Friday, May 15, 2015

Ray Bradbury and vintage science fiction films

Guest post
by Maria Ramos

Few science fiction authors have had the influence on the genre that Ray Bradbury has. His penchant for the strange and mysterious, coupled with evocative, lyrical prose, made his works readily accessible for adaptation into television shows and movies. Bradbury felt acutely the fears and anxieties that many Americans experienced during the Cold War and this is reflected in many of his works. Themes of identity and persecution tied directly to McCarthyism and the Red Scare, while outright condemnations of atomic testing and nuclear war in his stories were indicative of the public unease that our leaders would cause devastation to our planet.

The one-eyed alien from
It Came From Outer Space
It Came From Outer Space (1953), based on Bradbury's story treatment, touched on the fear of Communism by telling a story of clandestine alien beings among us. The inability to discern who was an alien and who was not was a powerful metaphor for the paranoia that fueled the Red Scare. The premise carried such weight that this theme also provided the basis for the popular film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) just a couple of years later.

Anxiety over rapidly advancing technology was at the center of Bradbury's "I Sing the Body Electric," a short story about children who rebel against an android that has been programmed to care for them. The story was made into a highly regarded episode of The Twilight Zone, and examined the fundamental mistrust of automation and its potential to deprive able bodied Americans of jobs.

"The Fog Horn" followed a monster lured from the deep by the sound of a horn projected from a coastal lighthouse. The story was made into the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), which reimagined the monster's origin as the product of atomic testing in order to tap into public unease surrounding nuclear war after the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese monster classic Godzilla (1954) would utilize an almost identical premise the following year.

Ray Harryhausen brought to life
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
The ideas and themes Bradbury explored can be seen in other popular science fiction films from the same era. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) also deals with the arrival of an alien being on Earth who is greeted with fear and mistrust. The Charlton Heston classic Planet of the Apes (1968) taps into similar anxieties, working as a veiled metaphor for the suppression of American pride during a time when the unpopular Vietnam War was killing American troops by the thousands. Logan's Run (1967) does a fantastic job presenting the perils of living in a futuristic society where technology has become too advanced for its own good, and like the classic Soylent Green (1973), shows a future where the media is heavily propagandized and manipulated by those in power. Both films reflected a general mistrust of government.

Josephine Hutchinson and Veronica Cartwright in
The Twilight Zone's "I Sing the Body Electric"
As the decades have gone by, it is easy to see where fundamental shifts in the public consciousness occurred. During Bradbury's most active period the focus was largely on simple cautionary parables about free speech and man's reach exceeding his grasp. As the years went on, technology and the mass media became more prominent in science fiction film making, but the same themes of mistrust, hidden tyranny and abuse of power still roiled underneath. Mass anxiety still existed, and the films of the 1970's still mined the inexhaustible vein of paranoia, only the focus became the Vietnam War rather than the Cold War. Each film deals at a fundamental level with fear of the unknown, whether that unknown be new technology, the inner workings of the media and government, or the true intentions of people we share the planet with.


These fears continue to be explored in contemporary science fiction, in films such as The Matrix (1999) and Ex Machina (2015). The many faceted subjects that Bradbury tackled in his extensive and thoughtful works formed the basis for all the science fiction cinema that followed. Next time you sit down to check out the latest technological thriller or futuristic think piece, be sure to say a quick thanks to Ray Bradbury.

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Maria Ramos is a freelance writer interested in comic books, baking, horror films, and anything science fiction. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois. In her spare time, she enjoys cycling, gardening, and anything that gets her outside.  She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for this, Maria and Rich! I love these films mentioned, and have read some Bradbury, but not enough. This inspired me to reserve a collection of his short stories at my local library, which I will pick up tomorrow.

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    1. I had never made the connection between Bradbury and Hollywood, so this was an education for me as well.

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  2. Excellent article about one of my best loved writers. I have read everything he ever wrote, I think, and re-read his stories periodically. His writing is poetry in so many ways. I've always been particularly fond of his contributions to John Huston's screenplay for Moby Dick. You can easily see the haunting dialogue that is pure Bradbury. Thanks for this lovely article.

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  3. As far as the classic writers go, the only one of them I know well is Heinlein. I've dabbled in Bradbury and Asimov, I read 'Brave New World' and '1984' in school, and I know Wells better from the movies.

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