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Warner Home Video presents
The Illustrated Man (1969)

"They're not tattoos, they're skin illustrations! Don't you ever call them tattoos!"
- Carl (Rod Steiger)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: February 22, 2007

Stars: Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom
Other Stars: Robert Drivas, Don Dubbins, Jason Evers
Director: Jack Smight

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG for (some violence, language, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:43m:00s
Release Date: December 19, 2006
UPC: 085391112013
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- C-BB- C-

DVD Review

I wanted to see The Illustrated Man because it's based on short stories by Ray Bradbury. Were I not familiar with his work, the movie would not have a reciprocal effect—any merit in the source material certainly isn't present onscreen. An inert piece of late-1960s sci-fi, the movie is a leaden adaptation of one of the genre's greatest talents, with all the panache of a low-budget made-for-TV movie. It's an omnibus, collecting three short stories from the author's collection of the same name, but you'd be better off watching a trio of Bradbury's episodes of The Outer Limits, a far more successful translation.

It's something of a mystery to me, in fact, that director Jack Smight, who had done most of his work in television at the time, was able to rope in Oscar-winning actor Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night) for the title role, a man covered in head to toe with colorful body art (Don't you ever call them tattoos! They're skin illustrations," he insists) that may be mystical in nature. In the framing story, a young traveler (Robert Drivas) is skinny-dipping when he comes across Carl (Steiger) and is fascinated by his body art. Carl explains that it's actually a sort of curse, and was applied by a mysterious woman (Claire Bloom, Steiger's then-wife) he met while working in the circus. The images, he explains, offer glimpses of a terrible future, and a jumping off point for three short sci-fi tales, all of which feature Steiger, Drivas, and Bloom as principal characters.

The first, The Veldt, offers an early warning about the dangers of virtual reality as parents worry about their children's violent choice of holodeck entertainment. It gives away the "twist" ending so early it doesn't seem like it was even supposed to be a twist, but you'll enjoy the all plastic, all white vision of the future, when the chairs are impractical and plastic. The Long Rain takes place on an alien world, when a group of astronauts have crash landed and are being driven mad by the constant pounding of water against the rock (I think... none of these stories are told very well, but this one makes almost no sense). The final piece, The Last Night of the World, diverts wildly from the source material, depicting a future where people are forced to make hard decisions when faced with the knowledge that the world will end the next day.

Any promise of engaging stories and wonderful new worlds the name "Ray Bradbury" might inspire can be thrown out the window. There's nothing new here, or interesting, even considering the film's age. Even at under half an hour each, the stories feel incredibly padded, and the sets are dull or even laughable (the clincher takes place in, literally, a giant tent—what a vision of the future!). The direction also feels dated—Smight is a big fan of the zoom lense—as does the focus placed on trippy sequences obviously intended to inspire murmurs of "far out, man" from the audience.

I can't really fault Steiger, who throws himself into the role with manic energy. Carl is almost schizophrenic, jumping from one emotion to the next, offering long monologues about the bugs and frogs that are out to get him. Drivas shows about as much emotion as a mannequin, but I sort of enjoyed the odd homoerotic subtext between the two ("I know what you're thinking," Carl tells the younger man while relieving himself... yes, the tattoos cover his entire body). Bloom isn't given much of a chance to make an impression. Her role as the mysterious artist last a few minutes at most and her characters in the stories themselves don't register.

The Illustrated Man is probably only remembered for the title body art, which is kind of neat—though the images look like they were taken from concert posters for bands playing Woodstock. As a movie, it isn't worth your time, even for fans of the author, who is reported to have thought it the worst cinematic adaptation of his work. High praise indeed.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 transfer looks pretty good. There are some scratches here and there and the print is a tad grainy, especially during some darker moments, and the day-for-night scenes look a tad unnatural, but for a film of this vintage, not bad.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono track is fine. A bit lacking in dynamic range, perhaps, but the dialogue comes across and Jerry Goldsmith's score sounds decent.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: An eight-minute vintage featurette, Tattooed Steiger, offers a glimpse at the long process of applying those skin illustrations to Steiger's body. It's kind of fun—the narrator points out that journalists were invited to witness the event, and we also see some behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage.

Otherwise, there's a dull trailer in fair condition. Kudos to Warner Bros. for retaining the original cover art, which is probably the best thing about this DVD.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Serious to the point of camp but not nearly interesting enough to serve as a guilty pleasure, The Illustrated Man strives to be a sci-fi message movie but falls seriously short. Bradbury fans would do better to stick to the short story collection and forget this muddled adaptation exists. Rod Steiger fans, too.


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