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The book or the movie? Our guide to reading fall film adaptations

August 14, 2012|By Glenn Whipp
  • Ang Lee's adaptation of "Life of Pi" is one of several movie adaptations of well-known books coming to theaters this fall.
Ang Lee's adaptation of "Life of Pi" is one of several movie… ( Jake Netter / Twentieth…)

At movie screenings lately, we’ve noticed people carrying rectangular-shaped objects. We did a search on the iPad and it appears they’re called books and that people still enjoy reading them, despite the fact that each volume just contains one specific tome and not a multitude of downloads.

Go figure.

Anyway, people around town are reading, and what they’re reading tends to be the books that have movie adaptations around the corner. It’s the opposite of what we remember from high school English. Avid moviegoers want to read the book before seeing the film. But is it worth the time? We offer the following guide to some of the upcoming adaptations:

PHOTOS: Shakespeare on screen

"CLOUD ATLAS"

The book: David Mitchell’s prize-winning novel encompasses six interwoven stories, set in the past, present and future, linked by main characters who are reincarnations of the same soul.

The movie: Co-directed by Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) and the Wachowskis (“The Matrix”), the film clocks in at nearly three hours and features actors such as Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugo Weaving playing multiple roles in an epic that crisscrosses time and, perhaps, logic.

Why read it now: Because maybe you’d like to understand the movie a little better, and you’re going to need all the help you can get.

Why wait until later: Because, let’s face it, you’re still not going to know what the heck is going on.

PHOTOS: Unique Charles Dickens adaptations

"LIFE OF PI"

The book: Beloved bestseller about a boy who finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

The movie: Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) fashions a 3-D adventure film, laden with CGI critters and a multitude of meaning.

Why read it now: Compared to the season’s other high-profile adaptations, it’s an easy read. And as much as we’ve enjoyed some of Lee’s films, capturing the book’s delicate magic could prove problematic, so it might be wise to see if you fall under the book's spell.

Why wait until later: You’re OK exploring the nature of faith so long as it’s in a visual medium with kids and animals and 3-D and special effects. But reading … that just takes too much time. And it makes you sleepy.

"ANNA KARENINA"

The book: Leo Tolstoy lays out the story of a doomed love affair against the backdrop of hypocrisy of czarist Russia. Some critics call it the greatest novel ever written.

The movie: Writer Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”) and director Joe Wright (“Pride and Prejudice”) deliver an expressionistic take on Tolstoy, concentrating solely on the family drama and setting the action in a theater.

Why read it now: Because if you don’t read the book, you’ll miss Tolstoy’s analytical theoretical studies of the Russian agricultural system.

Why wait until later: Because, let's be honest, you’ll never finish reading it.

"LES MISÉRABLES"

The book: Victor Hugo’s sprawling 1862 novel takes in crime and punishment, European history, social injustice and the battles of Napoleon. Long considered one of the all-time classics.

The movie: It’s based on the musical, not the book. So people sing. People like Russell Crowe. But the songs are catchy. (Just ask George Costanza.)

Why read it now: You want to understand the human experience on a deep, profound level.

Why wait until later: Again: You’ll probably never finish it in time.

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Follow Glenn Whipp on Twitter: @glennwhipp

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