This holiday season, Kirkus plans to present readers with Screener columns on Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (Dec. 25) and USA Network’s upcoming TV series Dare Me (Dec. 29), based on Megan Abbott’s 2012 Kirkus-starred cheerleader thriller. To tide you over, here are are four more book-to-screen adaptations to unwrap this month:
Dec. 6: A Million Little Pieces (Film Premiere)
James Frey’s 2003 book, A Million Little Pieces, is best known today for the controversy surrounding it. It was originally marketed as a tell-all memoir of a recovered alcoholic, drug addict, and criminal; it went on to become a runaway bestseller and an Oprah’s Book Club pick. But in 2006, the website The Smoking Gun alleged that many aspects of the book were, in fact, fictional, and Frey later admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he’d “altered” facts in the book.
Interestingly, the trailer below doesn’t address the book’s difficult past, instead painting the story as a rousing tale of redemption. The new film stars Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Oscar-winner Billy Bob Thornton, Oscar-nominee Juliette Lewis, and Odessa Young, who’s set to co-star in next year’s CBS All Access miniseries of Stephen King’s The Stand. It’s directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, the lead actor’s spouse, who also directed the 2015 film version of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey.
Dec. 13: Jumanji: The Next Level (Film Premiere)
Chris Van Allsburg’s 1981 picture book, Jumanji, tells a brief tale of two siblings playing a magical board game while their parents are away. In it, the kids encounter various wild animals and bad weather in the game that magically appear in reality—and inside their house. Fortunately, the children manage to complete the game—which involves yelling the word “Jumanji!” —and all is set aright. The first Jumanji film, released in 1995, had relatively little to do with the book; it focused on star Robin Williams, although the book’s kid characters also appeared (with one played by a young Kirsten Dunst). Also, in that film, the magical animals that appear in the world do a lot of very public damage.
The film’s 2017 sequel, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, had even less to do the source material; the board game is transformed into a jungle-themed video game, which traps four modern-day high school students. Inside the video-game world, the kids inhabit new bodies as its characters, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Kevin Hart. Jumanji: The Next Level continues Welcome to the Jungle’s video game-centered storyline, this time promisingly adding Danny Glover and Danny DeVito as new players—leaving Van Allsburg’s quaint tale even further behind.
Dec. 20: Cats (Film Premiere)
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash 1981 musical, Cats, was famously based on T.S. Eliot’s 1939 poetry collection, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and many of the songs set Eliot’s light verse to music with relatively few textual changes. A few songs drew on Eliot poems that weren’t in the Old Possum’s collection, though, including the most famous one, “Memory,” loosely based on “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.” Judging from the latest trailer, though, it’s safe to say that the film version of Cats is more concerned with ridiculous spectacle than, well, poetry—and the makeup and costumes are unsettling, to say the least.
That said, this curious beast is directed by Les Miserables’ Tom Hooper—who won an Oscar for directing 2010’s relatively sedate The King’s Speech—and features an undeniably impressive cast, including Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, and Oscar winners Jennifer Hudson and Judi Dench.
Dec. 20: The Witcher (Series Premiere – Netflix)
Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s eight-book fantasy saga The Witcher, which began in 1992, tells the story of Geralt of Rivia, a freelance monster hunter and killer with superhuman abilities, who had adventures in an ancient fantasy realm. The stories and novels are quite popular, particularly in Eastern Europe, and the video games based on the series are well-known worldwide. A Polish film and TV series were released in the early 2000s, but Netflix’s new TV series promises to be, if not subtle, at least the most ambitious adaptation yet—a mix of video-game visuals and Game of Thrones grimdark grittiness. It stars Henry Cavill, best known for playing Superman, who flexes very different muscles here. The TV series’ creator, Lauren Schmidt, most recently co-executive produced Netflix’s offbeat superhero tale The Umbrella Academy.
David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.