu. Shannon was in Chicago directing a play.
Fahrenheit 451 will premiere in the spring on HBO. A specific date has not yet been determined. Watch the teaser for the movie, below.