Making the grade 

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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."



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