2006 Was a Novel Year at the Movies

Film historian and Maxim magazine film critic Pete Hammond looks back at Hollywood successes, and failures, in adapting novels for the big screen in 2006.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

2006 has been a novel year for Hollywood's filmmakers, literally. Book to film adaptations have packed movie theaters with literary fans anticipating Hollywood's version of their favorite short story or novel. We asked film historian and Maxim magazine's film critic Pete Hammond to take a look back at the movies of this year.

(Soundbite of film, "The Da Vinci Code")

Ms. AUDREY TAUTOU (Actor): (As Sophie Neveu) We have to find it before they do.

Mr. TOM HANKS (Actor): (As Dr. Robert Langdon) I have to get to a library, fast.

PETE HAMMOND: That may not be a line you often here in today's movies, but when Tom Hanks breathlessly states his desire to hit the gas for the bibliotheque in "The Da Vinci Code," he might also have been talking about Hollywood filmmakers themselves.

2006 has seen a resurgence in books being turned into successful movies, beginning with Dan Brown's ecumenical mystery, a publishing phenomenon that just as easily became a motion picture phenomenon, grossing $750 million worldwide in spite of a critical drubbing, perhaps for lines like this.

(Soundbite of film, "The Da Vinci Code")

Sir IAN McKELLEN (Actor): (As Sir Leigh Teabing) You will not succeed. Only the worthy can unlock the stone.

HAMMOND: Despite dialogue that could have come from an episode of "The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries," Da Vinci now ranks as one of the top films of all time, the highest-grossing literary adaptation that isn't about hobbits, Hogwarts or brontosauruses. Its financial windfall has actually convinced Columbia Pictures to jump back into bed with the author for more of the same.

Another huge book-to-film hit was the summer sleeper "The Devil Wears Prada" from the catty Lauren Weisberger roman a clef about a boss from hell.

(Soundbite of film, "The Devil Wears Prada")

Ms. MERYL STREEP (Actress): (As Miranda Priestly) So you don't read Runway.

Ms. ANNE HATHAWAY (Actress): (As Andy Sachs) No.

Ms. STREEP: (As Priestly) And before today you had never heard of me.

Ms. HATHAWAY: (As Sachs) No.

Ms. STREEP: (As Priestly) And you have no style or sense of fashion.

Ms. HATHAWAY: (As Sachs) Well, I think that depends on what you're...

Ms. STREEP: (As Priestly) No, no. That wasn't a question.

HAMMOND: It's now made about $300 million around the world and is generating Oscar talk for star Meryl Streep. Even the studio that released the film, 20th Century Fox, has been shocked by the extent of the success, which had fans of the book lining up to see it.

After years of filming the title and ignoring the rest of the text...

(Soundbite of trailer for "Casino Royale")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Discover how James...

Dame JUDI DENCH (Actress): (As M) I knew it was too early to promote you.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Became Bond.

Mr. DANIEL CRAIG (Actor): (As James Bond) Well, I understand Double-O's have a very short life expectancy.

HAMMOND: Producers of the enormously successful series of films based on Ian Fleming's super spy went back to basics with the novel idea of faithfully adapting one of the books. Imagine that. It's something fans of the Bond movies apparently didn't require in the past.

In re-inventing the franchise with a younger, blonder star, Daniel Craig, they returned to the first of Fleming's works, "Casino Royale," and updated the birth of 007 for a new generation. The result has won glowing reviews and is on track to become the most successful of all 21 films in the series.

But these hits aside, the bottom line is book adaptations, once a staple of every studio's movie slate, have faded into the background in recent years. Instead, that famous advertising line, based on the best-selling novel, it seems to have morphed into based on the best-selling graphic novel or comic book or video game or TV series or even Disneyland ride, among other entities Hollywood has turned to for inspiration.

(Soundbite of film, "Gone with the Wind")

Ms. VIVIEN LEIGH (Actress): (As Scarlett O'Hara) Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

Mr. CLARK GABLE (Actor): (As Rhett Butler) Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

HAMMOND: Gone are the days of "Gone with the Wind," a movie that actually sparked the marriage between publishing and picture-making. That's a trend that lasted decades, until studios discovered audiences didn't necessarily read much. And indeed, not every 2006 book transfer has been exactly a success. "All the King's Men," "The Black Dahlia" and "Running with Scissors" are on the fast track to Wal-Mart.

But hope rings eternal this season, with adaptations from such smart-source material as W. Somerset Maugham's "The Painted Veil," Joseph Kanon's "The Good German," and Christopher Priest's "The Prestige," all generating talk at the multiplex.

From "Little Children" to "Children of Men," the Hollywood executives have apparently turned into bookworms. Even current hit flicks like "Eregon," "Night at the Museum" and "Charlotte's Web" started life on the library shelf.

(Soundbite of film, "Charlotte's Web")

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) You know, Fern, look. You know I've been selling the animals to get the new harvesting equipment. Pretty soon there's going to be no place in the barn for a pig.

Ms. DAKOTA FANNING (Actress): (As Fern) I promised I'd take care of him.

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) Well, I'm letting you out of your promise.

Ms. FANNING: (As Fern) I didn't promise you. I promised Wilbur.

HAMMOND: But before you think Hollywood has got lit-git, think again. A look at what's upcoming next year shows the industry still likes to make movies based on movies, not books. The big titles studios are touting for 2007 include "Spiderman 3," "Fantastic Four 2," "Ocean's Thirteen," "Shrek 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean 3," "Alien v. Predator 2," "National Treasure 2" and "Saw 4." If the prospect of these films doesn't whet your cinematic appetite, look on the bright side: You'll just have more time to catch up on your reading.

SEABROOK: Pete Hammond is a film critic for Maxim magazine.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: