Reading is such a highly subjective experience. So much of a reading experience is what goes on inside a person’s head during the reading – characters are formed, scenes re-created, motivations examined. It is against this backdrop that books made into movies generate buzz, anticipation and even a little anxiety in readers. The main concern of course is who will be cast to portray a book’s characters. All readers conjure up physical manifestations of characters in their imaginations, make them handsome, beautiful, ugly, tall, short, clever, coy, annoying - you name an attribute and it’s been attributed in the mind of a reader somewhere. Some movies are cast so well that the actor becomes the character through and through. Can you imagine anyone other than Omar Sharif playing Yuri Zhivago? Both Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball were considered for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in the movie version of Gone with Wind. Really? The mind can’t even fathom anyone other than Vivian Leigh in this role. (This is not the first time I will age myself in this post) Well readers, 2011 and 2012 are proving to be big years for books morphing into movies. Some of these are coming around for the 2nd or 3rd time. Audiences everywhere will be loaded to the brim with “reader baggage” as these books come to life on the screen. And let’s face it, whether or not we like the movie version depends a lot on who plays our most beloved or most feared characters. Here are just some of the forthcoming attractions:
The Help: This has to be one of the most anticipated movies of the year. This novel by Katherine Stockett was published in 2009. In the interest of disclosure I have not yet read this book. The book is set in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi. This tells you a lot already. In Stockett's narrative, Miss Skeeter, a young white woman returning to Jackson after college, is a naive, aspiring writer who wants to create a series of interviews with local black maids. Even if they're published anonymously, the risk is great; still, Aibileen, the nanny to Miss Skeeter’s good friend’s child, and Minny agree to participate. Tension pervades the novel as its events are told by these three memorable women. This book has been everywhere for over two years except on the library shelves. If you want to read it, you have a wait ahead of you. So, go to the movie while you wait because early buzz suggests it does the book justice. Emma Stone (Superbad, Easy A, Crazy, Stupid Love) might just have her breakthrough to stardom role as Miss Skeeter. Viola Davis (Doubt, Eat Pray Love, United States of Tara) plays Aibileen, the main focus of the novel and Octavia Spencer plays her sassy friend Minny. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Hilly Holbrook, the white woman fighting to keep status quo Jackson alive and thriving. One thing I keep hearing about this book is that people either love it or hate it. Will the same be true for the movie? It’s doubtful that people who disliked the book will go see the movie.
The Hunger Games: this bestselling dystopian novel about games of a different sort was a hit with the teen crowd. It spilled over into the adult reading audience as well. You just knew it was going to be a movie one day. The sequel, Catching Fire, is already in the works as well. The Hunger Games will be released in 2012 and will star Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. This works for me as Katniss is a determined, courageous young woman who fights incredible odds to survive. If you saw Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone you know this girl can carry that off. Another actor cast in this movie that I think fits the bill is Woody Harrelson. He will play Haymitch Abernathy, a washed up former “winner” of the Hunger Games who is drowning himself in alcohol to forget his moment in the sun. The thing is, Katniss and others depend on him now and the alcohol is not helping matters any. Harrelson has played a variety of rough and tumble characters on the big screen. And he has heart. I think it’s going to work.
The Great Gatsby: OK, here comes another adaptation of this classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. You have to wonder who would think of taking this on after Robert Redford and Mia Farrow nailed these characters to the wall in the 1974 version. Screenplay writer and director Baz Luhrmann that’s who. It won’t take many tries to guess who is playing Gatsby. I have to wonder what the attraction with Leonardo DiCaprio is (although I loved him in Catch Me if You Can) when it comes to casting romantic lost souls. He didn’t do it for me portraying Howard Hughes in Aviator or Jack Dawson in Titanic and I don’t think he’s going to do it for me playing Jay Gatsby either. Carrie Mulligan (An Education; Public Enemies) will probably do OK as Daisy Buchanan but in my mind no one is going to top Mia Farrow’s portrayal of the lost, snobby soul looking for love. By the way, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway, is being played by Tobey Maguire. I am looking forward to this. Maguire has a wise old sageness about him. He was amazing to watch in one of my favorite movies, The Ice Storm.
The Life of Pi: This is a movie any reader of the book will have to see just to find out how the heck it can be done. This “readers must suspend disbelief” book is about a family from India emigrating to Canada on a freighter when the ship sinks. What transpires is one wild story. Our book discussion group read this novel several years ago and it is still tops on our list for generating the most discussion. Director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Brokeback Mountain) is at the helm of the movie version and so that inspires a little confidence that the film will do the book justice. The film stars newcomer Suraj Sharma as the young Pi. Also starring is Irrfan Khan (Slumdog Millionaire) and Tabu (The Namesake) My only advice is to read the book first. I don’t think you’ll be able to do one without the other. Tobey Maguire is also in this movie (Ang Lee directed The Ice Storm by the way) but not as a major character.
One Day: The film version of this novel by David Nicholls is being released on Friday and this is definitely one I will go see in a theater. The novel takes place over a span of 20 years on the same day of those 20 years – July 15th. Emma and Dexter spend a romantic night together on July 15th, the last day of “University”. (It’s a British novel) That they are taken with each other is clear, but the stars are not aligned. We meet up with them on July 15 over the next 20 years and learn all the backstory of the previous year and find out why they still can’t get it together. I could not put this book down and it is enjoying resurgence in popularity now that the movie is coming out. Anne Hathaway portrays Emma in the movie while Jim Sturgess plays the irritating but loveable Dexter. I like Anne Hathaway’s work, but she’s not Emma in my mind. I’m reserving judgment until I see the movie though. Sturgess, however, will do nicely for Dexter. He has a “TV presenter” kind of face. This is one movie I’m anxious about. I loved the book so much that I think I will either love or hate the movie.
One for the Money: Oh this is what we’ve all been waiting for right? How come it has taken this long? The first of the Stephanie Plum novels by bestselling novelist Janet Evanovich is finally coming to the big screen. It was supposed to be released in July of this year but has been pushed back to January 2012. Stephanie Plum is a bail bondswoman who works hard for a living out in the burbs of Trenton New Jersey. She works for her cousin Vinnie, a not so sympathetic boss, and has assistance from Lula, a sassy brass who is never at a loss for words. She has two love interests, Lou Morelli, a cop who broke her heart years before, and Ranger, a mysterious and handsome stranger with a bounty hunting business of his own. Oh, why am I even bothering with this synopsis? Who does not know Stephanie Plum? The Plum novels by Evanovich are ripe for the stage. There is comedy, romance, danger, lots of things blowing up. But I have to say that learning Katherine Heigl was cast as Stephanie was a bit of a disappointment. Truthfully I can’t come up with an actress that I think should be Stephanie, but Ms. Heigl was definitely not who I was conjuring while reading the books. The actor portraying Ranger is Daniel Sunjata, a mostly TV actor known for portraying nurse Eli on Grey’s Anatomy and Franco Rivera on FX’s Rescue Me. Mr. Sunjata is very handsome, but he’s not tall, DARK, and handsome and Ranger is definitely all of these. And by DARK, I mean mysterious, full of secrets, dangerous, someone you probably shouldn’t get involved with, but darn, how can a Stephanie Plum resist? TV actor Jason O’Mara plays Joe Morelli and while I’m not familiar with his work, looks wise he seems to play the part. Sherri Shepards (Precious; Whose Your Daddy?) plays Lula and Debbie Reynolds plays Grandma Mazur. There is no one in my mind more Grandma Mazur than Estelle Getty (Golden Girls) but since that is not possible (RIP Ms. Getty) we’ll just have to wait and see on Debbie Reynolds. It could really work or it could really bomb.
There are many more movies based on books coming to theaters near you in the next year or so. The next in the Twilight Series, Breaking Dawn and The Lucky One based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks are two of the biggies. Also coming is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Anna Karenina and All Quiet on the Western Front. Anyone interested in books loves seeing all of these movies getting made. It brings the books back to life, motivates people to read the books and gets movie and book lovers talking about books which is always a good thing.