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Reel Lit: See The Movies Or Hit The Books?

EW tells you which books are worth seeing on film - Four films this summer are all classic pieces of literature, but can any of the movies live up to the books?

Around the World in Eighty Days Jules Verne

Director Frank Coraci's version dumbs down Verne's 1873 tale by omitting key action scenes (the duel on the train) and transforming taciturn, globe-trotting hero Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan) into a garrulous second banana to his martial-arts-happy valet (Jackie Chan).

The Last Word Skip both. Verne's history-heavy text and Coraci's manic flick are no match for producer Michael Todd's epic (and A-list-cameo-laden) 1956 Best Picture winner.

A Widow for One Year John Irving

Director-scribe Tod Williams' film ''The Door in the Floor'' is a fairly faithful though less layered adaptation of the first third of Irving's compelling 1998 novel, ''Widow,'' about an estranged couple (Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger) coping with the deaths of their teen sons. The novel delves deeper into the complex evolution of daughter Ruth (Elle Fanning), who's sidelined in the film.

The Last Word For a richer experience, give Irving a whirl.

The Notebook Nicholas Sparks

Director Nick Cassavetes' film ups the already substantial hankie factor of Sparks' 1996 best-seller, excising the more maudlin prose and embellishing the youthful romance between star-crossed summer lovers (Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling). Gone, too, is the book's ambiguous ending, the better to keep Kleenex in business through mid-July.

The Last Word Gosling and McAdams are worth swooning over -- and help you forget Sparks' schmaltzy dialogue.

The Stepford Wives Ira Levin

To update Levin's chilling 1972 satire about a town of women too nicey-nice to be real, screenwriter Paul Rudnick plays down the horror and heightens the camp -- with mixed results. While he squeezes in some good gags (Roger Bart's gay Stepford husband is notably hammy), the ''surprise'' ending muddles whatever postfeminist message he was seeking.

The Last Word Levin's savage social commentary has more bite.

Originally posted Jul 09, 2004 Published in issue #773 Jul 09, 2004 Order article reprints
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