Got story? Hollywood builds tales on famous brands

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Hollywood is known for snatching up best-selling books and turning them into big-screen blockbusters: “Twilight,” “Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games,” “The Help” and countless others.

But the adaptations hitting theaters this week didn’t need a novel’s characters or built-in narrative, just a well-known brand name.

The must-read pregnancy manual “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” has become an all-star comedy romp about the pitfalls of new parenthood. The book is full of helpful advice, “but it’s almost like a medical manual,” said Shauna Cross, who co-wrote the screenplay. “That’s not that entertaining to go and watch.”

So the cinematic version, opening Friday, stars Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Chris Rock, Elizabeth Banks, Dennis Quaid and others in intertwining tales about various experiences of pregnancy, from infertility and miscarriage to trouble-free twins.

Also opening Friday is “Battleship,” an action flick inspired by the 45-year-old board game starring Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Brooklyn Decker and Rihanna. Based on finding a hidden enemy by searching coordinates on a grid, the classic game may be best known to some readers by an old TV commercial in which an exasperated player proclaims, “You sank my battleship!” The film, set during a war games exercise on the Pacific Ocean, shows how the U.S. Navy might respond to an alien attack at sea.

“There are certain elements from the board game that lent themselves well to the DNA of a movie,” said director Pete Berg. “Two enemies trying to locate and kill each other violently is, good god, a movie… The rest is classic creative endeavor.”

Coming up with characters and narratives around popular brands that intrinsically have neither one has become business as usual in Hollywood.

“With movies costing so much, studios are looking for any kind of a hook that would ring a bell with an audience,” said veteran film critic Kenneth Turan, who writes for the Los Angeles Times. “It’s the same reason why they have all the sequels and things from TV shows and remakes: They’re desperate to ring that bell.”

Still, seizing on a popular brand doesn’t guarantee a successful film.

The 1985 film version of the board game “Clue” flopped (though it later gained a cult following). But “Transformers,” based on Hasbro’s shape-shifting robot toys, became a multi-billion-dollar global franchise.

Berg said turning “Battleship” into a movie “was one of the great and really fun creative challenges of my career.” The film has collected $215 million so far overseas, where it has been open for nearly five weeks.

As with “Battleship,” adapting advice books such as “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and Steve Harvey’s 2009 dating guide, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man,” requires writers to develop characters and story lines that aren’t in the books.

“Think Like a Man,” which topped the box office for two weeks when it was released last month, successfully spun Harvey’s book into a romantic comedy following five couples navigating their relationship issues.

“One of the main challenges of an adaptation like this is the book already has a loyal following,” said producer Will Packer. “All you can really do is mess it up. It’s very tough to elevate it and take it beyond.”

The appeal of tapping such a successful book as source material is, of course, that it “potentially has a built-in audience,” Packer said. “It helps you cut through the clutter in a very, very crowded marketplace in terms of the outlets and mediums trying to get attention from consumers.”

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