Film: Lit Flicks

Film adaptations offer lots of ideas for the reader on your gift list

Nov 30, 2005 at 2:06 pm
Holiday Issue 2005

The holiday and movie-award season occupies one of the biggest and blackest quarters (as in bottom line) in the consumer year. The market celebrates the arrival of Black Friday, even though both the retail and the prestige film season starts a month earlier as the annual savior of profits and jobs during the calendar year.

As shoppers crowd multi-leveled malls, Hollywood hopes that when they tire of standing in lines they'll settle down in the multiplexes.

This year the studios offer a bounty of adaptations, as if to remind the more wishful thinkers in the audience that the fall film season shouldn't automatically herald the social decline of literature. Instead the release schedule can inspire gifts that will give long after the lights come up in theaters and down after the New Year's toasts.

Here in the Queen City, film fans can take advantage of having multiplexes in close proximity to bookstore chains, allowing the swelling onscreen passions to propel them into the aisles in search of the original source material. A rediscovered best seller and franchise in the making is C.S. Lewis' classic, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Working for the first time in a primarily live-action realm, Shrek director Andrew Adamson helms the one guaranteed lock that will connect with audiences across multiple formats.

As local Barnes & Noble spokesperson Jen-Na Acree mentioned during an impromptu walk-thru, "Older fans of the book have the chance to rediscover the classic in new editions, while younger audiences have a number of age-appropriate versions to choose from."

The seven-book series and the accompanying merchandise will undoubtedly see a huge sales spike during the holiday season.

But due to the nature of film production, at some point down the road the synergy between the page and screen will dissipate.

Two similar trends should prove highly instructive. J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga offers a striking lesson in adaptation of a beloved literary classic because director Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema embarked on a riskier path in their decision to shoot all three films at once. In turn, this ensured that each holiday came stocked with new merchandise related to the current film installment along with the updated literary editions. Despite concern among industry leaders at the time of its pitch, the trilogy format provided the ideal foundation upon which to stake the huge gamble.

The Harry Potter series provides a neat, albeit imperfect model to compare and contrast plans for the Narnia team. Like Narnia, Harry Potter is a longer series — seven tomes, each upping the ante in terms of page and word count. But author J.K. Rowling's narrative is a work in progress, transforming the release of each new installment into an event somewhat unrelated to the release of the films.

Thus the box-office explosion from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has almost no noticeable effect on book sales. Fans young and old have already moved past this chapter in the saga and eagerly await the conclusion. It will be far more curious to see what impact this will have on the films once the book cycle is complete. Will fans flock to see the end brought to life? Or will they seek new literary thrills?

Adult fare shines on a number of fronts this season. Whether tastes run to popular mainstream reads, sociopolitical and biographical narratives or even graphic novels, there's a page-turner on the big screen for every sense and sensibility.

Recent adaptations to hit theaters include Steve Martin's Shopgirl, Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice and Jennifer Weiner's In Her Shoes. All three films benefit from local cross-promotional tie-ins with Joseph-Beth Booksellers and maintain eye-catching positions throughout the Rookwood Pavilion location. While Shopgirl and Pride & Prejudice continue to draw critical support that could translate into awards consideration, In Her Shoes stumbled at the box office despite the initial release hype in support of Goodnight Nobody, Weiner's most recent chick-lit offering.

Spy thriller specialist John le Carré enjoyed success at the box office via the brilliant realization of The Constant Gardener by acclaimed director Fernando Meirelles (City of God). The cover of the book's new edition features stills of stars Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in an effort to attract fans of the evocative film, which despite its August release maintains a lingering hold on audiences. The obvious targets during the holiday season are spy thrill-seekers unfamiliar with a lesser-known le Carré title.

The upcoming film adaptation of Arthur Golden's best-selling Memoirs of a Geisha seeks crossover success and golden notices. A new film-related version of the paperback occupies prime space in bookstores, but prospects for this one appear less certain — like the Harry Potter series, many Memoir fans already own the book.

Adding media and politics into the mix, the films Capote, Jarhead and Syriana aim straight for headline readers.

Capote celebrates one defining period in the outrageous life of Truman Capote, and Gerald Clarke's biography should be required reading for those interested in one of our most curious American literary icons. Jarhead, based on Anthony Swofford's first-person account of his experiences in Desert Storm, provides haunting war-movie details of a remote, barely-glimpsed battleground.

Director Stephen Gaghan fashions the fractured, multi-storied Syriana much like his acclaimed drug-war script for Traffic, but the roots stem from ex-CIA agent Robert Baer's See No Evil, a primer on the terror behind the headlines and the sound bytes.

The most intriguing adult release for both booksellers and moviegoers might be Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. The much-touted gay cowboy story from writer Annie Proulx stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as the leads and bears the distinction of hitting shelves as a slim stand-alone volume, all the better to become a treasured stocking stuffer.

The best-hidden gem this year could be John Wagner and Vince Locke's graphic novel, A History of Violence. The quietly authoritative and forceful adaptation by David Cronenberg will challenge the casual reader's notions about the literary value of the graphic novel format and could walk away as a surprise winner this awards season.

Thanks to Violence, Frank Miller's Sin City and the critically acclaimed Road to Perdition, audiences hungry for captivating stories should become more familiar with the anime and graphic novel sections of their favorite bookstores. These illustrated gifts are the storyboards of box-office hits. ©