Movie Adaptations of Books Inspire Season's Releases

Autumn signals a major shift in movie releases, with fluff giving way to Oscar-worthy substance. For Hollywood, serious films equal literary adaptations, and following is a roundup of book-based movies which will hit the screens in the next three months.Be forewarned, not only are all opening dates subject to change, but the film adaptations may bear only the slightest resemblance to the books that inspired them.Following Michael Crichton's The Lost World onto the big screen is Sphere (Dec. 12). Directed by Barry Levinson (Sleepers), this sci-fi psychological thriller follows a crew of scientists (led by Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone and Samuel L. Jackson) as they investigate an alien structure on the ocean floor, which can somehow manifest their own submerged fears.Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Altman are the unlikely auteurs of two John Grisham adaptations. Coppola tackles The Rainmaker (Nov. 21) as both screenwriter and director. Matt Damon -- as the latest incarnation of Grisham's ambitious, naive young lawyer hero -- battles an insurance conglomerate.Altman puts his spin on The Gingerbread Man (Oct. 3), based on Grisham's first screenplay sans novel. Kenneth Branagh is an attorney who becomes embroiled in a sinister family relationship in Savannah, Ga.Savannah is also the setting of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (December), directed by Clint Eastwood. Based on John Berendt's nonfiction best seller about the aftermath of a murder among a particularly exotic set of Southern Gothic eccentrics, it features both Kevin Spacey as an antiques dealer-killer, and drag queen Lady Chablis as herself.Robert Redford gets back in the saddle, producing, directing and starring in The Horse Whisperer (Dec. 12), based on Nicholas Evans' novel about a compassionate Montana horse trainer who helps a mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) and daughter (Scarlett Johansson from Manny & Lo) after a riding accident.An Iowa farmer decides to divide up his land between his three daughters (Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jennifer Jason Leigh) with King Lear-like results in A Thousand Acres (Sept. 19), an adaptation of Jane Smiley's 1991 Pulitzer Prize winner, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof).Russell Banks' 1991 novel, The Sweet Hereafter (December), was adapted by Canadian writer-director Atom Egoyan (The Adjuster, Exotica), who brings his cool, muted approach to this story of a tragic school bus accident and its effect on a small community.After Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility) and a collaboration with Paul Auster (Smoke), director Ang Lee turns to Rick Moody's novel, The Ice Storm (Sept. 26). Set in 1973 in the chilly Connecticut suburbs, a stellar ensemble cast headed by Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver shed their form-fitting polyester and attempt to catch the fading embers of the sexual revolution. James Schamus won the best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival.Mark Pellington directs Going All the Way (Sept. 26), which Dan Wakefield adapted from his 1970 novel about two unlikely friends (Jeremy Davies and Ben Affleck) who return from the Korean War to the stifling social repressions of 1954 Indianapolis.A very different 1950s is the heart of L.A. Confidential (Sept. 19), based on James Ellroy's epic look at the underbelly of a town built on illusions. Director Curtis Hanson focuses on a trio of cops (Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey) who try to find the truth in a world defined by corruption and compromise.Elmore Leonard's sensibility -- offbeat, talky characters in scenarios that are both vicious and oddly humorous -- may have found a partner in crime in Quentin Tarantino, who has turned Leonard's Rum Punch into Jackie Brown (Dec. 25). Tarantino reworked the central character to custom-fit Pam Grier, the tough-as-nails queen of 1970s blaxploitation films. Co-stars include Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson.The brilliant social observer Henry James gets a mini-revival this fall. Director Agnieszka Holland puts a more female-friendly and positive slant to Washington Square (Oct. 17) -- the basis of a successful stage play and the 1949 film The Heiress -- without compromising the central story of the hapless Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason Leigh) caught between her manipulative father (Albert Finney) and a fortune-hunting suitor (Ben Chaplin).A more conventional but no less tragic triangle develops between manipulative aristocrat Helena Bonham Carter, her journalist lover Linus Roache (Priest), and naive American heiress Alison Elliott (The Spitfire Grill) inThe Wings of the Dove (Nov. 7), directed by Iain Softley (Backbeat).A priest (Ralph Fiennes) and an Australian heiress (Cate Blanchett) are the title characters of Oscar and Lucinda (Nov. 7), based on Peter Carey's 1988 Booker Prize-winning novel. Directed by Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, Little Women), this period piece follows their quixotic quest to take a glass church to the outback.Joseph Conrad's short story "Amy Foster" has been transformed into Swept From the Sea (Nov. 7), directed by Beeban Kidron (Antonia and Jane). In 19th-century Cornwall, romance blossoms between a reclusive servant (Rachel Weisz) and a shipwrecked immigrant (Vincent Perez).Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (Dec. 31) gets a contemporary reworking from Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (A Little Princess). Pip, Dickens' malleable orphan, is now a young artist (Ethan Hawke) -- recently transplanted to New York City -- who falls for an elusive beauty (Gwyneth Paltrow).For a darker vision of contemporary life, there's Oliver Stone's lean, mean film noir, U-Turn (Oct. 3), based on John Ridley's recently published Stray Dogs. Luck runs out for a gambler (Sean Penn) outside a small Arizona town full of not-so-good samaritans.Even darker is director Gary Fleder's thriller Kiss the Girls (Oct. 3), from James Patterson's novel, which teams a forensic psychologist (Morgan Freeman) with a young doctor (Ashley Judd) in the search for a Silence of the Lambs-like serial kidnapper-killer.For a little taste of summertime escapism comes Starship Troopers (Nov. 7), directed by Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall). Based on Robert Heinlein's novel, this science fiction epic pits spunky humans against ferocious giant insects in intergalactic warfare.If none of these options sound appealing, there's always the refuge of a good book.

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