Upon first glance, I was intrigued by the cover and description given for The Illustrated Man. The description promises a film full of psychedelic visions of the future. Based on the collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury in 1951 here we too have an overarching thematic that drives our stories of ultimate terror. There are three performers that take us through our journey of time and space, Rod Steiger – The Illustrated Man himself, Claire Bloom – our seductress and the woman who has all the answers, and lastly, Robert Drivas – the innocent one who is free to be corrupted by these vivid images of despair. The actual film came far from anything I could have imagined. Instead, we have a mostly, performance-driven storyline with constant overacting from Steiger. To be fair, I think that it mostly seems this way because the overarching story is the one part that seems to work cohesively and I think Steiger could sense it.
Our story centers around a young hobo (Robert Drivas) who comes across another drifter (Steiger) who interestingly enough is covered from the neck down with “Skin Illustrations” (tattoos). The Illustrated Man goes on to tell the tale of a woman who gave him the illustrations and how his life was forever changed. These aren’t your average Tattoos (don’t you dare call them Tattoos though, they are skin illustrations). When given the chance they give the onlooker visions into the future. The exact nature of how they work is a little bit lost, however, it is clear that whoever they encounter tends to go a bit mad.
What is strange about this film is that I rather enjoyed the composition of the film overall and was quite intrigued UNTIL we start experiencing the visions. Since the visions are the whole point and the only aspect that really points back to the Bradbury story this feels like a huge miss to me. Most of the time the visions from the tattoos were occurring, I was waiting to get back to our tale of the two hobos and love lost. A huge reason for this is the repetitive use of the same actors. Each time you are trying to figure who they are supposed to be now and at first, you assume it is the future of our hobos we are seeing as there is nothing pointing otherwise. As soon as you do come to grips with the dystopian and hopeless futuristic short it is over and you are back to the campsite.
The Film 2/5
The fractured nature of the story’s composition leaves much to be desired. On the one hand, we have a beautifully filmed setting of the two hobos by a lakeside telling their tale. Unfortunately, when we start to imagine the future, the settings are either too grand or not quite grand enough leading me to believe that the concept, as well-intentioned as it was, was not executed as it was originally intended. We are supposed to be transported to three alternate futures each of which has its own problems but each lacks any sort of grounding to bring us in. If the form would have developed one set piece and took us there time and time again and developed that story/characters I have to believe this would have worked much better. That being said I cannot complain about the quality of the picture I did not suffer through bits of quality drop-offs during the film and the restoration and upgrade as a whole is a success.
Picture Quality 5/5
I found it interesting that consistently throughout the film music is used for dramatic effect rather than a score to lay the groundwork for tone for the film itself. Not that I haven’t seen this before in film however it almost seems out of place. I keep using the word fractured for this film it’s almost as if every element of the film is working against itself. Whatever the original intent was, I can say the transfer to Blu-ray was mostly a success. I did experience some small fluctuation issues during The Long Rain segment of the film where audio came in and out at different levels a couple of times. However other than that, I found the dialogue clear, distinct, and easy to hear.
Audio Quality 3/5
A huge win in the artwork department at Warner Archives for the design behind the case for this. It does well to really bring the viewer in and hints to what you have in store when watching the film. The colors are bright and inviting and point to the Psychedelic nature of the film. They did well to put Steiger and Bloom’s name upfront but oddly enough left Drivas’ name off the cover even though he is in nearly as much of the film. On the inside, we get the same color and image on the disc and my hats continue to be off for Warner archives for always including an image on the disc.
The Packaging 5/5
Although nothing new was included in the features, we do get a short entitled Tattooed Steiger an interesting clip that showcases just how much work into making the tattoos so well fit for Rod Steiger. I actually found this quite interesting, the way they mapped out every tattoo and used transfers to put them on Steiger and finish them by hand. As far as extras go I found this to help add to the overall appeal of the film. Also included in the extras is the original trailer.
Special Features 2/5
The film has problems there is no denying it. It was over-ambitious to create these landscapes of the future while at the same time relying heavily on dramaticism to tell the story. Falling short of its goal of wowing the audience and ultimately putting terror into the viewer, the film suffers and so does its cast. It is obvious that Steiger has an air of drama to him, and brings that to life in every scene of this film. But I can’t help but think a performance like this would be better suited for the stage than the silver screen. I rather liked where the film was taking us with a story of a man, desperate to find a connection, stumbles on a mysterious woman who offers the gift of magical skin illustrations. The more she puts her artwork onto him the more he loses himself until he is almost unrecognizable, this story did not really need another hook, however, to stay true to the Bradbury tale they worked tirelessly on bringing the visions to life instead of stepping back and seeing that it just didn’t work overall. You can purchase this edition HERE.
Overall 2.5/5 -An interesting Watch and great collector piece