Exploring the lesser-known film and TV adaptations of Ray Bradbury’s disturbingly prophetic tale of virtual reality and smart homes.
The best-known adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s story The Veldt appeared in 1969, as part of the much-underrated anthology film The Illustrated Man, a film that took its title from the collection of Bradbury stories that the tale had first seen book publication in (after debuting in the Saturday Evening Post in 1950). But this is a story that is not simply timeless but increasingly prescient and so it is unsurprising that that is far from the only adaptation of the story.
The Veldt tells the story of the Hadley family, who live in an automated house that takes care of their every need. The two children spend all their time in ‘the nursery’, watching a virtual reality simulation of the African veldt, with lions in the background munching on prey. As the parents George and Lydia become more concerned that their home is not simply making life convenient but actually controlling their lives and making them dependent on it, they decide to move the family to the countryside, away from technology. But the two children, Peter and Wendy, beg for one last visit to the nursery and when their parents acquiesce and join the children for a visit, they discover that this virtual reality is a lot less virtual than they had imagined.
Bradbury was a master of bleak science fiction studies of man’s dependence on technology and machinery, and how it might affect our lives for the worse, and The Veldt feels especially like it is speaking to our lives today. In a world of ‘smart’ appliances, online entertainment, virtual reality and the increasing strides made by AI, this feels like a story that could be written now, not in 1950. Bradbury might have had a grim view of where technology would take us, but it’s hard to say that he was wrong.
Outside of The Illustrated Man, the most interesting adaptation of The Veldt is the 1973 version from BFA Educational Media, directed by Diane Haak and aimed at US schools as part of English literature teaching. This version stays as close as possible to the short story, as you might expect, and has a genuine sense of unease throughout. This version has not been seen very often but, like many an educational literary adaptation of the era, can more than hold its own against the other science fiction and horror films of the era.
There is also a 1979 version* and a Soviet version from 1987, both of which we haven’t been able to track down, and an adaptation as part of the 1989 TV series The Ray Bradbury Theater (see below) – as well as several radio versions and a stage production.
So far, no one has thought to adapt the story to a VR game – perhaps that would be a little too close for comfort.
* Correspondent Matthew Bradley makes a good case for the ‘1973’ version actually being the 1979 production. This would certainly clear up several aspects of its obscurity as a 1973 production.
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