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The Ray Bradbury Theater

January 19, 2013

rbt1While genre shows are my favorite type of tv, my favorite of those are anthology series.  The Ray Bradbury Theater was one of the longer lasting genre anthology series that I missed, or should say mostly missed, during its initial run.  During one of Amazon’s innumerable “let’s get money from Nick” sales, the full series set was marked down to some single digit dollar amount which was enough to get me to throw it in my cart (or basket, for those of you in the UK).  I finally finished my watch through of the series and thought I would share my views on this lesser known anthology program.

Ray Bradbury Theater began life on HBO which probably contributed heavily to my missing it as I didn’t have premium channels on my cable service at the time.  The first and second seasons ran for six and twelve episodes, respectively.  For the final four seasons the show was on the USA Network.  Each episode was half hour length format.  I had thought that I had completely missed the series in its original run but, was surprised to learn that I had, in fact, seen one episode of the final season.  I didn’t know what it was at the time because I had tuned in after the credits one night while cable surfing.

As can be guessed by the series title each episode is an adaptation of a short story by Ray Bradbury.  While I am not a huge fan of Mr. Bradbury’s work I have enjoyed everything that I have read by him.  This would mostly be novels, which is unusual for me as I generally read a lot more short stories.  One of the first comments I would make about the series is that it really doesn’t find its legs until the third season.  The first two seasons do have some memorable episodes like The Crowd and Gotcha! but, a lot of the other adaptations are a little rough around the edges.  The third and later seasons, except for maybe the last one, had a much higher hit to miss ratio for me than the first two.  One episode that I particularly liked was Zero Hour which dealt with the potential threat of an alien invasion.  This was a television adaptation of what had previously been a radio play of the same name that my parents had heard when they were growing up and told me about during my childhood.  The story first appeared in the collection The Illustrated Man and it was from this that the radio play had been adapted for the show X Minus One.  Knowing the “punch line” of the story I was really wondering during the course of the  episode how they were going to do it for television as the X Minus One episode had a gimmick ending that only worked for the radio medium.  I don’t want to spoil anything by going into detail but will say I was pleasantly surprised by the choice made and felt it worked just as well.

Another feature of the series is that a number of the stories are adaptations from The Martian Chronicles.  These episodes were of particular interest to me as I had seen the previous 1980 television adaptation of the novel.  I felt that Mars is Heaven faired better in the 1980 production but, I much preferred the RBT adaptation of Silent Towns as it adhered much more closely to the original work which is one of my favorites of the novel.  The 1980 version made a change to the story for what I can only guess was political correctness issues to avoid alienating American viewers.  This series also did an adaptation of my favorite story from the novel which, for some reason the 1980 version chose not to do.  This is a story called The Earthlings which is about the second expedition to Mars.  After the humans land, the first Martian that they encounter seems more irritated by their presence than anything else which is at odds with the mood of and puzzles the excited astronauts.  I was very happy with the RBT adaptation as I felt it captured the very alien nature of the Martians exactly as I remembered from the written story.

The sixth season was a strange one for the series in that it featured a large number of stories that were non-genre.  Enough of them were well produced but this season did feel like a bit of a step backwards for the series to me.  I don’t know whether this was an intentional decision on the part of the producers or was caused by them running out of suitable material but, given Ray Bradbury’s overall output as a writer I would be surprised if it were the latter.

Overall, I feel the series is worth viewing but, I’m not sure how often I would revisit it.  There are definitely episodes I’m sure I would probably want to re-watch a number of times and I would have normally kept the DVDs for my collection except for one reason.  That reason is the seriously underwhelming quality of the video transfer that I had mentioned in a previous blog posting.  I can handle less than sparkling copies of movies.  I watch a lot of insanely independent films that are notorious for the less than professional DVD treatment but, the inferior quality of this DVD set would start to get on my nerves quite frequently.  Scenes of fast action would artifact out with a staggering degree of regularity during my viewing.  I’ll note that I never tried watching the series on our Blu-ray player to see if the up conversion process would have helped here.  It would be my sincere hope that at some point in the future a higher quality transfer of this series is created as I feel it definitely deserves it.

For my next anthology series I am going to check out the never broadcast, Boris Karloff hosted series The Veil.  Unfortunately, it looks like Netflix has an older Alpha video release of the series which has only eight of the full eleven episodes.  Being a George Romero fan, I have the first three seasons of Tales from the Darkside that I have picked up at various sales over the years but, I like putting shorter anthology series between the big ones.  The series I am most looking forward to going through, however, is HBO’s Tales from the Crypt as I have seen a decent number of these and have rarely been disappointed.


From → Reviews

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