Required Reading: From the Page to the Screen

Common wisdom holds that books are usually superior to their film versions. Satisfying the individual expectations of thousands, if not millions, of fans is a Herculean task. There are exceptions, like Francis Ford Coppola's Oscar-winning The Godfather, penned by Mario Puzo. Or the monumental achievement by Peter Jackson, who delivered a Lord of the Rings trilogy fans worshiped for its attention to detail.

Since the dawn of film, Hollywood studios have relied on plays, short stories, novels and comics for material. In 1903, the first narrative flick, The Great Train Robbery, was based on a play by a chap named Scott Marble.

Inevitably, popular publications are co-opted for the screen and then revived decades later for a younger audience. 

Truth is, books are a safe bet. Savvy executives fight over the opportunity to profit from book-to-screen adaptations with an existing fan base. It stands to reason the bigger and more dedicated the fan base, the less the risk; that is unless fans catch wind of significant plot changes or character replacements. The wrath of a rabid tween Twilight-er, or worse, Twilight mom, is scary indeed.

Thankfully, there's more on offer in theaters besides Twilight and Harry Potter adaptations. Check out these book-to-movie choices now or soon to be in theaters:

Moneyball by Michael Lewis, in theaters September 23

Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A's, used brains instead of brawn to build a winning baseball club on a budget. In 2002, author Michael Lewis watched Beane and his staff field a team based on statistics like high on-base percentages instead of conventional player rankings. Yes, it's another underdog sports story. But don't write it off yet.

Sony paired all-stars Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) to pen the screenplay.

Brad Pitt, with his high-wattage smile and quick wit, takes on the role of Beane. Also with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and Jonah Hill.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett, in theaters now

The devoted following of Kathryn Stockett's debut novel, The Help, flooded theaters to see the widely publicized movie adaptation. The flick has exceeded $100 million at the U.S. box office and earned cautious critical praise.

The movie, infused with the racial and class tension that suffocated the South in the sixties, features the trio who narrates the book: recent college graduate Skeeter, plus Aibileen and her best friend Minny, the black women who cook, clean and raise the children of well-off country club folk. Skeeter, searching for a writing project, collaborates with Aibileen to chronicle the experiences of "the help." The project raises all kind of hell, primarily, as Aibileen says, because "...the help always know." Even what you don't want them to know. With Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer. Rated PG-13.

The Adventures of Tintin, to be released December 23 in 3D

Adults who secretly harbor an inner child should be thrilled about the upcoming The Adventures of TinTin, a collaboration between director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson.

Based on Hergé's long-running comic strip, the animated feature features Tintin, an intrepid reporter who pursues stories with his dog Snowy.

In this installment -- c'mon, this has franchise stamped all over it -- Tintin and his pals find directions to a sunken ship laden with treasure. With Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg.

One Day by David Nicholls, in theaters now

Judging from the scathing reviews, forgo shelling out $10 to see One Day in favor of borrowing the bestseller from the library. Rolling Stone dubbed the movie "tear-jerking twaddle" and Salon called it an "icky, manipulative Anglo romance" destroyed by the Hollywood system and Anne Hathaway's poor Scottish accent. Ouch.

The author, David Nicholls, also adapted the screenplay. As has happened countless times before, what worked on the page was difficult to translate onto the big screen. We see Dexter and Emma the same day every year -- the anniversary of the night they met -- which is a poor device for on-screen character development. The reviews are doubly disappointing considering the talented cast. Also with Jim Sturgess and Patricia Clarkson. Rated PG-13.

J. Edgar, to be released November 9

J. Edgar isn't based on a book, per se, but detailed biographies about the secretive F.B.I director abound. Brush up on your Hoover history before its release with these suggestions: Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover by Richard Hack and J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets by Curt Gentry.

The Warner Bros. project Hollywood was directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. Also with Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas and Dermot Mulroney.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, to be released December 21
Stieg Larsson's thriller about a self-interested reporter and goth-punk hacker investigating a decades-old disappearance catapulted into a pop culture sensation after his death.

A Swedish film version of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was released two years ago (with English subtitles), but Hollywood wants a shot at the lucrative series, too.

The book was originally published under the title Men Who Hate Women, so prepare yourself for an onslaught of violent sodomy and incest. This is the first release in Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. With Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara and Stellan Skarsgard.

Other recent book-to-movie releases include Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer; Gothic romance Jane Eyre; The Adjustment Bureau, based on a Phillip K. Dick short story; Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: Part I; and Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants.

Follow the Mixmaster on Twitter and Facebook.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jayme Rutledge
Contact: Jayme Rutledge