Fahrenheit 451 (2018)

(On Cable TV, May 2018) The idea of remaking Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for the digital age is promising, what with the mutation of digital information, the superficiality of online discourse and the vague contempt that some people (fools!) have developed for paper books. Alas, while the 2018 version of Fahrenheit 451 does manage to score a few points, it falls short of what should have been possible given those ideas. As a vision of a dystopian America in which books (or any non-state-approved information, for that matter) are outlawed, it’s familiar despite a few social media flourishes. Canada once again stands proudly as the nearest haven, something that even most Canadians would have a bit of trouble believing given the troubles that American regularly exports across the border (guns, right-wing nuttiness, bad movies…) even when it has a sane government. This Fahrenheit 451 remake, at least, has managed to snag great actors: Michael B. Jordan is usually dependable no matter the material he’s given, and that goes triple for Michael Shannon as a complex authority figure. I always enjoy seeing Sofia Boutella, and that’s also true for Khandi Alexander even in too-brief roles. The plot is your standard dystopian “hero meets a cute rebel, discovers hidden truths, blows up government” kind of thing, which would be fine if it sustained energetic details and set pieces but that’s not the case here. In fact, some of the scenes are more ridiculous than anything else: as much as I wanted to like the sequence in which the protagonist discovers a library and a militant reader, I couldn’t help but have a quick (guilty) laugh when she revealed a suicide-bomber vest of books. The third act piles up modern nonsense over dull plotting, making science-literate viewers check out well before the ending. Production values are fine (especially for a made-for-TV movie) but Fahrenheit 451’s script simply doesn’t go as far as it could, seems afraid to poke at genuinely dangerous trends and simply fails to ignite like any good rabble-rousing anti-dystopian work should.

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