August 27, 2001

Ready Aim...
Staff Reporter

Orlando Bloom as LegolasIF HOLLYWOOD can refashion underwear model Mark Wahlberg into a box-office sure thing, why can’t it turn a literary best seller into a good movie? Recent efforts yielded the odd Oscar contender (“The Cider House Rules”) and the sporadic minor hit (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”), but most high-minded adaptations quickly disappear into the film vaults. The past few years have seen as many ruinous adaptations as there were snowflakes in “Snow Falling on Cedars.” In its entire run, “Angela’s Ashes” sold no more tickets than “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” did in just its first weekend. By now you would think Hollywood might tear up its library card.

But the producers keep going back to the stacks. In a business so bereft of new ideas that “Planet of the Apes” can seem vaguely original, books still hold their ground. Two studios are gambling more than $200 million on the first installments in the “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” franchises, certain to be the fall’s biggest events. The risks are not limited to these mega best sellers. Ten more movies born in a bindery will debut before the year-end, when studios release their top Oscar contenders. No matter how famous or obscure the book, the same rule applies: the loveliest prose guarantees not one movie ticket sold. It’s all in the translation.

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