A good rule of thumb for novel adaptations is, the more loyal to the source material, the better the movie. In the case of BRAVE NEW WORLD (1980) that loyalty, in addition to some stellar acting, is what saved it.
Because someone somewhere never read of heard of the book, BRAVE NEW WORLD centers around a future where everything is automated, including birth. From conception in a lab, it is determined through genetics and introduction of alcohol to the developing fetus, whether or not the individual will be one of the elite Alphas, down to the lowly laboring Gammas. After the babies are “decanted” from their artificial wombs, they are raised by conditioning to be happy with their lot in life. A steady stream of amusements, sex, and drugs, and no one wants for anything.
The movie version starts out about eighteen years before the book does. A middle manager, Thomas Grambell, goes on vacation to a “savage reservation” with his date, Lynda Lysenko. There they get to watch people from outside their utopia living as primitive creatures. Unfortunately, there is an accident and, although her body was never discovered, Lynda is assumed dead.
Fast forward to the time of the book. One of our main characters, Bernard Marx. He’s an alpha but, due to an accident with alcohol poisoning in utero, he isn’t as tall or handsome as the other elites. Because of this, he’s never totally fit in. He knows people laugh at him. He hopes to score a date with the most “pneumatic” lady and take her on a trip to one of the hardest vacation spots to score–the Savage Reservation. Mustapha Mond, the man in charge of their community, approves it.
There, they find the long-lost Lynda who was never able to adapt to a world where comforts aren’t handed to her. They also find she had given birth to Thomas’ son–something totally unheard of in their society of artificial birth. Marx sees this as his ticket up the social ladder and brings both Lynda and her son, John, back to Utopia. Like the book, the rest of the story explores how the clashing of cultures changes everyone involved.
Even though BRAVE NEW WORLD was a made-for-network-TV movie, the costumes and props look straight out of a community college theater production. The outfits are little more than spandex jogging suits with letters taped to the shoulders. Even the most “high tech” of the futuristic equipment looks like spray painted cardboard. Granted, this was 1980 so technology wasn’t nearly what it is today. Still, NBC had a few bucks behind it and could have thrown a few dollars to the production crew.
As I said in the beginning, the loyalty to the source material absolutely helped save the movie. Honestly, the book has always been one of my favorites so I will be predisposed to like a movie that respects that story. If you didn’t like the book you may not like this movie.
Marx is played by Bud Cort who, despite it being almost a decade later, doesn’t look like he aged much since his turn as a young adult in HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971). He makes the social outcast both sympathetic, and annoying enough to understand why he has trouble fitting in. Kier Dullea does an about-face from his role in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY here as Thomas, the epitome of the corporate rules lover. The biggest casting surprise brought Ron O’Neal in as Mustapha Mond. He’s definitely the father figure of the story, and one of the few who has seen all the goings on behind the scenes, and still sees the predestination and conditioning as a benevolent way to keep his people happy. It’s a long way from the role that made him famous–SUPERFLY.
If you like the book, you’ll like the movie. If not, you might want to skip it:
Question of the night–have you ever liked the movie better than the book?