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March 31, 2017 3:19 PM   Subscribe

The Martian Chronicles, the 1980 NBC miniseries. (YouTube)

The above link is the entire miniseries -- 4 hours and 37 minutes.

You can also watch the individual episodes on YouTube:
Part I: The Expeditions
Part II: The Settlers
Part III: The Martians

The miniseries starred Rock Hudson, Darren McGavin, Bernadette Peters, Roddy McDowall, Fritz Weaver, Barry Morse and Maria Schell. It was adapted to the screen by Richard Matheson. Ray Bradbury famously called it "Boooooooring!" at a press conference promoting the show.

OMNI: Despite being one of the most accurate book to television adaptations in science fiction, 'The Martian Chronicles' was met with mixed reviews.
posted by zarq (43 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
No exaggeration - this was one of the high points of my scifi-obsessed childhood. Thanks for posting, I can't wait to watch this as an adult.
posted by overhauser at 3:28 PM on March 31, 2017 [9 favorites]

It scared the hell out of me as a kid. I had nightmares for days (possibly weeks) about a golden Martian chasing me with a gun/rifle that looked like a folded umbrella.

I'm really looking forward to watching the whole thing, too! Maybe with the lights on, tho.
posted by zarq at 3:31 PM on March 31, 2017 [6 favorites]

I loved this too, although I saw it in reruns on Canadian TV years later. The early 1980's were the era of Bradbury for me, with this series on TV and his short story collections in the library. Lots of intense, emotional stories there.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:32 PM on March 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

Wow, I have the foggiest memories of this at age 7. I remember it being scary but nothing specific.
posted by Liquidwolf at 3:36 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Bradbury's approach to the idea of colonizing Mars was more poetic than scientific. For him it was a metaphor for things like the destructive effects of settling the Americas and the relentless encroachment of science and technology upon what used to be the realm of myth and magic. (He was a science fiction writer, but he was more aligned with Tolkien when it came to ideas like "progress.") I can't remember how much of that came through in the TV adaptation. Maybe that's a good reason to watch it again!
posted by Kevin Street at 3:42 PM on March 31, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have a real love for this miniseries and often think of it, flawed as it is. The charm of the sand-sailboat that looked like someone made it out of toilet paper rolls couldn't obscure the pathos of a Martian unable to truly die because the faith of a priest wanting him to be jesus. It made an impression on me for sure.
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:53 PM on March 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

This may have been my first exposure to both SciFi on TV, and to the long form TV mini-series. Made a huge impact, especially the Darren McGavin segments, which I dreamed about for years.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:56 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

This had nothing on the 1980 PBS adaptation of Ursula Le Guin's Lathe Of Heaven, which had rock concert light effects and alien turtles, and didn't look bad for having been made for probably about forty bucks. As a relatively newly-minted Star Wars fanatic, I thought it dragged a bit and was a little short on the old pew pew pew.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 4:41 PM on March 31, 2017 [17 favorites]

Metafilter: a little short on the old pew pew pew.
posted by hanov3r at 4:45 PM on March 31, 2017 [20 favorites]

Add me to the Lathe of Heaven fan faction (of course it's on YouTube). The first of many adaptations of books that got me into reading the book and loving the author. And Ursula K. LeGuin wasn't the only 'future big name' woman writer attached to that production. The screenplay co-writer was Diane English, who went on to create/write/produce "Murphy Brown". What a way to bookend the 1980s...
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:15 PM on March 31, 2017 [6 favorites]

I am pretty certain that I watched this way back when (Space 1999, check; OG Battlestar, check; Star Trek: The Motion Picture, check; Ray Bradbury books at home, check), but I can't remember much more than the faintest recollection. And I was 14. So it didn't exactly make a big impression.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:19 PM on March 31, 2017

I have fond memories of seeing this on TV at the magical age of 13, along with the TV adaptation of Brave New World around the same time. The extended run time and slower pace were interesting and welcomed departures from visual sci fi media I was so keen to consume. My criticism of the show was related to the made-for-tv level of quality we often had at the time. Not only that special effects and props often seemed to be treated as an afterthought, but the cast members were mostly very recognizable American TV veterans, with all the baggage they carry. I haven't watched either show since they were first broadcast. I wonder how well they hold up, in general, and with my memories. Looks like Brave New World is also viewable online via several video sites.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:21 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

I loved it. It went on the air about when I started reading the stories from Ray Bradbury's books.
I tried to duplicate 'The Electric Gramdmother's recipe for liver and onions with fried green tomatoes. The kids and I loved the series. It captured the malevolent atmosphere of settler boom-towns brilliantly.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:28 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

This had nothing on the 1980 PBS adaptation of Ursula Le Guin's Lathe Of Heaven

This very-low-budget production was unavailable for 10 years or so because of rights issues, but was finally released on DVD in 2000. I watched it again recently and confirmed my opinion that it is one of the finest movie adaptations of a SF novel. (Largely because the book it faithfully adapts is so fantastic.)
posted by straight at 5:37 PM on March 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

Martian Chronicles was terrific. This was back when the networks felt that the mini series could compete with film. Remember that this was around the same time we got the excellent Salem's Lot, also a mini series. FWIW, I think there is an edited (shorter) version of Martian Chronicles that leaves out some interesting scenes.
posted by Beholder at 6:23 PM on March 31, 2017

Ursula Le Guin's Lathe Of Heaven

Yeah this. I was meh about The Martian Chronicles but I had not read Lathe of Heaven and the teleplay blew me away, because it was so unafraid to be what it was. It did not need to shout at you. In particular the way the famine that winnowed humanity was portrayed in dreamtime, as diners disappearing from a lavish regal dinner, haunted me for weeks. The turtle aliens were almost an anticlimax and similarly, terrifyingly, low-key. It was my first hint that horror doesn't have to be big and explody and chase you down a corridor to be really, really bad. The worst horror comes from within and you can't escape it because it is a part of you.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:29 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Alright, I confess: I hated The Martian Chronicles and could barely stomach anything of Bradbury's in spite of being more of a technophobe than he was, probably.

That Lathe of Heaven adaptation, on the other hand, was excellent!
posted by jamjam at 7:05 PM on March 31, 2017

Ray Bradbury famously called it "Boooooooring!" at a press conference promoting the show.

1980? I was what, 13? I didn't know this was his opinion. I concurred.
posted by mikelieman at 7:08 PM on March 31, 2017

I remember this well. I had read The Martian Chronicles at a very tender age and cannot begin to tell you what kind of influence it had on me. I'm still trying to write something I describe to friends as "Raymond Carver's Martian Chronicles."

I remember having mixed feelings about this when it aired. Of course I moved Heaven and Earth to see every second of it - not a simple task in my household at the time. I was somewhat disappointed. Parts of it were very goid, but others just didn't work for me. And of course my bar was so, so high...
posted by Naberius at 7:13 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ray Bradbury famously called it "Boooooooring!" at a press conference promoting the show

Um, Ray, you started it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:13 PM on March 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

I remember when someone told me that Rock Hudson was gay, after I'd seen these, I replied that "I suppose, back then, even men's men were men."

I'm so happy I picked this up on DVD, when it came out. I was disappointed that there was no 'There will come soft rains,' but I can accept that's be hard to make interesting for someone not a fan.
posted by LD Feral at 7:14 PM on March 31, 2017

I don't remember this at all, even though it was one of the biggest TV events of my childhood. I adored Bradbury. I downloaded this, and with _much_ trepidation, I will revisit it at some point in the future.
posted by old_growler at 7:32 PM on March 31, 2017

It's not boring, but it has almost zero action.
posted by Beholder at 7:43 PM on March 31, 2017

I remember being super-excited about it when it aired, but I can't remember much about it other than the aforementioned bee gun.

Damnation Alley and Battle Beyond the Stars left more lasting impressions, probably because one had killer cockroaches and George Peppard, and the other was Seven Samurai but with zap guns and spaceships.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:44 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

The ABCs of science fiction! Asimov! Bester! Clarke!
What about Bradbury?
I'm aware of his work.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:02 PM on March 31, 2017 [10 favorites]

I haven't watched this in decades. I remember it being very slow and very disturbing somehow. And the crystals that play music. And the umbrella guns. I should watch it again.
posted by hippybear at 8:21 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this, zarq. Interested to check it out - the book was rather a curate's egg.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:10 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember watching it, and at the time agreeing with Ray Bradbury. I also remember looking at the rocket effects with disdain, wondering how they could justify old style flames in a post Star Wars world.

I think I was doomed though, to be disappointed by adaptations of books- Beast Master and Escape to Witch Mountain in particular.

Lathe of Heaven though...that was something special. One of the best adaptations of an author's work I'd ever sen.
posted by happyroach at 9:27 PM on March 31, 2017

Darren McGavin is typically brilliant; Jon Finch too. I think this was the beginning of my love for composer Stanley Myers, too, who died far too young.
posted by specialbrew at 3:09 AM on April 1, 2017

Metafilter: a little short on the old pew pew pew.

...and a little long on the old mew mew mew.
posted by fairmettle at 4:00 AM on April 1, 2017

What Bradbury did with adjectives in MC inspired me to write.

TV does not translate adjectives well.

Er' perrehnne.
posted by sonascope at 4:52 AM on April 1, 2017

I remember being very excited about this when it was announced and being fairly un-impressed when I saw it. Bradbury doesn't seem very filmable or at least there haven't been many (or any) successful adaptations that I can think of. Maybe Fahrenheit 451 but I haven't watched that in a long time.
posted by octothorpe at 6:16 AM on April 1, 2017

Haven't seen the TV version - did it ever air in the uK? - but I remember the book being a vast disappointment to me, I think because it didn't feel like science fiction. At the time - early teens - I didn't know why. It had Martian in the title, for heaven's sake, and was set on Mars, and Bradbury was one of the masters of the art, so huh?

Now I know why - it's because it's all about the humans being human, and I get bored by that easily (in real life, as well as in fiction). Whether it's because, even then, I had been surrounded by humans being human for enough years to have observed plenty of that sort of thing already, or because I'm just not that into that side of things, I don't know. But I like my SF - and my humans - to be some combination of well-written, adventurous, surreal, funny, intelligent, shocking and mind-expanding. I don't mind metaphorical and poetic at all; the very finest writing demands it. But if you're going down those roads then the writing has to be exceptionally good (the textual equivalent of Tarkovsky's cinematography on Stalker) - transparent is bad, only invisible will do. And Bradbury, for all he is one of the better word-slingers in his world, isn't up to it.

I'll have a bash at the miniseries, out of curiosity rather than expectation, and perhaps that young me was just too jejune to get it. Perhaps the old me is, too.
posted by Devonian at 7:24 AM on April 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Damnation Alley ... had killer cockroaches

posted by mikelieman at 7:35 AM on April 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

"The ABCs of science fiction! Asimov! Bester! Clarke!
What about Bradbury?
I'm aware of his work"

Not sure where that quote comes from, but I've never considered Alfred Bester to be in the same league as Asimov, Bradbury or Clarke. He's definitely part of the era, but he only had one truly great novel. (And some great short stories.)

For me the big three were Asimov, Bradbury and Poul Anderson, with Clarke at number four. These days I'm not sure about the ranking, but they'd still all be up there at the top somewhere.

EDIT: Oh, The Simpsons! I get it now. Sorry.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:04 PM on April 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Surely both The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination are great?
posted by Chrysostom at 2:34 PM on April 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Okay, maybe two great novels. I haven't read "The Demolished Man" yet.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:38 PM on April 1, 2017

Oh man. This makes my night.

And the music!!!
posted by otherthings_ at 9:39 PM on April 1, 2017

did it ever air in the uK?

The BBC was actually a partner on the show's production. My recollection is that it was shown in the 6pm slot on BBC2 but this may have been a repeat. I liked it and parts of the show stayed with me such that i watched it again when the DVD became available about a decade ago.
posted by biffa at 12:25 AM on April 2, 2017

Ah - 1980 was pre-VCR, at least in our household, and 6pm was news on BBC1, which was watched religiously.

The glory days of three channel, one set , watch-it-live-or-never TV. We had just visited Saturn for the first time, the year before. In that respect at least, we are living in the science fiction future.
posted by Devonian at 5:51 AM on April 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just got around to skimming through the YouTube video and it's really pretty terrible. The spaceship effects look like Revel models hung on string and the dialog is beyond clunky.
posted by octothorpe at 8:47 AM on April 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ray Bradbury is one of my all time favorites. He's like Melville or Faulkner with the English language. Still surprised The Veldt hadn't been turned into a movie or at least a Black Mirror episode. I remember this mini-series when it came out and still remember the bedroom scene with chills. Haven't seen it since it aired.
posted by misterpatrick at 3:19 PM on April 2, 2017

The Veldt has been adapted a bunch of times; it was a third of The Illustrated Man and was an episode of Ray Bradbury Theater and it looks like there were versions on Swedish and Russian TV in the 80s.
posted by octothorpe at 7:15 PM on April 2, 2017

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