In 1985, David Brin published his award-winning novel The Postman. Met with critical acclaim he sold the movie rights and sat back and waited for his baby to hit the big screen.
As with many novels, that become movies, a lot can happen to the story and plot. Actors and directors come and go. The script can go through a multitude of rewrites, sometimes becoming something that only shares the title of the original story, while everything else is changed beyond recognition. This is the fate that befell David Brin’s The Postman.
This science fiction novel deals with a post-apocalyptic future where government does not exist. Neither does the nation of the United States of America. Into this wilderness of lawlessness comes a drifter who, after stumbling across an old US Postal Service uniform, travels across the land bringing the hope of a ‘Restored United States’ to small communities, who are terrorised by a warlord. Lying through his teeth to gain food and shelter, he eventually finds that he must unite the communities in a bid to defeat the warlord, once and for all.
I have to say that I was not keen, on the book, when I first read it and, having read it a number of times since, I am still unconvinced by its story telling and message.
In 1997, Warner Bros. released The Postman directed by and starring Kevin Costner.
This movie version, set in 2013, kept the main premise of a selfish drifter (Kevin Costner) who, after escaping from a tyrannical warlord called General Bethlehem (Will Patton), finds a US Postal Service uniform, and begins travelling to various communities, where he tries to convince them that government has been restored. This is all a lie as he tries to find sanctuary from General Bethlehem. As his word is spread and each community begins to believe in him and the Restored United States, General Bethlehem visits the various communities, to ‘recruit’ men into his growing army. On hearing of The Postman and his Restored United States, he is enraged to the point that he orders any ‘Postal Carriers’ to be shot on sight. With The Postman cowardly hiding out in a cabin, trying to avoid the responsibility of his actions, chaos is ensuing in the communities. With more and more Postal Carriers reaching as many people as they can, and dying for his lie, it not is not long before The Postman is forced to accept his responsibility and returns to the community. Trying to stop the war, he tries, unsuccessfully, to disband the Postal Service, but is eventually forced to realise that the only way to end the war is to stop General Bethlehem. This ultimately sees The Postman ‘manning up’ with his Postal Carriers, which is made up of mostly teenagers going up against the army of General Bethlehem. The resulting battle will decide the future of the country.
Kevin Costner, as The Postman, gives a great performance as the cowardly, selfish drifter who is just trying to survive, by any means possible. While, Will Patton, steals the film with a chilling turn as the ruthless, ex-salesman-turned-tyrant, General Bethlehem. There are plenty of other great acting performances from the likes of Larenz Tate, who plays Ford Lincoln Mercury, the first man to be sworn in to the new Postal Service; Olivia Williams, who plays Abby, The Postman’s love interest and mother of his child. Even Tom Petty makes a surprise appearance, playing himself.
The cinematography is astounding and visually amazing, using locations of contrasting beauty and wonder to perfectly show the post-apocalyptic land.
The soundtrack, by James Newton Howard, is wonderfully underscored, so as not to detract from the visuals and storytelling, reaching only a few high points as required.
The movie was panned by critics, resulting in a very poor box office showing, which is a shame because I think this is one of the best films ever made. Granted, there are some long drawn out scenes, that could have been shortened, and some dialogue is slightly clunky, but otherwise The Postman is a superb film.
David Brin, the author of the original book, is quoted as saying…
Costner captured my novel’s heart – and the movie’s visuals/music were stunning.
Could’ve had a bit more brains. But still… underrated.