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From the library to the multiplex, our annual preview of fall's literary adaptations

click to enlarge Take a guess at who will play Jesse James in The - Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. - No ... its not the guy on the left ...
  • Take a guess at who will play Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. No ... its not the guy on the left ...

The summer heat has begun to fade, which means it's time for movie theaters to turn their attention from films based on comic books to films based on book-books. And time for us to ask which literary adaptations hold promise. Let's take a look-see, shall we? (Release dates are, as always, subject to change.)

Source material: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen

Book overview: In an intriguing piece of historical fiction, Hansen combines documented evidence with speculation about the last months of the famed outlaw, and the introduction into his gang of the young admirer who will eventually kill him. The majority of the book provides fascinating insight into the charismatic, mercurial Jesse and the world in which he was both criminal and celebrity. But once Jesse meets his Maker, the narrative drifts through Ford's rising and falling fortunes to reduced impact.

Book grade: B+

Reason for adaptation optimism: Brad Pitt seems perfect for the Wild West equivalent of a rock star.

Reason for adaptation concern: This project has been delayed long enough that I think Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston at the time he made it.

Film scheduled release date: Sept. 21

The movie pitch: "Wyatt Earp meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. "

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Source material: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Book overview: While tracking elk near the Mexican border, a hunter stumbles upon the scene of a drug deal gone bad, and takes a fortune in cash. The narrative becomes an extended hunt for the money involving a single-minded killer and a veteran sheriff, with twists and turns that make it hard to put down. The philosophical elements of McCarthy's best works combine with a straightforward genre narrative in a way that manages to revitalize both.

Book grade: A-

Reason for adaptation optimism: The cash-and-criminals setup looks to be in the wheelhouse of the Coen brothers' other classically directed thrillers, Fargo and Blood Simple.

Reason for adaptation concern: Will it feel too much like a regurgitation of Fargo and Blood Simple?

Scheduled release date: Nov. 9

The movie pitch: "Fargo meets The Terminator. "

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Source material: Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane

Book overview: The author of Mystic River delivers another Boston-set crime drama, this one about the investigation into the apparent kidnapping of a 4-year-old girl. Lehane has a knack for creating vividly realized characters and setting them loose in a world of corruption and despair, and this tale is no exception. It also grows nearly oppressive in its bleak cynicism, resulting in something that's as undeniably powerful as it is hard to stomach.

Book grade: B+

Reason for adaptation optimism: Director Ben Affleck certainly will have a feel for the setting of his hometown Boston.

Reason for adaptation concern: "Director Ben Affleck." Need more be said?

Film scheduled release date: Oct. 19

The movie pitch: "Mystic River meets Seven."

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Source material: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Book overview: In an alternate-reality England, a young girl finds herself caught up in an adventure involving a search for missing children and a mysterious device only she can understand. The narrative stumbles for a while as it tries to establish the fantasy elements people's souls taking the physical form of animals; a kingdom of talking bears within a familiar context. But the details pack a cumulative impact, and the adventure ultimately turns into quite a surprising page-turner.

Book grade: B

Reason for adaptation optimism: Spectacular- looking production design in early trailers.

Reason for adaptation concern: If the film keeps the book's dark, unresolved climax, it could be incredibly unsatisfying to most viewers.

Scheduled release date: Dec. 7

The movie pitch: "The Chronicles of Narnia meets Harry Potter."

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Source material: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Book overview: A legend in his own right, regular Twilight Zone contributor Matheson penned this 1954 novella following the lone human survivor of a plague that has turned everyone else into vampires. The language and tone feel quite dated the hero's exaggerated, exclamation-point-filled rages are the stuff of a different era but Matheson knew how to put together a streamlined, adrenaline-fueled genre tale.

Book grade: B

Reason for adaptation optimism: Director Francis Lawrence did a solid job with a dark supernatural thriller in Constantine; Will Smith in action-hero mode as the sole survivor.

Reason for adaptation concern: The trailer suggests too much emphasis on the "how did it happen" stuff almost completely absent from the story.

Scheduled release date: Dec. 14

The movie pitch: "Constantine meets 28 Days Later." scene@csindy.com

  • From the library to the multiplex, our annual preview of fall's literary adaptations

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