Ray Bradbury was a huge influence on the film world too
The death of Ray Bradbury Tuesday night at the age of 91 throws into relief not only his literary legacy but his abundant influence on the movie world.
Starting with the Jack Arnold-directed "It Came From Outer Space," about the crash-landing of a mysterious craft in the Arizona desert, in 1953, Bradbury's work has formed the basis of numerous films.
Rod Steiger starred in a 1969 adaptation of his futuristic short-story collection "The Illustrated Man." In 1983, Jason Robards took on Bradbury's horror novel, "Something Wicked This Way Comes," about a pair of teenage boys who experience nightmares when a carnival comes to town.
And in perhaps the most notable big-screen spin on Bradbury's work, French New Wave pioneer Francois Truffaut helmed a version of Bradbury's dystopian book-burning classic "Fahrenheit 451" in 1966.
Bradbury's stories and novels also yielded many television adaptations, with the author also writing and creating the cable series "The Ray Bradbury Theater," a collection of standalone science-fiction and fantasy episodes.
In perhaps the most unusual collaboration between Bradbury and Hollywood, the author wrote the screenplay for the 1956 adaptation of "Moby Dick," which was directed by John Huston and starred Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab.
New versions of Bradbury's work are scattered around Hollywood in various stages of development--a "Martian Chronicles" at Paramount, a "Farenheit 451" at Universal, an "illustrated Man" at Warner Bros.
Maybe more important than any particular film adaptation, however, is how Bradbury's aesthetic influenced a filmmaking zetigeist we now take for granted.
In print, he is often credited with elevating a genre from pulp to literature. His work had a similar effect on the movies, paving the way for the creation and broad popular acceptance of humanity-infused science-fiction hits ranging from "Star Wars" to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" to "Avatar."
[Updated at 9:56 a.m., June 6: "Close Encounters" director and science-fiction maestro Steven Spielberg released a statement calling Bradbury "my muse for the better part of my sci-fi career.... On the world of science fiction and fantasy and imagination he is immortal."]
Bradbury also left his mark on the fantasy genre, broadly defined, that would eventually yield "Harry Potter" and a host of other cultural landmarks. (Bradbury himself preferred the fantasy designation. “I'm not a science fiction writer,” he once said, “I've written only one book of science fiction [“Fahrenheit 451”]. All the others are fantasy. Fantasies are things that can't happen, and science fiction is about things that can happen.”)
It's perhaps fitting that Ridley Scott's "Prometheus," emerging as the science fiction-fantasy hit of the summer, opens in the U.S. in the same week that Bradbury has died. It's hard to imagine it, or so many other high-profile films, without him.
Photo: "Fahrenheit 451." Credit: Universal Pictures