MOBY DICK: A SCREENPLAY
by Ray Bradbury
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Moby Dick: The Screenplay includes a brief introduction by William F. Toupence and a brief afterword by Jonathan R. Eller, but the focus of the book is on the screenplay written by Ray Bradbury for the 1956 John Huston film Moby Dick. And the focus is on the screenplay, not the film. The text as provided is not the final version from the film, but rather what Bradbury wrote. Amazingly, nowhere in the book is there any indication of the cast who would eventually bring the screenplay to life. No mention of Gregory Peck, Orson Welles, Richard Basehart, or Leo Genn. John Huston is mentioned, and Toupence and Eller do discuss some of the differences between his film and Bradbury’s screenplay, but otherwise the screenplay stands entirely on its own.
Most readers don’t sit down to read screenplays, or even plays outside of a classroom. There is a reason for this. Plays and screenplays are written to be acted and scene, not to be read. No matter how good the direction is in the script, and Bradbury does an admirable job, without the collaborative interpretation, by actors, directors, stagecrew, etc., the script falls short.
Bradbury does a good job in setting the scene, providing plenty of stage and scenery direction, not all of which was followed by director John Huston. However, compared to the more detailed and nuanced depictions found in Bradbury’s prose fiction, these stark directions do not carry the same emotional weight.
Seeing the dialogue on the page in black and white also means that the reader is unable to hear the actors’ inflections and interpretations of the words. In many cases, this leaves the dialogue flat rather than the dynamic presentation the lines would take on when spoken in the film. However, this also has a strength since it demonstrates how important actors are to the script they are performing.
One of the most interesting aspects of reading Bradbury’s original script is the fact that Huston did not leave Bradbury’s script intact. Scenes which appear in the script were cut from the final version of the film and reading the script allows the reader to see Bradbury’s own vision of the film, even if only in his mind’s eye.Perhaps the best way to read Bradbury’s Moby Dick: The Screenplay is in proximity to a viewing of Huston’s film. This will allow the reader to not only experience and enjoy Bradbury’s words, but also see the evolution of the film from page to screen. Unfortunately, even with the essays which bookend Bradbury’s script, the screenplay does not entirely work on its own and is mostly an adjunct to the film it spawned.
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