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Audiences await transition from books to box office

Nov. 18, 2005

by LAUREN BURRIS, reporter

Film adaptations of admired novels seem popular this Oscar season, with the releases of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Memoirs of a Geisha, Pride and Prejudice and The Da Vinci Code.

Dr. Jim Kendrick, assistant professor of communication studies, said the common adage, "The book's always better than the movie," isn't always true.

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Courtesy photo
Ziyi Zhang plays the part of Sayuri, the lead role in Rob Marshall's film adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha, based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Golden.
"I think that's a bit of a misperception that generally comes out of the fact that books can simply do things that movies can't," Kendrick said. "In a 600-page novel you can do a lot more than you can do in even a three-hour movie."

Kendrick said he urges people to view "book-movies" on their own merit and not compare them to the books.

"I think books and movies tend to do different things well, and a lot of times it's just the fault that the filmmakers try to adapt things that are difficult to adapt," Kendrick said.

He said the easiest books to adapt to movies are action-oriented ones because they translate well into visual scenes.

Houston sophomore Jessica LaRey said she does not think the upcoming movies will be better than the novels. She said literature allows for more description.

Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, which was released in 1999, was on the New York Times' best-seller list for more than two years.

The movie, directed by Academy Award nominee Rob Marshall, is projected for a Dec. 9 release.

"It'll be a beautiful movie, absolutely," Kendrick said. "It's one of those movies you can refer to as 'Oscar bait.'"

LaRey, who has read the four novels that are coming to the silver screen, said she is going to go see all four movies.

"Memoirs of a Geisha is so good. I don't know if they'll be able to make it into a good movie," LaRey said.

The Da Vinci Code, which is projected for a May 19 release, was directed by Ron Howard and features actor Tom Hanks.

Released in book form in March 2003, The Da Vinci Code was written by Dan Brown, who was recently named as one of "The 100 Most Influential People" by Time magazine.

"The Da Vinci Code will be a huge success because it's based on one of the most phenomenal best-sellers of this decade," Kendrick said.

He said even if the movie is terrible it won't matter as far as money-making is concerned.

"So many people have read The Da Vinci Code and are familiar with it. It's just kind of part of the national dialogue," Kendrick said.

"I don't see there's any possibility that (it) will not do well," Kendrick said.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, adapted from the C.S. Lewis book, is projected for a Dec. 9 release.

The Walt Disney Pictures movie was directed by Andrew Adamson.

"I'll be interested to see about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," Kendrick said. "A lot of people have read the Chronicles, but I don't hear people talk about them with the kind of intensity and enthusiasm that Lord of the Rings fans talk about those books. So I'm not sure if the initial fan base is that intense."

LaRey said she is interested in seeing it because she feels there is more room for interpretation on the part of the director than with the other movies.

Pride and Prejudice, adapted from the Jane Austen novel, will be released today.

Joe Wright directed the movie, which stars Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy.

"They can't really get the full effect of the book as a whole (in the movie). Something will have to go, and I don't know what," said Paula Woods, senior lecturer of English. "I do think the TV mini-series are a better medium for a long novel such as Pride and Prejudice."

Associate professor of journalism Robert Darden was a movie critic for 10 years for the Waco Tribune-Herald, and he said books always differ from movies.

"There can be wonderful movies made from wonderful books, but they're different," Darden said.

He said the most important part of making a book into a movie is maintaining the dream and reality of the book.

"They were true to the central conceits of the book," Darden said of good book-movie transition pieces. "How (characters) looked and behaved and the overall style of storytelling."

He said if a movie was made exactly as the book was written, it would probably fail horribly. He said books and movies are designed for separate media.

"I really try to give the director and screenwriter every opportunity," Darden said. "If I love the book, I'm hoping I'm going to love the movie."