Aldous Huxley's distopian 1932 novel "Brave New World," disastrously filmed by NBC as a mini-series in the late 1970s, gets a second chance tonight, when NBC tries again with a new two-hour movie.
The result isn't quite what Huxley might have wanted - his story line is considerably altered and there's a new ending - but it should please viewers a great deal more than the cold-blooded and antiseptic earlier version, which NBC stuck on a shelf for more than a year, cut to three hours and finally telecast in 1980.The new version stars Peter Gallagher and Rya Kihlstedt as Bernard and Lenina, who are dangerously close to falling in love in a society that does not allow love. There, all children start as test-tube babies, families don't exist, promiscuity is encouraged and peace is guaranteed by the drug Soma. (In the 1980 version, runty Bud Cort played Bernard and Lenina was played by Marcia Strassman.)
Their lives are permanently changed after their helicopter crashes in the "reservation," where iconoclastic "savages" live in the free-spirited old way on Earth before "the wars" established the perfect managed society. They're befriended by John Cooper (Tim Guinee) and his mother (Sally Kirkland), who return with Bernard and Lenina to "civilization" when a rescue ship arrives.
Introduced to society, Cooper becomes a celebrity known simply as The Savage. This deeply upsets The Director (Miguel Ferrer), who has good reason to resent the coming of The Savage, and intrigues their ultimate ruler, The Controller (Leonard Nimoy), who's willing to let Bernard study Cooper and put him through a few tests.
NBC's "Brave New World" is clever and visually enticing. It also has some wonderful satiric moments, including one gem in which government officials are considering a new propaganda campaign called "Dumb is Good," which is an exact replica of rival ABC's current yellow and black "TV is Good" campaign.
One notion that most viewers surely will get from watching tonight's movie is how many of Huxley's notions have come true. He foresaw TV as an omnipresent force, predicted genetic engineering and foresaw such commonplaces as test-tube babies.
How would Huxley, who died in 1963, react to the realization of his predictions? NBC recently brought a small group of TV critics together with his widow, Laura, who was a friend of the author's for many years before they were married. She says Huxley had seen the future coming true way ahead of schedule and wasn't pleased.
"Aldous was impressed - and troubled - by how fast what he had (predicted) had come to be," she said. "He had seen all the negative things that science can be, how one man can become a dictator to a larger and larger population, how advertising can go within the homes of everybody and into the subconscious of everyone."
Laura Huxley believes he would have been quite worried about our inability to control population growth. In her youth, when she first knew Huxley, she approached him one day in Rome about a documentary film she wanted to make with his help.
"We went on the balcony," she recalled, "but he was so taken with the worry of overpopulation that it was all he talked about."
Huxley herself believes television is one of the most insidious of the devices her husband predicted in "Brave New World." She's aware of a certain irony in the fact that the message of her husband's classic book will be coming to millions of Americans tonight via television.
"I think that's one of the reasons there is so much trouble with children," she said. "Their minds, their imaginations are overwhelmed by this. The hypnotic power of this little box is absolutely tremendous."
Actor Gallagher, whose Bernard Marx character begins to question the wisdom of his "civilization," agrees with Laura Huxley that her husband's frightening world already may be upon us.
"We're already cloning," he said. "They've just discovered the gene which may forestall aging and the tobacco companies are finally admitting they've been trying to inculcate preteens for years. We're no longer citizens but kind of consumers."
Laura Huxley, 86, who lives in the Los Angeles area, calls her late husband "a visionary with common sense" but says he wasn't very prophetic about the potential value of his own work.
"I think it might be amusing for you to know he sold the movie rights to `Brave New World' in 1935 or so for $2,000," she said. "Then the agent ran away with the $2,000 and he didn't even get that."
San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.).
Dist. by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services