If you’re a voracious reader — or even a casual one — you’ll probably recognize the names of three of the big TV miniseries debuting on cable and subscription streaming services within the next two weeks. On May 17, Hulu will be making available all six episodes of its new adaptation of novelist Joseph Heller’s antiwar satire Catch-22. On May 23rd, Sundance TV will air the first two parts of its eight-episode version of Umberto Eco’s historical mystery The Name of the Rose. On May 27, NatGeo will launch a six-part, three night miniseries based on Richard Preston’s nonfiction medical thriller The Hot Zone.

Forget books on tape. These are all books you can watch.

If you’re a film buff, though — or even just an occasional moviegoer with a long memory — you might recognize these titles for a different reason. All three of these books have been adapted to the big screen before. Mike Nichols directed a flop version of Catch-22, released in 1970. The Name of the Rose, starring Sean Connery and a young Christian Slater, was a solid international hit in 1986. And a star-studded — and super-unofficial — Hot Zone adaptation drew huge crowds in the spring of 1995, under the title Outbreak.

None of the movies are classics. The Name of the Rose is the best of the bunch, even though director Jean-Jacques Annaud ditches a lot of Eco’s literary/historical criticism in favor of emphasizing the book’s pulpier murder-mystery elements. Catch-22 is visually striking, but too lumbering to be as funky and funny as Heller. And Outbreak is pretty much a total botch, replacing Preston’s scientific precision and slow-mounting terror with silly disaster picture cliches.

Are TV producers taking a second crack at these books to try getting them “right,” taking advantage of the extra running-time and more adventurous audiences that television allows? Probably — at least in part. I can’t speak to NatGeo’s Hot Zone, because I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve watched both The Name of the Rose and Catch-22, and both are very full adaptations of their source material.

Catch-22 comes from the producing-directing team of George Clooney and Grant Heslov, who’ve previously worked together on The Ides of March and Good Night, and Good Luck, among other projects. They and Australian screenwriters David Michôd (best-known for the movie Animal Kingdom) and Luke Davies (who wrote Lion) effectively capture the absurdity of Heller’s novel, which depicts military life during World War II as one long, dehumanizing con-job. More importantly, this new Catch-22 has the space to include more detail about the book’s characters: the stressed-out everyman Yossarian (played by Christopher Abbot), the scheming Milo Minderbinder (Daniel David Stewart), the surly Colonel Cathcart (Kyle Chandler), the blustery superior officer Scheisskopf (George Clooney), and more.

As for The Name of the Rose, this Italian-German co-production restores Umberto Eco’s more philosophical musings about the true nature of Christ and Christianity, and about whether the early 14th century Catholic Church was conspiring with their wealthy benefactors to obscure it. …read more

Source:: The Week – Entertainment


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The rise of the literary miniseries

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