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Not by Book Is OK With 'Bridges' Fans : Movies: Adapting a novel to film can bring out readers' wrath. But no one seems to be complaining about the changes made to the Waller bestseller.

June 06, 1995|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cass Walker waited on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade holding two movie tickets and three long-stemmed roses.

Flowers aren't the kind of thing you bring to see "Crimson Tide" or "Johnny Mnemonic." So it wasn't surprising when Walker, from Culver City, and his girlfriend, Sunny Choi, 20, an Orange County resident, stepped into the growing line of people waiting to see "The Bridges of Madison County."

"I picked the movie," Choi said. "I picked the book, too, but he didn't want to read that."

Household names like Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood have never chased audiences away. But like Choi, many of the people out to see "Bridges" on the opening weekend were drawn in by Robert James Waller's best-selling book. And many of them were bringing dates.

Waller's 1993 novel, which details a four-day affair between a National Geographic photographer and an Iowa farm wife, has sold more than 8 million copies to date. That likely will translate into a lot of movie tickets, after an opening-weekend gross of nearly $11 million.

"I read this book almost a year and a half ago, and I still remember all the important scenes," Choi said.

There's a danger to adapting popular novels to film: Fans of the book can be rabid about changes. But unlike Anne Rice's "Interview With the Vampire" or John Grisham's "The Firm," no one complained about the changes screenwriter Richard LaGravenese made to the story.

The film told the story more from the perspective of Francesca, the housewife, said Ricky Burns, 25. But he found that more affecting. "It's harder to be the one who stays behind," he said.

His friend Erin Rorke, 31, also of Santa Monica, agreed. "It evokes a lot of emotion," she said. "It's a film that touches the heart, because you can understand her longing and her pain."

Some thought that segments about Francesca's grown children were overused or unnecessary. One woman said she kept seeing Streep and Eastwood on screen rather than the characters who had drawn her in to the novel.

Before a screening in Pasadena Saturday night, there were some reservations about the casting. It's hard to imagine two acting styles more different than Eastwood's tough-guy terseness and Streep's dramatic eloquence.

"Because I read the book, I would not have cast those two," said Pasadena resident Debby Mielke, 51.

Others had doubts about 65-year-old Eastwood's playing photographer Robert Kincaid, who is an athletic 55 in the book. During the film, a few people muttered that Eastwood was showing his age in a scene where he takes off his shirt. But by the end of the film--which contains modest love scenes by today's standards--age was forgotten.

"I think it's great," said Meisha Lebow, 20, of Westwood. "That's what I liked about the book, too. Not everyone is young and beautiful."

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The age of the characters never occurred to Pasadena resident Robert Love, 69. "Maybe it doesn't fit the Hollywood image of just young people [in love]. I thought it was a portrayal of honest feelings between two people and that age wasn't necessarily a critical factor," he said.

Greg Brown, 29, said that Eastwood's age bothered him a little at first. "But the problem isn't him, it's my perspective," he said. "We don't see a lot of love stories, let alone love stories with older people."

Brown and Emalyn Chu, 29, both L.A. residents, were a rare couple at the film: Neither of them had read the book. But after seeing the film, both said they might give it a try.

The release of the film could spark a surge in sales for Waller's novel for other, less-likely reasons. After Donald Frazier, 58, couldn't convince his wife to read the book, he took her to see the late show at the AMC Santa Monica 7 on Friday. She fell asleep.

"So I'm going to have to go get the book," Linda Frazier said. "And I'll have to sit through the movie again . . . maybe this time in the daytime."

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