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Brave New World (1998)

This 1998 production is the second US TV shot at Aldous Huxley's novel, following a 1980 miniseries; neither version is that satisfactory, but this is more of a botch than the first stab. Pruned away are a lot of Huxley's satiric digs – typically, the name-checks for evil commies remain but the anti-Fordist stuff is almost gone ('history is bunk' is flashed up once). The result is a blanded-out dystopia that seems like a riff on films influenced by Huxley, with elements from Gattaca, Fahrenheit 451 or ZPG grafted in. We're even given a thread of melodrama with a leering baddie (Miguel Ferrer) responsible for most of the individual wrongs in the plot (he fathered the savage, murders the mother, then brainwashes a Delta to assassinate the hero) though this blurs the point that the society as conceived should not be able to produce a villain just as it can't come up with a hero (Ferrer even suggests the cardboard character can love and hate). There's some good casting, with Peter Gallagher and Rya Kihlstedt as the perky, bright-looking, incipiently-sensitive Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowne, and Leonard Nimoy in Nehru jackets, love-beads and dresses as the persuasive top dog Mustapha Mond, whose real rottenness is that he knows better and chooses to commit to perpetrating the system. It makes less of the genetics than might be expected, and spends a lot of time satirising the ad industry and intrusively trivial television. Tim Guinee's neck-tattooed, cowboy-hatted, Shakespeare-shouting savage (from a wilderness of martial arts punks) is a fair stab at an impossible characterisation (with the weird kink of having him die accidentally while ranting rather than react to 'civilisation' by committing suicide) and Sally Kirkland channels Karen Black as the blowsy, soma-gulping mad mother. It cops out with a tacky happy ending as the rebels escape to the seaside and are seen walking in the waves with their new baby and a child in a dormitory puts in earplugs to shut out the conditioning. Directed by Leslie Libman and Larry Williams; scripted by Dan Mazur.

First published in this form here.

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