It came from Ray Bradbury

Classic sci-fi movie never credited to its initial writer

'Fahrenheit 451'

A scene from the film "Fahrenheit 451." (July 12, 2012)

Though known primarily as an author, Ray Bradbury had a fixation with Hollywood. It was inevitable that his skills as a science fiction writer would eventually land him work in the movies.

His first gig was with Universal Pictures in the early 1950s, crafting an original story about a spaceship that crash-lands in the Arizona desert. That film, "It Came From Outer Space," screens Wednesday at the Northbrook Public Library as part of a classic-movie series honoring Bradbury, who died in June.

The film will be presented in the original 3-D (audiences will get old-school cardboard 3-D glasses) and will be preceded by a video intro from Bradbury, shot in 2002 at his home in California. "The clips give us an inside glimpse of his role in each film," according to Northbrook's Steve Gianni, "sometimes as screenwriter and other times as co-director and editor to help clear up the story."

Last month, writing on the Los Angeles Times film blog 24 Frames, reporter Steven Zeitchik put Bradbury's movie career in a larger context. "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.'"

As with most things Hollywood, "It Came From Outer Space" was a bittersweet experience for Bradbury. He later published various drafts of the script along with a preface detailing the specifics of his somewhat sour deal with the studio.

Though he was hired to write an outline, he turned in a finished script. "They got, in essence, an entire screenplay for the grand sum of $3,000," he wrote, "which was my final salary for the four or five weeks I had stayed on at the studio. With the treatment in hand, they fired me and hired Harry Essex to do the final screenplay (which, he told me later, was simply putting frosting on the cake). Why had I made it so easy for him, he asked when I met him later. Because, I replied, I was a fool, and I was in love with an idea — a good combination for writing but a bad one when you find yourself back out on the street supporting a family."

Bradbury's name, it's worth mentioning, is not even on the poster.

Later this month, Northbrook also will screen 1966's "Fahrenheit 451," adapted from Bradbury's novel of the same name about a dystopian world in which all books are banned and burned.

"The film was an enormous failure when it came out and has been unfortunately a bit demonized along the way," according to Reid Schultz, who teaches film at Columbia College Chicago and will be discussing "Fahrenheit 451" after both the matinee and evening shows (which will include a video intro) on July 25.

Universal hired French new wave filmmaker Francois Truffaut to direct, a decision that created several issues. Truffaut wrote the screenplay, despite the fact that he spoke no English — he used a French translation of the book to write his adaptation (also in French), which was then translated back into English. Not surprisingly, the dialogue is anything but elegant. (This was a rare instance in which Bradbury was not asked to adapt his own work.)

Adding to the language barrier, the film was shot in England with a crew who did not speak French. Not to mention the fact that Truffaut, a master of small films and naturalism, was not exactly emblematic of a big Hollywood studio project. So why was he chosen? "This is why the film industry makes enormous mistakes," said Schultz. "Nobody makes big flops like the film industry. Truffaut wrote about it being the most miserable experience of his life. But he wanted to make films in English, he wanted to make Hollywood films — and this turned out to be his only Hollywood film, which is why it is so important on so many levels."

Despite a tepid reception when it was released, Schultz argues that it is, indeed, a very good film. "People just haven't seen it. It's one of the most neglected films."

One of the key changes from the book is that many of the sci-fi elements were removed altogether. And yet, nearly 50 years later, a funny thing has happened. Though it wasn't Truffaut's intent, the film's mod production design imparts a futuristic aesthetic when seen through 2012 eyes.

Bradbury fans take note: Chicago native Joe Mantegna is producing a Bradbury documentary called "Live Forever," currently slated for release in December.

"It Came From Outer Space" screens 1 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Northbrook Public Library. "Fahrenheit 451" screens at the same times July 25, followed by a discussion led by film scholar Reid Schultz. Go to northbrook.info/events/film.

Steve James' next film

The Chicago filmmaker behind "Hoop Dreams,""The Interrupters"and the forthcoming "Head Games"is at work on his next documentary, a look at overcoming global food shortages called "Generation Film." James is collaborating with British economist and writer Raj Patel, and they are looking to raise $50,000 to ensure that everyone working on the film (including those hauling equipment in rural areas) receives a fair wage. Go to indiegogo.com/GenerationFoodProject.

Higgs boson for civilians

Billed as a special screening for "poets, painters, professionals, playwrights, procrastinators and other non-physicists," 137 Films (which specializes in movies about science) and the Illinois Science Council bring 2008's "The Atom Smashers" to Landmark's Century Centre Cinema at 6:30 p.m. Monday. The film explains the science behind Higgs boson, and a post-screening panel will feature physicists from Chicago's Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory who have done Higgs particle experiments. Go to 137films.org or landmarktheatres.com.

Reanimated

With a focus on unconventional, innovative and eccentric films, the Chicago Cinema Society presents the the local premiere of "Manborg," a science fiction action-comedy, equal parts epic and silly, about a soldier reborn as a cyborg killing machine. At the Logan Theatre Friday and Saturday. Go to chicagocinemasociety.org.

Cast of celebrities

As I reported two weeks ago, local indie director Joe Swanberg is working on his biggest project to date, currently filming in Chicago.  This is the first-time he is working with a high-profile cast, which was announced this week (along with the film's title "Drinking Buddies") and features Olivia Wilde, Ron Livingston, Anna Kendrick and Jake M. Johnson (best known as Nick on the Fox sitcom"New Girl").

Cast of celebrities
As I reported two weeks ago, local indie director Joe Swanberg is working on his biggest project to date, currently filming in Chicago.  This is the first-time he is working with a high-profile cast, which was announced this week (along with the film's title "Drinking Buddies") and features Olivia Wilde, Ron Livingston, Anna Kendrick and Jake M. Johnson (best known as Nick on the Fox sitcom "New Girl").

nmetz@tribune.com

@NinaMetzNews

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