The first nip of fall may not have hit the air, but literary-adaptation season is right around the corner. And while their number includes both bestsellers (Twilight) and Oprah-approved prize-winners (The Road), here's a glance at some of 2008's lesser-known book-to-movie translations. Release dates, as always, are subject to change.
Source material: Miracle at St. Anna, by James McBride
Book overview: In 1944 Tuscany, four soldiers from the U.S. Army's all-"colored" 92nd Infantry find themselves trapped behind German lines in a small town. One of them attempts to rescue an orphaned Italian boy. McBride skillfully avoids wartime clichs, capturing the unique psychology of black soldiers in a segregated era. His precise characterizations of both the soldiers and the Italian peasants make the story feel like a magnificently specific slice of history rather than something with a grandiose agenda.
Book grade: A-
Reason for adaptation optimism: McBride himself is adapting the screenplay.
Reason for adaptation concern: Director Spike Lee may be passionate about the material, but he's been known to crank up the Significance.
Scheduled release date: Sept. 26
The pitch: "Saving Private Ryan meets Glory."
Source material: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Book overview: When a recently dumped musician's ex walks into a nightclub, he impulsively asks the nearest woman to pose as his girlfriend, launching an epic all-night "first date" through Manhattan. The co-authors alternate chapters from the point of view of their two protagonists, lending a wonderful, multi-lensed perspective on burgeoning romance. The hipster milieu might be a bit grating, and Norah's self-loathing a little protracted, but ultimately it's smart and thoroughly engaging.
Book grade: B+
Reason for adaptation optimism: Long-awaited follow-up from director Peter Sollett (the terrific Raising Victor Vargas); Superbad's Michael Cera a perfect cast as the sensitive Nick.
Reason for adaptation concern: Will the book's hyper-verbal internal monologues translate to cinema?
Scheduled release date: Oct. 3
The pitch: "Before Sunrise meets High Fidelity."
Source material: The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau
Book overview: In a dying city surrounded by darkness and facing shortages in supplies, two 12-year-olds search for a way to save the citizens from impending doom. An unfortunate prologue gives away too much before the mystery has even begun, giving this kid-lit tale a certain inevitability. But DuPrau's world is well thought-out, serving as both a metaphor for humanity's worst impulses in crisis and as a simple, effective adventure in its own right.
Book grade: B
Reason for adaptation optimism: Director Gil Kenan helmed the smart, under-appreciated kid-pic Monster House.
Reason for adaptation concern: The book's cliffhanger ending setting up a sequel may prove difficult to translate in a satisfying way.
Scheduled release date: Oct. 10
The pitch: "The Golden Compass meets The Village."
Source material: Body of Lies, by David Ignatius
Book overview: A CIA agent, desperate to infiltrate a terrorist network, creates an elaborate fiction to force his target into the open. Ignatius clearly has a grasp of his milieu, but this is one of those plot machines where attempts at creating "context" for the main character an ice-queen wife, a humanitarian girlfriend all fall flat. Engaging enough as beach reading, assuming you're not looking for any political (or human) insight.
Book grade: B-
Reason for adaptation optimism: Director Ridley Scott plus Russell Crowe resulted in Gladiator.
Reason for adaptation concern: Director Ridley Scott plus Russell Crowe also resulted in A Good Year.
Scheduled release date: Oct. 10
The pitch: "Syriana meets The Kingdom. "
Source material: Marley & Me, by John Grogan
Book overview: Journalist and newspaper columnist Grogan's memoir recounts life as a newlywed and young father with a lovable, energetic, endlessly destructive Labrador retriever. Marley instantly becomes a wonderfully complex character in Grogan's hands, in exploits simultaneously hilarious and cringe-inducing. With this book, it's not just the dog-lovers blinking back tears.
Book grade: B+
Reason for adaptation optimism: Director David Frankel did fine book-to-crowd-pleaser work with The Devil Wears Prada.
Reason for adaptation concern: It's going to require a lot of tinkering to impose a narrative shape on Grogan's episodic tale.
Scheduled release date: Dec. 25
The pitch: "Turner & Hooch meets Brian's Song."