I remember viscerally the feeling of reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It wasn’t assigned reading. It was something I’d picked up from the local library after I’d ravenously ripped through a collection of Bradbury’s short stories. I had no idea he was living legend in science-fiction. I had no idea Fahrenheit 451 was a dystopian classic warning of a future where people are so absorbed in television that they forget the introspection demanded of books, the knowledge found within, and the subversion slipped in between the lines on the page. Reading that book—whose musty pages I can still smell!—felt like a rebellion, like having a secret or a warning whispered into your ear with a rush and insistence that you keep it safe. It felt like Bradbury was warning me personally of the importance of not just this book, but books altogether. And it made me suspicious of those strange creatures that claim they don’t read.
All that is to say HBO has a challenge ahead of them in adapting Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as a TV movie. But the production is off to a solid start as THR announces Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon are now attached to star. The 1953 novel followed a “fireman” named Guy Montag, whose job was not stopping fires, but starting them anytime a house was found containing contraband, meaning books. But as his wife is lost in a sea of television shows, his mind buzzes with doubt. Not even the urging of his mentor and fire captain Beatty can dissuade him from his increasingly dangerous path to rebellion.
Admittedly when I saw these two actors had been cast, I assumed Shannon would play Montag. But actually, he’s set to play Beatty, returning to HBO for the first time since Boardwalk Empire. Michael B. Jordan will star as Guy Montag, a casting move that race-bends the role of the hero described as having “black hair, black brows…fiery face, and…blue-steel shaved but unshaved look.” Yet somehow we doubt Jordan’s casting will bring the level of outrage he faced when playing the traditionally white superhero Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four.
From here, it’ll be curious to see how the rest of the cast if filled out as producers seek performers for the roles of Montag’s TV-zombie wife Mildred, the retired English professor Faber, and the dangerously curious teen neighbor Clarisse. It’ll also be interesting to see how this adaption will handle the issue of race in this context. Writer/director Ramin Bahrani has been attached, and considering his past works have been the intimate and stirring dramas Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo and the Shannon-fronted 99 Homes, our expectations are high for this challenging adaptation.