Film Feature: From Page to Screen, Fall 2011’s Biggest Adaptations

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CHICAGO – Last week saw the release of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” his long-awaited adaptation of Brian Selznick’s award-winning young adult novel, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”. And the movie has been “long-awaited” for several reasons. One reason is that the idea of Scorsese doing a kid’s movie is a little mind-blowing.

Another reason is that the 3D is so good that James Cameron himself is doing ads for the movie. But my favorite reason is the simple fact that “Hugo” is just an epic combination of the right director being picked to adapt the right book. Regardless of the film’s outcome – most critics have gone ga-ga for it and the film did reasonably well in its opening frame against stiff competition – it’s almost impossible to think that Hugo could’ve found a better director than Martin frickin’ Scorsese.

Book-to-film adaptations are big business in Hollywood, and this holiday season is PACKED with big-time directors taking big-time books and trying to turn them into big-time movies. It’s a tried-and-true movie industry formula, but it’s not without risks. Sometimes the pairing of director and book just doesn’t work. Or sometimes the director is the perfect choice, but there are other factors – timing, actors, screenplay, the cosmic forces of the universe – that just ensure that the adaptation doesn’t work in the end. Sometimes you get “The Godfather”, sometimes you get “Bonfire of the Vanities”.

Since this holiday season has so many major book-to-film adaptations hitting the big screen, we thought we’d profile four of the biggest and brightest and rank the factors that are working for and against their box office success.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Photo credit: Focus

Film: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (December 9)

Based On: One of the most iconic spy novels of all time, published in 1974 by the great John le Carre.

Director: Tomas Alfredson, best known for the Swedish vampire flick, “Let the Right One In.”

Chances For Success: Strong. “Tinker, Tailor” has already opened at several film festivals and in some international territories and was met with largely positive reviews. (It also has been a big box office hit in the U.K.) Granted, this isn’t a surprise due to the pedigree of the material and the stellar leading cast (Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds). While “Tinker, Tailor” has been attracting a lot of Oscar buzz, particularly for Oldman, it’s still unclear that, without a major awards nod, if the film will be a box office hit in the U.S. beyond the arthouse circuit. The plot is labyrinthine, the book isn’t nearly as well-known Stateside as Ludlum’s Bourne books, the lead character is a retired pencil-pusher, and can you remember the last movie about the Cold War that really resonated with audiences? Hopefully, “Tinker Tailor” will break that streak (or else we’ll be stuck waiting around for that “Red Dawn” remake that MGM is never going to release).

Working Against It: Dry subject material; Alfredson’s possible “sophomore slump”; Bourne burnout leading to unfair expectations for modern spy flicks.

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