Saturday, March 13, 2021

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: RED PLANET HOLLYWOOD The Martian Chronicles on Screen by Matthew R. Bradley

The ballot for the 2020 Rondo Awards has been released, and we are thrilled that the all-new print edition of bare•bones received four nominations, including: best article (Red Planet Hollywood, reproduced below from Issue #1 for your consideration), best column (David J. Schow's R&D), best cover (for our GORGO/REPTILICUS/KONGA issue), and best magazine.


The one-two punch of The Martian Chronicles (1950) and The Illustrated Man (1951) helped put Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) among the great writers of not just science fiction but American literature. At the same time, he was becoming a mentor to some members of a loose yet rapidly coalescing literary constellation that reinvented the field of fantasy, horror, and SF on page and screen. Known as the Southern California School of Writers, the California Sorcerers, or simply “The Group,” it included Robert Bloch, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan, Jerry Sohl—all of whom, along with Ray, I interviewed during the ’90s—and briefly blazing comet Charles Beaumont (1929-1967).

The Martian Chronicles is often called a novel, yet Bradbury told me, “I’m not a novelist, only occasionally in my life have I written a few novels. But some of my major books are books of short stories. The Martian Chronicles was written over a period of five years as a series of short stories that I’d published in the pulp magazines for a penny a word or two cents a word....[Then] you take all the short stories, and you write little pieces of material to tie them together.” He used the same m.o. for his other “accidental novels”: Dandelion Wine (1957), Green Shadows, White Whale (1992)—a roman à clef about scripting Moby Dick (1956) for John Huston—and From the Dust Returned (2001).

Averaging only seven pages in the 1982 Bantam paperback, the 26 stories originally in The Martian Chronicles present a challenge to the screenwriter, with no single protagonist or narrative arc but the gradual colonization of Mars by humans, and its subsequent evacuation when the Earth is ravaged by an atomic war. Bradbury himself wrote a number of abortive screenplays, and when called in at the last moment to create narration for Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings (1961) had been adapting the book for Julian Blaustein, producer of Robert Wise’s SF classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). “I predicted [that] when I turned it in they’d fire me, of course, because...there were no science fiction films around at the time.

“Nothing had been done, 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968] hadn’t come out yet. And sure enough, when I turned in the script, they got rid of me. So I’ve done four or five scripts [for it]...over the years.” (The Martian Chronicles: The Complete Edition [2009] includes his 1963 and 1997 versions.) It finally reached the screen as a six-hour 1980 NBC miniseries. Why? Because Star Wars (1977). Said Ray, “Everything of mine takes lots of time. It took thirty years before The Martian Chronicles got made...and roughly twenty years for The Illustrated Man to get turned into a [1969] film. Everything of mine takes a lot of time for people to discover. I still have a lot of good books that haven’t been touched by films yet.” 

Individual stories had become episodes of two Spanish anthology TV series. “La Tercera Expedición” (“The Third Expedition”; 9/8/62), originally titled “Mars Is Heaven!” (Planet Stories, Fall 1948), was scripted by Agustín Cuzzani and directed by Edgardo Borda for Mañana puede ser verdad (Tomorrow Can Be True). “La Espera” (“The Wait”; 5/13?/66) was based on “The Long Years” (aka “Dwellers in Silence”), first published in Maclean’s (September 15, 1948); it was one of five Bradbury stories to be directed and adapted—as Luis Peñafiel—for Historias para no Dormir (Stories to Stay Awake) by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, whose debut feature was La Residencia (aka The House That Screamed, 1970).

A fascinating aspect of the Group is its cross-pollination. The members wrote for many of the same magazines (e.g., Playboy, then celebrated for its world-class fiction), filmmakers (e.g., Roger Corman), and TV shows, most notably The Twilight Zone, of which Beaumont, Matheson (1926- 2013), and Johnson (1929-2015) were all mainstays, although Bradbury was deeply disappointed when a key scene was omitted from “I Sing the Body Electric” (5/18/62), his only produced contribution. Chums, colleagues, and contemporaries, they were also collaborators, who wrote books (e.g., Nolan and Johnson’s 1967 novel Logan’s Run) and scripts together, or adapted one another’s works on screens both large and small.

Aptly, the miniseries was written by Matheson, author of the seminal novel I Am Legend (1954) and a well-established scenarist by that time. As Johnson told me, “I suggested to Ray that if given the choice of a scriptwriter for The Martian Chronicles, now that a deal had been struck for it to be filmed, why didn’t he bring up Matheson’s name? Because Richard loved him, was his fan, understood these kinds of stories, was a dramatist, could deliver the script, and would listen to and consult with Ray about it. ‘Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Then your Martian Chronicles could come out with you liking it. How great!’ He said, ‘Hey, that’s a good idea.’ So he mentioned Matheson, who got the job.”

Bradbury said the script, which interpolated Colonel John Wilder (Rock Hudson) into other stories, “looked fine at the time, but see, screenplays are hard to judge. They lie there on the paper, and unless you have a very active imagination, you can’t get them up on their feet and walk them around. You have to depend on a director and a cinematographer and an editor and the actors to make it all work. And...I can’t judge anyone else’s stageplays, or my own, until I get the actors in and get them up on stage and walk them around and say, ‘Hey, this works, or it needs cutting...’” Part One, “The Expeditions,” kicks off with “Ylla” (first published as “I’ll Not Ask for Wine” in Maclean’s Magazine, January 1, 1950).

Captains Conover (Richard Heffer) and Nathaniel York (Richard Oldfield) lead the NATO Alliance’s first Martian expedition in January 1999. Just as the production apparently drew on actual news footage and aspects of NASA’s equipment and mission control center, the advantage of hindsight enabled Matheson to invest the preparations for the flight with the kind of dramatic “internal politics” that characterized our own space program, as Major Jeff Spender (Bernie Casey) gets bumped at the last minute by Wilder, the project’s director. As Zeus I approaches Mars, the indigenous Mr. K (James Faulkner) is perturbed by the evident ecstasy with which his wife, Ylla (Maggie Wright), anticipates the arrival of the spacecraft.

She has precognitive dreams of York, the tall stranger who says telepathically that he will take her away in his ship and perhaps even kill for her, so the jealous husband slays both astronauts with a bellows-shaped weapon that fires golden bees. Eliminating “The Earth Men” (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1948), the miniseries jumps ahead to April 2000 as Captain Arthur Black (Nicholas Hammond) arrives with his crew, David Lustig (Michael Anderson, Jr.) and Sam Hinkston (Vadim Glowna). Astonished to find the Zeus II landing outside a replica of his hometown of Green Bluff, Illinois, in 1979 and his dead younger brother, Edward (Anthony Pullen-Shaw), welcoming him, Black gasps, “Mars is Heaven!” 

Lustig and Hinkston also encounter deceased loved ones, while Black meets his long-lost sweetheart, Marilyn Becker (Linda Lou Allen). He realizes too late that, as in Stanislaw Lem’s twice-filmed novel Solaris (1961), the Martians have telepathically tapped their memories, disguising themselves as humans to “divide and overcome [the] invaders,” all three of whom are killed. Wilder had been forbidden by General Malcolm Halstead (Robert Beatty) to lead any of the previous expeditions, but in “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright” (Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1948), both he and Spender realize their interplanetary ambitions in June 2001, although Spender is dubious about the morality of colonization.

In a variation on H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1897), Spender learns that while four out of five cities have been empty for centuries, the remainder were wiped out no more than ten days ago, most likely by chicken pox brought by previous expeditions, leaving at most a handful of surviving Martians hiding in the hills. Horrified by their inadvertent genocide and the irreverence of the Zeus III’s crew, Spender disappears, steeps himself in the local culture and, claiming to be “the last Martian,” returns a week later. He shoots Briggs (John Cassady)—who had tossed garbage into a canal—and two others with a Martian weapon, forcing Sam Parkhill (Darren McGavin) and the reluctant Wilder to track down and kill him.

Part Two, “The Settlers,” begins in February 2004 with narration derived by Matheson from Bradbury’s eponymous story, as well as two other brief segments (all three of them original to The Martian Chronicles), “The Locusts” and “The Naming of Names.” The last is not to be confused with the unrelated Martian story that was first published under the same title in Thrilling Wonder Stories (August 1949), later collected in A Medicine for Melancholy and elsewhere as “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed.” Colonel Wilder, who is now the chief coordinator of the planet, is inspired by Spender’s final request to try to preserve whatever he can of the vanished Martian civilization from the encroachment of the human colonists.

By September 2006, settlers Lafe (Wolfgang Reichmann) and Anna Lustig (Maria Schell, the elder sister of Maximilian Schell) are living on Lustig Creek, named for their murdered son, and encounter “The Martian” (Super Science Stories, November 1949), who appears in his likeness to the grateful old couple. Like those who killed David, he manifests himself as people’s lost loved ones, but when Anna insists that he accompany them into town, he finds himself unable to control those abilities, appearing first as Christ (Jon Finch) and then as the drowned Lavinia Spaulding (Alison Elliott). Overwhelmed by the conflicting desires of the crowd surrounding him, he perishes, while his protean features swiftly shift back and forth.

First published as “In This Sign...” in Imagination (April 1951), “The Fire Balloons” was collected in The Illustrated Man, although protagonist Father Peregrine (Fritz Weaver) is in the unfilmed Chronicles segment “The Luggage Store.” He asks Wilder—who has brought his wife, Ruth (Gayle Hunnicutt), and children to Mars— about unsubstantiated rumors that spheres of light rescued an injured prospector in the hills. Despite the skepticism of Father Stone (Roddy McDowall), Peregrine clings to the hope and belief that they might represent a surviving Martian intelligence; as the missionaries wander in the wilderness, the spheres save them from an avalanche and deliver Peregrine when he steps off a cliff to test his faith.

Peregrine proposes building a church with a blue sphere instead of a cross, to represent the Martian Christ, yet a disembodied voice explains that it is not needed, since the “Old Ones,” in freeing themselves from their corporeal forms, “have left sin behind.” With the Earth an armed camp and the widely predicted “final war” inevitable, Wilder must race home in the hope of rescuing his brother Bill (Burnell Tucker), but first warns the settlers of the coming evacuation. He learns that Sam Parkhill has married Elma (Joyce Van Patten) and realized his long- standing dream of opening a Western-style café, confident that there will not be a war, and that subsequent rockets will make him rich by bringing “100,000 hungry mouths.”

Sam is so startled to see a Martian appear that when the latter brandishes an unknown object and says, “This is for you,” a terrified Sam shoots him down—à la Klaatu (Michael Rennie) in The Day the Earth Stood Stilland then flees with Elma in an antique Martian sand ship, fearing retribution. Surrounded by the ships, the Parkhills encounter another Martian (Derek Lamden), who reveals to the relieved Sam that they were merely trying to present him with a grant for territory that encompasses roughly half of Mars. But after the couple watches through a telescope as atomic fire envelops the Earth, Elma sarcastically observes that, for Sam’s Café, it will truly be “The Off Season” (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1948).

Part Three, “The Martians,” opens in November 2006 with what Matheson had intended to be an adaptation of the classic “There Will Come Soft Rains” (Collier’s, May 6, 1950), which depicted the last hours of a mechanized house, whose owners have been reduced to silhouettes burned onto the wall by an atomic blast. The filmed version instead portrays Wilder reaching the space center and merely seeing a videotape of Bill being vaporized. The miniseries also gives the name of Benjamin Driscoll, who had served as the Johnny Appleseed of Mars in the unfilmed Martian Chronicles original “The Green Morning,” to Walter Gripp, the protagonist of Bradbury’s “The Silent Towns” (Charm, March 1949).

Left behind during the exodus, Ben (Christopher Connelly) believes himself the last man on Mars until he hears a phone ringing somewhere in New Texas City. But after making contact with Genevieve Selsor (Bernadette Peters) and flying 1,500 miles to meet her, he finds that although gorgeous—unlike the obese grotesquerie in story and script—she is so vain and shallow he prefers to return to the wilderness. Also left behind is Peter Hathaway (Barry Morse), who has spent “The Long Years” with his wife, Alice (Nyree Dawn Porter), and daughter, Marguerite (named for Bradbury’s spouse of 56 years, who passed in 2003), desperately hoping that someone will make a last attempt to rescue the remaining colonists.

Such a deliverance appears to be at hand as Wilder arrives with Father Stone and is greeted by Hathaway, a member of his original Fourth Expedition crew in the book (introduced in “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright”). But he is surprised to see that although Hathaway has aged since they last met years ago, the family has not, and his suspicions are confirmed as Wilder finds the graves of Alice and Marguerite, both of whom died from an unknown virus in July 2000. Hathaway has created android duplicates of his deceased family to keep him company, and when his aged heart gives out at last, Father Stone convinces Wilder to leave the androids, who were never programmed to know sadness, in the home they loved.

The wandering Ben Driscoll soon arrives at that home, providing them with a new raison d’être, while in March 2007, Wilder learns from Parkhill that the Martians had known about the impending war on Earth, and speculates that perhaps they are permitting the humans to begin again, with the remnants of both civilizations coexisting on the Red Planet. Fulfilling his greatest wish, he then comes in contact with a ghostly Wise Martian (Terence Longdon), a figment from either the distant future or the distant past. When asked about the secret of living, the Martian speaks eloquently of observing and existing in harmony with nature, his words derived partly from Spender’s conversation with Wilder earlier in Bradbury’s book.

“Life is its own answer,” he tells Wilder. “Accept it and enjoy it, day by day. Live as well as possible. Expect no more. Destroy nothing, humble nothing, look for fault in nothing, leave unsullied and untouched all that is beautiful. Hold that which lives in all reverence, for life is given by the sovereign of our universe, given to be savored, to be luxuriated in, to be respected.” Just as Wilder supplants the character of Tomás Gomez in this adaptation of “Night Meeting,” his family replaces that of William Thomas in “The Million-Year Picnic” (Planet Stories, Summer 1946), as John and Ruth pack up their belongings and leave their prefabricated, Earth-manufactured dwelling with their young children, Marie and Robert.

As their boat travels down one of the planet’s legendary canals for an ostensible camping trip, Wilder invites the children to pick a place to stop, promising them that they will see Martians, and while they explore a long-deserted city, he announces that they will remain and make their home there, learning the Martian language and way of life. Symbolically burning a stack of papers to represent the greed and warfare that destroyed life on Earth, Wilder indicates their reflection in the waters of the canal (which, in a botched effect, is not a mirror image). After stating, “Those are the Martians,” he remotely detonates a bomb he had planted aboard the Zeus III, thus ensuring that the family can never return to the Earth.

Filmed in Britain, Malta, and the Canary Islands (on Lanzarote), this was the most ambitious of Matheson’s scripts to be produced, reuniting him with Hunnicutt and McDowall, the stars of The Legend of Hell House (1973), and McGavin, first seen as Carl Kolchak in The Night Stalker (1972). In his television debut, Logan’s Run (1976) director Michael Anderson cast not only his son and namesake but also, as Marie Wilder, his stepdaughter Laurie Holden, later a regular on The X-Files. Both Bradbury and Matheson singled out Anderson as the project’s weakest link. “I haven’t really discussed it with [Bradbury],” as Matheson said. “I know we were both unhappy with the final product. I tried to be faithful [to the book].

“They actually wrote one in there themselves [“The Long Years”], about the guy who’s got a robot wife, and he’s out in the desert or something, I didn’t write that one. I had done ‘Usher II’ [Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1950], one of the [other short] stories, rather than that, and it turned out quite well, actually. 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.”

He did, however, praise the score by Stanley Myers, who had worked with Anderson on Conduct Unbecoming (1975). In his overview of the production for the liner notes of the soundtrack CD, released on the Airstrip One label in 2002, Christopher Landry recounted that Bradbury rewrote some scenes uncredited, objected vocally when certain story points were later altered to accommodate the actors or the Standards and Practices department, and requested reshoots, but “[w]ith the film already over-budget and as NBC and other distributors had approved the final cut, the producers declined.” The miniseries shared a 1981 Hugo nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation with The Lathe of Heaven (1980).

Johnson was also dejected. “I don’t know what went on behind the scenes there, except that when I saw [it], I didn’t think it inspired on any level. I didn’t think the writing was altogether that indicative of what tender depths and power those stories have. What went wrong here? I didn’t know who to blame—Dick Berg [who, with Charles Fries, executive produced it]; Michael Anderson...or Matheson. These various actors were really trying. There’s a few striking scenes in it, but it’s very dark, and lacks any of the majesty or fluorescence or detailed decoration, because Bradbury’s stories are rich with decoration. The civilizations glitter, they have spires and strange projections and alcoves,” he said.

“These are not little boxes that these people live in in a Bradbury story. [According to Landry, the budget forced production designer Assheton Gorton to use “geodesic designs... partially inspired by megalithic stone circles.”] They have access into other realms.” The miniseries marked an inauspicious reunion for South African cinematographer Ted Moore and his frequent collaborator on the James Bond films, John Stears (who also served as the second-unit director), respective Academy Award winners for A Man for All Seasons (1966) and the visual effects in Thunderball (1965) and Star Wars, while the amateurish miniatures would not have seemed out of place in a low-budget sci-fi flick like Flesh Gordon (1974).

Bradbury told me, “Everything seems to get done over in my life. On my TV series I did over The Illustrated Man, I did over The Martian Chronicles, most of the stories there, because the original was a bore. It wasn’t bad, it was just boring. A lot of people liked that miniseries...” As with Jack Smight’s The Illustrated Man, the problem was “mainly the director, again...Okay, he did Around the World in Eighty Days [1956]. Well, even that has its longueurs. I admired the film when it came out, and I went to see it two or three times and took my kids, because it had a great score and wide screen and a lot of actors that you enjoyed seeing. It was a trick film, and mainly to be seen in theaters.

“You can’t watch it on TV; it’s much too slow, and it’s not fresh and original enough.... I’ve seen others of [his] films since, and when he can take people like John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson...and bore the hell out of you, you’ve got a real problem. So I went to a press meeting of 150, 200...reporters from all over the [U.S.] and Canada when [the miniseries] was finished, and I was the only one there that represented [it]. My director wasn’t there, my producers weren’t there, none of the stars were there. How come I was invited, hunh? Because I had nothing to do with the film! I didn’t write the script, I didn’t edit it, I gave them suggestions and they pretended to listen, the same old story.

“Same old story, time and again...on Something Wicked This Way Comes [1983] and The Illustrated Man. So here I was at a press conference with Muhammed Ali, of all people, sitting next to me, in his decline, God bless his dear soul. Finally... one of the reporters in the back of the room said, ‘Mr. Bradbury, have you seen The Martian Chronicles?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘What did you think of it?’ I said, ‘Boring, booooring.’ Well, they’d never heard that comment at a press conference. You’re supposed to pump up the film, aren’t you, and say, ‘Oh, wow, it’s terrific.’ And it’s just boring. Later that evening there was a cocktail reception and Fred Silverman, the head of the network, was there.

“[He] introduced himself and said, ‘I heard about your press conference today. Is the film as boring as you say?’ And I said, ‘Haven’t you seen it?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘You’d better go look at it, you’ve got problems.’ He said, ‘I will, I will.’ So, by God, two or three days later there was a story on the front page of Variety saying, ‘The Martian Chronicles has been shelved by NBC,’ a big headline. The phone started ringing, people calling me and saying, ‘Poor Ray...’ I said, ‘No, no, no, no...Maybe we can make some changes, do some cutting.’ The special effects are dreadful. I mean, all the little sand ships look like toy boats being pulled through a sandbox, and that’s what they were.”

Everything from table-top miniatures to shooting a full-scale version tied to the back of a truck had been attempted with an equal lack of success. “I mean, really, God, it was just terrible. So two or three months went by, and in January [1980], three months after it was supposed to be on, The Martian Chronicles appeared on the network three nights running. And I invited my friends over, naive Ray here, just like with The Twilight Zone, trusting Ray. All my closest friends were over—Bill Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, and a lot of other nice people, and my God, you know, by the end of the evening I had drunk a case of beer, the same old thing again. I was very depressed by the whole thing.

“It wasn’t bad, it was just slow, and I discovered in others of Michael Anderson’s films that was the problem, constantly. He didn’t know how to pace. I mean, if you examine really good films like Patriot Games [1992] and In the Line of Fire [1993], the Clint Eastwood film, and then compare it to another Harrison Ford film...Clear and Present Danger [1994] just doesn’t work. The pacing’s off, there’s no economy to the scenes, there’s no economy to the editing. It’s a tricky business of learning how to pace a motion picture so it’s just the right speed. And so, later on in my life, when I had a chance, I did over almost all the sequences in The Martian Chronicles, and this time did them right.”

Shorn of a third of its running time, the miniseries was rebroadcast in a two-part, four-hour form, albeit released in its entirety (just under five hours, sans commercials) on home video. Touting it as a “sci-fi series event,” the Sci-Fi Channel boasted, “For the first time in nearly twenty years, Ray Bradbury’s classic saga returns to network television,” sidestepping the fact that while “The Expeditions” was unchanged, “The Settlers” and “The Martians” were conflated under the former title. “The Fire Balloons,” the vestigial “There Will Come Soft Rains,” “The Silent Towns,” and “The Long Years” were excised entirely, as were Morse, Porter, Connelly, Peters, and McDowall, who were duly expunged from the revised credits.

The Soviet animated short Budet Laskovyy Dozhd (There Will Come Soft Rains; 1984) is a closer adaptation—by director Nazim Tulyakhodzayev—than Anderson offered. Set in Allendale, California, on December 31, 2026, it largely consolidates into a single robotic “face” the voices and devices serving the McClellan family, whose carbonized forms are poured from sleep pods into their waiting shoes.

An apparent nuclear winter surrounds the house, which is destroyed after a bird flies in through a broken window and disrupts the mechanisms, making them run amok; the film ends with verses from Sara Teasdale’s eponymous, prescient poem (Harper’s Magazine, July 1918), quoted in full by Bradbury.

Armenian director Suren Babayan, who had adapted “The Long Years” into a 1980 short, Ararman Uterord Ory (aka The Eighth Day of Creation), with Friedrich Gorenstein, later made the feature Trinadtsatyy Apostol (The 13th Apostle, 1988), co-written with Georgiy Nikolaev and “inspired by” The Martian Chronicles. Sadly, the print found on YouTube is often so dark as to make the film impenetrable in more ways than one. A framing story depicts a visit by the Inspector (Andrei Boltnev) to Amos (Juozas Budraitis), the captain and sole survivor of the 39th Expedition, currently confined at the Space Veteran Center while a “travel ban to [Mars is] in effect due to unspecified life-threatening conditions.”

Also there is the “Apostle,” who takes the form of crewman Absalom (Vladas Bagdonas), reported dead 15 years earlier; flashbacks follow “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright” as Absalom, horrified by the result of an apparent broken quarantine, asks Amos to promise not to let the colonizers come for 20 years. Babayan also draws upon “The Martian” and “Mars Is Heaven!” as characters meet deceased parents, children, et al. One quotes “The Settlers” (“They were leaving bad wives, or bad jobs or bad towns. They were coming to find something or leave something”) and the book’s opening vignette, “Rocket Summer,” not to be confused with the eponymous Bradbury tale from Planet Stories (Spring 1947).

The Ray Bradbury Theater ran for six seasons on HBO and USA, with Bradbury adapting all 65 episodes from his short stories. “I always wanted to have my own series. I worked for [Alfred] Hitchcock... and Rod Serling...and growing up I saw these various series on TV and thought, ‘Oh, it’d be nice someday to have my own series.’ But I was afraid, and rightfully so,

of being in the hands of people who would hurt me and upset me and I thought, ‘I don’t need this, really. I don’t want to be upset all the time, I want to be able to trust people.’ When [executive producer] Larry Wilcox and Mark Massari came into my life [around 1984], it took them a whole year to convince me to do a series,” he said.

“[T]hey took me out to lunch and to dinner and they bought me wine and they petted me and stroked my hair and said, ‘Ray, don’t be afraid. You can trust us.’ I said, ‘Well, gee whiz, look what they’ve done to me so far.’...So they finally...came back to me said, ‘HBO wants to do eight or nine as a starter. Trust us, let’s do it and see what happens.’ Well, by God, they were right, they did protect me. They did some beautiful shows... And so we worked with HBO and we got a lot of nominations, we won a lot of cable network prizes for the best special half-hour series, at which point HBO canceled us. I mean, the more successful you get, the quicker you get canceled, or so it seems.”

The fourth season included a quartet of Martian tales, beginning with “Mars Is Heaven” (7/20/90), directed by John Laing, with Captain Black (Hal Linden) heading up the Third Expedition (the story’s alternate title), now “Mars Mission I.” Hinkston (Stephen Papps) says they are in Grinnell, Iowa; William Henley (Eddie Campbell) sees his grandparents (Patrick Smythe, Wendy McFarlane) in Bradbury’s fictional Green Town, Illinois, while orphaned Larson (Brian Sergent), with no memories of loved ones to be tapped, returns to their ship unmoved. Reunited with his mother (Helen Moulder) and brother in the house where Skip (Paul Gross) died when it burned down, Black again intuits the truth too late.

The dialogue-free Armenian short The Third Expedition (2012) is actually based on “The Taxpayer,” a Chronicles original in which titular citizen Pritchard, fearing an atomic war, demands, and is refused, permission to join Black. Veteran Michael Grigorian (Vardan Nersisyan), who wishes to flee the overpopulated, war-torn Earth, fails his physical, due to a heart problem, but finds terrestrial bliss with “THE woman” (Marina Sahakyan); in a finale recalling Planet of the Apes (1968), the astronauts find a huge statue of Stalin. The director, scenarist, cinematographer, editor, visual and special effects artist and stuntman, Daniel Tanielian, cast himself, and apparently three family members, in supporting roles.

“Usher II” (8/17/90) had been scripted by Matheson for, but omitted from, the miniseries; he said, “as a matter of fact I just saw it recently on Ray’s own anthology show....It was [wonderfully done].” One of three episodes directed by Lee Tamahori, whose features include Mulholland Falls (1996) and the James Bond film Die Another Day (2002), it is set in 2125, twenty years after the “Great Fire” destroyed the works of Poe and all writers of imaginative literature. Stendahl (Patrick Macnee) has spent millions building a second House of Usher, “a sanctuary for the imagination” that is soon visited by Garrett (Stewart Devinie), Investigator of Moral Climates, who says the Dismantlers will shortly be there.

Former horror star Pikes (Ian Mune) helps to replace Garrett with an android that reports Stendahl’s rehabilitation, also inviting the committee members to a party celebrating the house’s fall. The real Garrett (whose “body” was another android, sent as a precaution) is joined by Dr. Steffens (Des Kelly), Miss Blunt (Alice Fraser), and Miss Pope (Susan Wilson), who supposedly watch their android duplicates die in methods from Poe’s tales. But after luring Garrett to Fortunato’s fate, Stendahl informs him that it was the androids who watched, and that “ignorance is fatal,” a lack of familiarity with the books he burned having doomed Garrett; Stendahl and Pikes depart as the Dismantlers and Burners begin.

Self-described “anarchist and... revolutionary” David Carradine was well cast as Spender, with Twin Peaks regular Kenneth Welsh as Captain Wilder, in Randy Bradshaw’s “And the Moon Be Still as Bright” (10/19/90). After killing the irreverent Biggs (Brian Jensen) while clad in a golden Martian mask, Spender asks his colleagues, “What would you do

if you were a Martian and people came to your land and started tearing it up?,” to which the aptly named Cheroke (Ben Cardinal) replies, “I know how I’d feel; I’m Cherokee. I’d be pretty mad.” Spender quotes “So We’ll Go No More a Roving,” published in the Letters and Journals of Lord Byron (1830), the poem from which Bradbury had derived his title.

Best known for starring with Bill Cosby on the series I Spy, Robert Culp plays Hathaway, given the first name of literary son John, in Paul Lynch’s “The Long Years” (11/16/90). Gone are the additions of Father Stone and the closure offered by the Driscoll character; in the story, Captain Wilder tells Hathaway that Walter Gripp, the only other survivor he found, declined to join them. Here, instead of torching the remains of New New York, he attracts Wilder (George Touliatos) and Bill Williamson (Bruce Mitchell) by switching on all the lights of First Town, which he has rigged up to simulate inhabitation, while a new final twist sees his android wife, Cora, using his technology to recreate him after he dies.

Martian tales bookended the fifth season, with Graeme Campbell’s “The Earthmen [sic]” (1/3/92) depicting the ill- fated Second—here Third—Expedition, led by Captain Jonathan Williams (David Birney). Unaware of their predecessors’ fate, they hope for recognition but, handed off from Mrs. Ttt (Patricia Phillips) to Mr. Aaa (Jim Shepard) to Mr. Iii (Raul Tome), end up institutionalized among Martians claiming to be from Earth. Psychologist Mr. Xxx (Gordon Pinsent) thinks the crew are hallucinations, who will vanish along with their landing craft after Williams is euthanized; horrified when all four are shot down yet stubbornly refuse to vanish, Mr. Xxx believes he is contaminated, and “cures” himself...

Hissable in everything from Hitchcock’s Topaz (1969) and Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry (1971) to National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), John Vernon had a rare sympathetic role as La Farge in Anne Wheeler’s “The Martian” (2/21/92). Not tying the story into the larger arc of the miniseries, Bradbury restored the family name, and son Tom (Paul Clemens) has again died of pneumonia back on Earth. As before, the trip to town at the behest of Anna (Sheila Moore) proves fatal, for while Lafe is able to prevent the Martian from becoming “trapped” as Lavinia, missing and presumed dead, the three soon become separated in the crowd; after being overcome by their memories and wishes, he dies and fades from view.

Another Tamahori remake, “Silent Towns” (10/10/92), restored the name of protagonist Walter Gripp (John Glover), who sees the headline “Earth Crisis! Rockets Recalled” on a Martian Chronicle before leaving Marlin Village on his 900- mile trek. Monica Parker’s Genevieve strikes a balance between Peters’s attractive airhead and the story’s, with eyes “like two immense eggs stuck into a white mess of bread dough,” legs “as big around as the stumps of trees,” and hair “made and remade, it appeared, as a nest for birds.” Walter (who, ’90s style, tosses his cell phone into a canyon) seems put off as much by a fixation on marriage and children as by her undeniably overweight, but more normal, appearance.

The Martian Chronicles endures as a masterpiece in spite of revisionist alterations to later editions such as adding “The Wilderness” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1952) or “The Fire Balloons” and advancing the dates by 31 years to offset the “future now past” phenomenon. Some omit “Usher II” or “Way in the Middle of the Air” (Other Worlds Science Stories, July 1950), which depicts a black exodus from a Southern town; “The Other Foot,” from The Illustrated Man, offers a hopeful follow- up. While the shortcomings of Anderson and the production values have kept Matheson’s version from being considered definitive, Bradbury’s work continues to be adapted, and we can hope... 


Adapted from Bradley’s Richard Matheson on Screen: A History of the Filmed Works (McFarland, 2010) and forthcoming The Group: Sixty Years of California Sorcery on Screen


Matthew R. Bradley is the author of Richard Matheson on Screen: A History of the Filmed Works (McFarland, 2010) and the co-editor, with Stanley Wiater and Paul Stuve, of The Richard Matheson Companion (Gauntlet, 2008). He is preparing a comprehensive screen history of the “California Sorcerers” writer’s group that included Matheson, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, William F. Nolan, Jerry Sohl (all of whom he interviewed extensively), and Charles Beaumont. He also explores “the nexus of film and literature” at his blog, Bradley on Film (


Jack Seabrook said...

Congratulations, Matthew, and good luck!

Quiddity99 said...

Incidentally enough I'm going through a read of the book now (and stopped partway through the article to avoid spoilers). Fairly good stuff thus far; I am rather disappointed that they didn't include "The Earthmen" story in the 1980s adaption. Upon reading that story it is clear that it was an inspiration for the EC comics story "Mad Journey" which was always one of my favorite EC sci-fi stories, although the setting is changed from Mars to Venus. Will come back to revisit the rest of this article once I finish the book.

Matthew Bradley said...

Thank you both, and Jack, additional thanks again for your help in documenting the Group's efforts on the Hitchcock series. Quiddity99, as you'll eventually see, Bradbury did adapt "The Earth Men" (as it was in the book; it mysteriously became "The Earthmen" on TV) for his anthology series. EC isn't my area of expertise, but as I understand it, they originally did one or more uncredited Bradbury adaptations, and when Ray politely brought it up, they began to credit (and pay) him. I don't know if he was credited on "Mad Journey" or not. Hope you will enjoy the remainder of the article when you return to it!

Quiddity99 said...

Incidentally enough, "Mad Journey" appears just one issue after the story that got Bradbury to reach out to EC about crediting him, "Home to Stay", which was based on his stories "The Rocket Man" and "Kaleidoscope". Authorized Bradbury adaptions wouldn't start appearing until several months later.

To be fair, Mad Journey seems like a clear case where they used Bradbury's story as a springboard, but developed a story that wasn't simply ripping it off. Mad Journey has a big build up to the protagonist being called crazy by his fellow businessmen due to his desire to build a rocket to go to the Moon (then changed to Venus), so taking the twist of the mad asylum from "The Earthmen" provides quite the snap ending and it stops there rather than using the ending from Bradbury's story. EC pulled similar things with stories like "The Jar" or "Skeleton".