It's time once again for the flood of potentially prestigious film projects based on books. Here are some of the lesser-known literary works coming to your multiplex before year's end. (Release dates subject to change.)
The Big Year
Source Material: The Big Year by Mark Obmascik.
Book Overview: This nonfiction account follows three avid birders in 1998, all of whom are trying to set the record for most species spotted in North America in one calendar year. Obmascik's intriguing character studies brilliantly get inside the mindset of "extreme collecting." But the narrative has trouble finding shape at times, leading to something more compelling as a collection of individual details than as a whole.
Book Grade: B
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: The strangely intriguing combination of Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black as the three protagonists.
Reason for Adaptation Concern: Director David Frankel (Marley & Me, The Devil Wears Prada) suggests a tone more conventionally quirky than truly eccentric.
The Movie Pitch: "The Cannonball Run meets Winged Migration."
Scheduled Release Date: Oct. 14
Source Material: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.
Book Overview: In 1931 Paris, an orphaned boy tries to complete his father's work on the mysterious automaton they found in a museum. Selznick's vibrant combination of conventional novel and graphic novel provides a rich cinematic texture, perfect for a story that delves into film history. It evokes the same dream-like magic as the still-innocent world it portrays.
Book Grade: A-
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: The fascinating prospect of the first family film from director Martin Scorsese.
Reason for Adaptation Concern: Anyone else do a spit-take when they saw "family film from director Martin Scorsese?"
The Movie Pitch: "Cinema Paradiso meets I, Robot."
Scheduled Release Date: Nov. 23
Source Material: The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings.
Book Overview: In contemporary Hawaii, an attorney faces dual life-changing events: selling off inherited family property and raising his two daughters after his wife is critically injured. And he also discovers she's been having an affair. While it easily could have turned into a "learning what really matters" story about a man forced to re-engage with his kids, Hemmings maintains an off-beat tone that makes for both an engaging character study and a uniquely vivid sense of place.
Book Grade: B+
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Writer/director Alexander Payne's (Election, Sideways) great track record with adapting novels.
Reason for Adaptation Concern: From the trailer, it looks like it may head in exactly that "learning what really matters" direction.
The Movie Pitch: "The Other Man meets Up in the Air."
Scheduled Release Date: Dec. 16
We Bought a Zoo
Source Material: We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee.
Book Overview: Freelance journalist Mee's memoir describes how his family takes over a struggling animal park in the English countryside, while Mee also deals with his wife's diagnosis with a brain tumor. Despite the struggle-with-cancer subplot, Mee never wallows in pathos, providing a lively story of the complex logistics of managing a small zoo. For what is in some ways essentially a tutorial on putting together a business plan for a zoo, it's a surprisingly funny and eventful narrative.
Book Grade: B+
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: A great cast, including Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, and Elle Fanning, may bypass overt sentimentality.
Reason for Adaptation Concern: The last time writer/director Cameron Crowe worked from existing material, the result was Vanilla Sky.
The Movie Pitch: "All Creatures Great and Small meets Love Story."
Scheduled Release Date: Dec. 23
Source Material: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.
Book Overview: Joey — beloved horse of a young boy — becomes a British army cavalry horse in World War I France. When battle separates Joey from the troops, he wonders if he'll ever make it home again. Yes, it's Joey who does the first-person (first-horse?) wondering. The device feels right for what is essentially an equine variation on a boy-and-his-dog tale, but there's also a dark edge to the thematic material here that often clashes with the simple language of a book aimed at young readers.
Book Grade: B
Reason for Adaptation Optimism: Director Steven Spielberg knows a thing or two about both war stories and boy-and-his-(fill in the blank) stories.
Reason for Adaptation Concern: Seriously, it's told by a horse.
The Movie Pitch: "The Black Stallion meets Saving Private Ryan."
Scheduled Release Date: Dec. 28