The Illustrated Man (1969) Blu-ray Review: Rod Steiger's Shorts, Illustrated

The Warner Archive Collection puts an awful lot of effort into an awful Ray Bradbury adaptation.
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In 1951, genre novelist (and all-around legendary icon) Ray Bradbury published The Illustrated Man ‒ a collection of eighteen short stories based around a former carnival sideshow freak whose body is covered in an assortment of mysterious tattoos which come to animated life as they relay bizarre tales hailing from different corners of time and space. Were that not already a recipe for box-office poison, the people behind Warner Bros./Seven Arts' 1969 feature adaptation of the same name threw out more than just five-sixths of Bradbury's tales: they also threw out all of the coherency. There is also a very good possibility all parties responsible were on drugs, as the resulting mess ‒ featuring the overacting talents of Rod Steiger as the eponymous outcast ‒ was subsequently shunned by Bradbury, whose extreme disappointment was also publicly shared by Twilight Zone creator and genre writer Rod Serling.

And when Rod Serling says your movie sucks, it most assuredly does suck.

So just what is it? Well, it's hard to figure out what the heck is going on in this long and tedious anthology flick co-starring Claire Bloom and Robert Drivas. Here, the latter performer meets a cranky pre-hipster douchebag named Carl (Steiger, who proves he is just as capable of chewing every chunk of scenery in sight even when he's striped naked and covered in ink), who seals his fate as a loathsome loser when he calls them as "skin illustrations." From there, the audience's expectations (as well as Drivas' hopes of a career) start to sink as we segue into three boring tales from the future, all of which feature the film's three main stars in different roles: "The Veldt," which only perks up when Steiger and Bloom's kids feed them to imaginary lions; "The Long Rain," wherein we witness the plight of several doomed astronauts on Venus (one of whom is The Brain That Wouldn't Die star Jason Evers); and the equally downbeat (and just as dull) "The Last Night of the World."

While the movie itself may have left me wondering if it was ever going to stop, this exercise in tedium was made much more bearable thanks to the Warner Archive's dynamic 2K restoration of this dud. I suppose I should confess I am something of an admirer of the subtle allure of B-movie actor Jason Evers, so I never decline the opportunity to see a film he is featured in, especially if it's in HD. In that respect, The Illustrated Man paid off, as the forgotten character actor (who was usually cast as a villain) gets a chance to hold his own against Steiger's vigorous devouring of dialogue and set pieces alike. A DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack featuring an early score by the late great Jerry Goldsmith is included, as are English (SDH) subtitles. Special features consist of a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette (which is probably more interesting than the feature film itself), and the original theatrical trailer ‒ which the people in the marketing department obviously had a hard time promoting.

While The Illustrated Man may have ultimately failed to enlighten me (and, well, just about everybody else who ever tried to sit through it), it is nevertheless commendable the folks at the Warner Archive Collection put so much effort into something so banal. But between the amazing restorative efforts and Jerry Goldsmith score (and yeah, the appearance of Jason Evers, too), there's much more to be seen (and heard) here than before, so I'll recommend you check it out for those aspects alone. You can always sell it to some douchey guy covered in "skin illustrations" afterwards.

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