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Moby Dick: A Screenplay
Ray Bradbury
Subterranean Press, 192 pages

Moby Dick: A Screenplay
Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is one of the greatest SF and fantasy writers of our time. Born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920, he authored such classics of the genre as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and Farenheit 451 (1953) by his early 30s, and continues to produce important work today.
In 1990, while at a summit meeting in New York, Mikhail Gorbachov made a special trip to visit Bradbury, his "favourite author," whose works he claimed to have read in the original versions. Bradbury is American fantasy's great ambassador.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Fahrenheit 451
SF Site Review: Dinosaur Tales
SF Site Review: From the Dust Returned
SF Site Review: Dandelion Wine
SF Site Review: Green Shadows, White Whale
SF Site Review: Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines
SF Site Review: Driving Blind
SF Site Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes
SF Site Review: The Illustrated Man

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

In 1956, director John Huston released a film adaptation of Moby Dick. Moby Dick had been adapted twice before, in 1926 and 1930, both times starring John Barrymore and both very loose adaptations of the Herman Melville novel. Huston approached a young screenwriter with about ten scripts to his credit to adapt Melville's novel, ignoring the earlier Barrymore vehicles. The result was a film starring Gregory Peck with a screenplay by Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury's screenplay was used as the basis for Huston's film, although the film doesn't entirely follow Bradbury's script. With the release of Bradbury's work in Moby Dick: A Screenplay, the differences Huston decided were necessary become immediately apparent from the opening moments of the film.

Actually, Huston followed Bradbury's dialogue relatively closely, although not entirely. The sermon given by Father Mapple, for instance, strays quite a bit from Bradbury's script. Most of changes are in stage direction. Bradbury has a very strong image for the opening of the film, which was jettisoned by Huston in favor of superimposing the credits over whaling paintings instead of Ishmael's arrival in New Bedford.

By reading the screenplay, the vision Bradbury originally had for the film becomes more easy to see, although not entirely. Screenplays and scripts are meant to be performed, not read. The dialogue often falls flat without having the actor's presentation behind it. The descriptive passages, more rare than in a prose piece, don't entirely capture the author's vision, instead providing an outline of what the director should attempt to show, with the help of the production staff.

Despite the drawbacks of Bradbury's text being a script, Bradbury still manages to tell an excellent story and his characters do come to life, even without the actors' interpretations. His Ahab, Ishmael, Starbuck, and Queequeg are individuals, in some cases, such as Queequeg, even more fully realized on the page than they eventually were in Huston's film.

Bradbury's screenplay and the Huston film made from it are considered so definitive that the book has only been adapted directly to film one other time, in a 1998 made-for-TV version. Other filmed versions are based on a play by Orson Welles and as a one-man show by Jack Aranson. Bradbury's script, however, written by a man who had never read the novel before given the task to adapt it, remains the primary filmed version.

In addition to Bradbury's own text, the book includes short essays by William F. Touponce and Jon R. Eller. These essays are interesting and tend to deal more with the background of Bradbury's actual work on the script rather than the script itself, but both shed light on the creative process and make Moby Dick: A Screenplay a more fully realized volume than if the scripts had been left to stand on its own.

Copyright © 2008 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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