Movie Article

Reel Lit: Is The Pen Mightier Than The Pic?

BIG FISH Zany director Tim Burton embellishes the magic realism of Wallace's 1998 novel about a man (Billy Crudup) recalling his dying father's tallest tales. He adds far-fetched touches like Danny DeVito's circus and recasts the parental relationship of Jessica Lange and Albert Finney as soul-mate perfect (Pop's an adulterer in the book). The Last Word Let Wallace reel you in: Emotions play more subtly on the page, and, unlike the flick, the book knows when to cut its line.

COLD MOUNTAIN Sure, writer-director Anthony Minghella pulls a peerless performance out of Renee Zellweger as feisty woodsgirl Ruby Thewes in Civil War-era North Carolina, but his big-screen rendering of Frazier's 1997 National Book Award winner inexplicably omits nearly all references to slavery. The Last Word Dazzling descriptions of nature, pointed introspection, and all-around glorious prose make this 449-page ''Mountain'' well worth the climb.

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG Vadim Perelman adapts Dubus' 1999 NBA finalist with care, successfully translating the tricky dual perspectives of down-and-out Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) and Iranian immigrant Behrani (Ben Kingsley), who lock horns over a bungalow. Perelman incorporates plenty of details but opts for an ending that's ever so slightly less bleak. The Last Word Pay Dubus' beautifully constructed House a visit for a fuller picture of the characters' pasts.

PAYCHECK Dick's story and John Woo's thriller have little in common but plot -- an engineer's memory is erased by an evil corporation. In Dick's hyper-future, security police patrol via ''rocket cruisers.'' In Woo's more contemporary setting, tech-savvy Ben Affleck dons glasses to look smart. Both versions share mediocrity: Despite a cleverish final twist, Dick's writing is as flat as Affleck's acting. The Last Word Skip both. Rent ''Blade Runner'' (a better Dick adaptation).

Originally posted Jan 23, 2004 Published in issue #747-748 Jan 23, 2004 Order article reprints