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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, January 18, 2009


It's interesting that all five of the nominees for the 2009 Golden Globe Best Drama award were based on books or short stories. What is significant is that few of the movies nominated in other Golden Globe categories, as well as for other annual film awards, were! If this year is any indicator, we'll be seeing more and more films made from original screenplays, often written by the director.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is very loosely based on a 1921 short story penned by F. Scott Fitzgerald at age 25. As everyone knows by now, Benjamin is born old and gets younger as the years pass, but that's about the only thing that the short story and movie have in common.

Eric Roth, who wrote the screenplay for the 1994 megahit, "Forrest Gump," has basically turned Fitzgerald's creation into "Forrest Gump 2" -- which is not to say that the lavish production isn't well worth the ticket, just that you might want to read the short story for comparison. The text is available online at www.readbookonline.net.

"Revolutionary Road" comes from a novel by Richard Yates that was a National Book Award finalist in 1961 and was heralded by Kurt Vonnegut as "The 'Great Gatsby' of my generation." I've read this book about a young couple in crisis trying to decide between a "revolutionary" move to Europe or a humdrum middle-class existence, but the movie hasn't made its way to Evansville yet.

All reports say that director Sam Mendes and stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio adhered to the printed word, although I suspect there is a feminist message in the film that wasn't in the novel.
"Slumdog Millionaire" is based on "Q & A," a 2005 first novel by Vikas Swarup just re-released in a trade paperback edition bearing the movie's title. Swarup, an Indian diplomat who has served in Turkey, the United States, Ethiopia, and Great Britain, is currently India's Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa.

The story of a young, penniless, and semi-literate waiter who must justify how he managed to win India's biggest-ever quiz show jackpot, "Q & A" was an international bestseller, translated into 36 languages. The breakaway hit movie looks like a top contender for the Oscars.

"The Reader" owes its being to a short semi-autobiographical novel by German law professor and judge Bernhard Schlink. It is about a teenage boy who falls into a passionate but short-loved affair with a woman in her thirties, only to encounter her ten years later when she goes on trial for war crimes. He has some information that might help her, but should he reveal it?

I must admit that I had never read this bestseller, even when it became an Oprah selection, but recently sought it out. I won't say that I enjoyed it, but it is thought provoking.

The screenplay for "Frost/Nixon" was written by Peter Morgan, who also wrote the Tony Award winning play. If you want more detail, pick up Sir David Frost's 2007 book "Frost/Nixon: Behind the Scenes of the Nixon Interviews" or his earlier book, "I Gave Them a Sword," penned in 1977.

Finally, a prediction for future Award seasons. I asked fellow librarians to name their favorite books of 2008. If their instincts are correct, look for a movie entitled "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society," from the novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. "People Magazine" called it "...A small masterpiece about love, war and the immeasurable sustenance to be found in good books and good friends."