Fiction bestsellers in theaters -- We decide if the adaptations of ''The Golden Compass,'' ''Atonement,'' and ''The Kite Runner'' are as good as their source material

By EW Staff
Updated December 14, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Bestselling fiction hits theaters

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jean-Dominique Bauby (paperback)
The late editor of French Elle wrote his remarkable ’97 memoir, which describes being paralyzed by ”locked-in syndrome,” by blinking his left eyelid. Director Julian Schnabel’s film translates Bauby’s rich language into bold visuals; we even watch the hero’s right eye get sewn shut from his perspective.
Last Word
Though the movie is masterful, nothing can top the book’s poetic beauty. — Missy Schwartz

The Golden Compass
Philip Pullman (paperback)
Adapting the first book in Pullman’s trilogy about 12-year-old Lyra and her magic alethiometer, auteur Chris Weitz downplays the Magisterium’s religious nature and leaves out the gore: Ice bear Iorek’s battle drops the heart-eating ritual; the truncated ending also omits Lord Asriel’s sacrifice of Lyra’s best pal, Roger.
Last Word
Not surprisingly, Weitz softens the book’s religious, violent elements to create family-friendlier fare. — Youyoung Lee

The Kite Runner
Khaled Hossenini (paperback)
Screenwriter David Benioff’s adaptation skims past much of the final Chapters — e.g., Amir struggling to adopt his orphaned nephew — but the film remains very faithful to Hosseini’s best-seller. It even lifts the majority of its dialogue directly from the novel.
Last Word
The film’s stunning cinematography may enhance your understanding of a war-torn Afghanistan, but it’s impossible to match the novel’s emotional power. — Kate Ward

Ian McEwan (paperback)
McEwan’s 2002 best-seller about the lifelong consequences of a young girl’s lie is transported nearly scene by scene to the big screen, with only a few tweaks to tighten the dramatic structure.
Last Word
Both book and movie pack an emotional punch, but director Joe Wright’s sweeping adaptation struggles with its inability to go where the story’s real action takes place: inside the minds of its characters. — Adam Markovitz