ICFIFC: The Illustrated Man

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Monday, September 9, 2013

ICFIFC: The Illustrated Man

The Illustrated Man is a 1951 book of eighteen science fiction short stories by Ray Bradbury that explores the nature of mankind.  While none of the stories has a plot or character connection with the next, a recurring theme is the conflict of the cold mechanics of technology and the psychology of people.

The unrelated stories are tied together by the frame device of "the Illustrated Man", a vagrant with a tattooed body whom the unnamed narrator meets.  The man's tattoos, allegedly created by a woman from the future, are animated and each tell a different tale.  All but one of the stories had been published previously elsewhere, although Bradbury revised some of the texts for the book's publication.

The concept of the Illustrated Man would later be reused by Bradbury as an antagonistic character in Something Wicked This Way Comes, the tattoos coming to represent the souls of sinful victims of a mysterious carnival.

The book was made into a 1969 film starring Rod Steiger and Claire Bloom.  It was adapted by Howard B. Kreitsek from the stories "The Veldt", "The Long Rain", and "The Last Night of the World".  It was directed by Jack Smight.

"The Veldt" -- A mother and father in a futuristic society begin to worry about their children's mental health when the three-dimensional nursery they bought for them begins projecting a veldt in Africa populated by hungry lions feasting on a set of carcasses.  The child psychiatrist they hired suggests that the family is being babied by the automated house they've been living in and should shut it off and be more self-sufficient.  The children initially throw a tantrum over the thought of not having the automated house do everything for them (and not having the 3D nursery on), but soon coolly agree to it.  When the parents go to look for the kids, the parents are locked in the nursery and realize that the carcasses in the veldt were themselves.  The psychiatrist and the children have lunch in the veldt, and when the psychiatrist looks off into the distance, he sees the lions feasting on their fresh prey.

"The Long Rain" -- A group of astronauts are stranded on Venus, where it rains continually and heavily.  The travelers make their way across the Venusian landscape to find a "sun dome", a shelter with a large artificial light source.  However, the first sun dome they find has been destroyed by the native Venusians.  Searching for another sun dome, the characters, one by one, are driven to madness and suicide by the unrelenting rhythm of the rain.  At the end of the story, only one sane astronaut remains and manages to find a functional sun dome.

"The Last Night of the World" -- A married couple awakens to the knowledge that the world is going to end that very evening.  Nonetheless, they go through their normal routines, knowing and accepting the fact that there is no tomorrow.

A number of the stories, including "The Veldt", "The Fox and the Forest" (as "To the Future"), "Marionettes, Inc.", and "Zero Hour" were dramatized for the 1955-57 radio series X Minus One.  "The Veldt", "The Concrete Mixer", "The Long Rain", "Zero Hour", and "Marionettes Inc." were adapted for the TV series The Ray Bradbury Theater.

The Illustrated Man (1969)

  • Directed: Jack Smight
  • Produced:
    • Ted Mann 
    • Howard B. Kreitsek
  • Written:
    • Howard B. Kreitsek (screenplay) 
    • Ray Bradbury (book)
  • Starring: Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom
  • Music: Jerry Goldsmith
  • Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop
  • Editing: Archie Marshek
  • Studio: SKM
  • Distributed:
    • Warner Brothers/Seven Arts 
    • Columbia Broadcasting System 
    • Warner Home Video
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: March 26, 1969
  • Running Time: 103 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

The film is based on three short stories from the 1951 collection The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury: "The Veldt", "The Long Rain", and "The Last Night of the World".

Set in the back roads of America, the film tells three of Bradbury's stories set in the future, with Steiger as a man named Carl telling tales of some of the tattoos he has on his body.  The stories are about virtual reality (The Veldt), a mysterious planet (The Long Rain) and the end of the world (The Last Night of the World).  Carl is accompanied by a dog and meets a traveler who listens to his tales.  The tie-in prologue tells of how Carl came to be tattooed after he encountered a mysterious woman named Felicia (Claire Bloom) in a remote farmhouse.

Howard B. Kreitsek wrote the screenplay that encompassed the stories "The Veldt", "The Long Rain", and "The Last Night of the World", Jack Smight directed the film.  Bradbury was not consulted for the adaptation.  The author sold story rights to the film in December 1967 for $85,000, but he did not sell the film rights.  Since the collection included eighteen short stories, Smight chose three stories and used the carnival sideshow freak who appeared in the collection's prologue and epilogue as the film's primary narrative.  As the freak, the director cast Rod Steiger, whom he had known since the 1950s.

The Illustrated Man was considered a critical and financial failure.  Time wrote, "Responsibility for the failure of The Illustrated Man must rest with Director Jack Smight.  He has committed every possible error of style and taste, including the inexcusable fault of letting Steiger chew up every piece of scenery in sight."

Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Kreitsek's screenplay is unsharp, without focus, working into and out of the hallucinations with great awkwardness."  Canby found the film to have "moments of eerie beauty" but believed that the director was limited by the screenplay.  The critic said, "Everything remains foetus-like and underdeveloped, although shrouded in misty pretentions of grandeur."  Echoing Canby, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "Smight's confused, wandering film never does quite come to terms with what it wants to be." Ebert pointed out the film's weaknesses to be of acting and of character but did not find them to be fatal.  He believed that film's major flaw was "inadequate attention" to the audience's expectations, distracting it with logic and lack of logic in the film's three stories.  He concluded, "And so the film finally doesn't work for the same reason that comic Westerns usually fail: Because it's risky to fool around with a genre unless you know what you're doing."

When The Illustrated Man was released on DVD in 2006, a retrospective review of the film wrote that the counterculture of the 1960s was evident in the film and that its depiction of the future did not age well.

In August 2007, Warner Bros. hired director Zack Snyder to remake The Illustrated Man, and screenwriter Alex Tse was hired to write the screenplay.  The remake has yet to be produced.

The plot of Alfonso Cuaron's upcoming film, Gravity, is similar to that of "Kaleidoscope".

"Kaleidoscope" -- A group of astronauts are sent floating helplessly through space after a malfunction in their ship.  The story illustrates the final thoughts and conversations of the crew members as they face their death.  The narrator bitterly reflects on his life and feels he has accomplished nothing worthwhile.  His final thought is a wish that his life would at least be worth something to someone else.  Ultimately, the narrator is incinerated as he falls through Earth's atmosphere and appears as a shooting star to a child in Illinois.

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