The Happylife Home: Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt

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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  1. Thanks a million for bringing these adaptations of this classic story to the attention of us benighted lot. Illo Man certainly neglected classic of ’60s cinema. May I venture that the tiger story and corresponding elements of Tales That Witness Madness owe a debt to the veldt. (The English Blood Feast in that anthology too, I eternally say). Perhaps the likes are not so much prophetic as merely perceptive, observant, and prescient. It really is all a simulation, or a plane , or whatever voguish buzzphrase or catchword fits. Same goes for god or ‘impersonal’ and intractible forces of history, gravity, chance, trajectory, momentum, etc over the guttering match of individual will. If this is a series of endlessly evocative ur-myths of our time (etc.), how about Tunnel Under The World next? What with the Out Of The Unknown episode and the Luigi Cozzi short, and I think there’s a ‘lost’ Soviet version as well??? They should’ve done it as a critique of capitalist society, and at the end, the protag escapes into the commie side and finds a correspondingly exact artifice. And Phil Dick’s Time Out OF Joint is an expansion – A book length epic(ish). I photocopied relevant passages from all the above and others, back in days when libraries and xerox were a ‘thing’ (before the ‘books are dirty’ and ‘reading makes you sick’ bonfires), and assembled them into an anthology of sorts. We wood meat in an allotment shed, and, gently cupping ourselves, scour the text for secret messages – mesages not intended for foreign powers, or any on erth, but messages intended for our own sleeping, alien, unknown shelves … yes, gathp, indeed …

    1. I think that this is certainly the tip of the iceberg in terms of lost adaptations of classic and prophetic works. These educational films are especially fascinating as they are both basic and inspired – and often of bleak stories that you would imagine causing all manner of controversy in the current climate. And yes, you’re right – that Tales That Witness Madness story definitely riffs on this as well as the unusual amount of ‘imaginary friend becomes real’ tales that were featured in those British portmanteau movies.

  2. Ah, our worlds just collided. I interviewed Ray at great length for the late, lamented Outré in 1994 (reprinted in its surviving sister publication, Filmfax, after he died), and am currently documenting the films and TV shows written by Bradbury and/or based on his work in The Group: Sixty Years of California Sorcery on Screen, an expansion—to say the least—of my earlier Richard Matheson on Screen (2010). So I can offer some additional insight.

    I can’t make out the blurry copyright in the BFA video, nor have I been able to find definitive confirmation elsewhere, but while a few sources say it’s a 1973 production, the vast majority of those I’ve found put it at 1979, perhaps making it the elusive “1979 production” you mentioned. If you have a “smoking gun” on that one, please let me know! One thing I CAN read clearly is the name of the director, which is Dianne Haak, not Kaak.

    The 1987 feature-film Soviet version, Veld, is a curious animal in which writer-director Nazim Tulyakhodzayev, who in 1984 had made an animated short based on Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” mingles several of his works in kaleidoscopic fashion, and with surreal touches (e.g., a hooded figure whose face suddenly turns to that of a pig), using the title story as an overall framework. The others I was able to identify were “The Dragon,” “The Garbage Collector,” “The Martian,” “The Window” (aka “Calling Mexico”), “Punishment Without Crime,” and “The Pedestrian.”

    There is also a 1983 Swedish TV-movie that I’ve been unable to track down, Savannen (Savannah, 11/16/83), adapted by director Tord Pååg and starring longtime Ingmar Bergman cast members Bibi Andersson and Erland Josephson.

    Hope that’s helpful.

    1. Thanks Matthew – that is very helpful. The production year of 1979 certainly makes sense – and ‘Kaak’ was a typo to begin with so I’ll correct that immediately.

      The Group: Sixty Years of California Sorcery on Screen seems essential – keep me in the loop with the progress on that.

      A funny story, of sorts. Some years ago, Mrs R was in need of a relaxing audiobook to help her drift off during a stressful time. Through a series of unfortunate choices, we ended up with Leonard Nimoy reading There Will Come Soft Rains. As you can probably imagine, this did not have the required effect. I think the poor dog was the final straw.

  3. Hah! Yes, a sad story. Although this is setting the bar pretty low, the animated version is far closer to that than what eventuated in the Martian Chronicles miniseries adapted by Matheson, which instead instead portrays Col. Wilder reaching the space center and merely seeing a videotape of his brother being vaporized. Richard told me, “I had [set] ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’ back on Earth, where the Rock Hudson character goes to his brother’s house after the atomic war, and sees this house in operation, so that it’s more or less identical to the story, except that he’s there observing it, which Ray liked a lot. But then, because they’d put so much money in the space center [set], they stuck the story in that. Lost it entirely.”

    Took me a minute to interpret “Mrs R” (since I presume I’m “talking” to David Flint) until I realized that was “R” for “Reprobate” (or “Rocket,” whichever comes first). Similarly, since I refer to my blog, Bradley on Film, as BOF, my wife is frequently referred to as Madame BOF.

    Been working on The Group for several years and at this rate–with a day job, home ownership, and various other writing activities, most notably my posts for Mystery*File–I expect to be working on it for several more, assuming it ever even gets published. But it’s very much a passion project, drawing heavily on my lengthy interviews with the key surviving members (now all gone): Robert Bloch, Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, Matheson, William F. Nolan, and Jerry Sohl.

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