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THE SUMMER OF ’93 OFFERS A QUARTET OF MOVIE HITS

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THERE'S NOTHING like a solid, quick-read page-turner on a warm summer's day . . . especially if it's in an air-conditioned movie theater.

Amid the usual plethora of remakes, sequels and adaptations of old television series, the summer movie season of '93 has no fewer than four big-budget, high-profile best sellers-turned-movies hitting theaters within a nine-week span.First up, of course, was Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park," the sci-fi monster movie of the year, which is nearing the phenomenal $200 million box office benchmark as you read this.

Next came John Grisham's "The Firm," which opened Wednesday. And with its star-studded cast and Tom Cruise's killer smile backing it up, the thriller about mobster lawyers in Memphis is expected to be the first picture to seriously challenge "Jurassic's" dino-dollars intake.

At the end of July we get yet another Crichton effort, "Rising Sun," with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes as the Los Angeles detectives trying to solve a complicated murder that involves Japanese businessmen.

And, appropriately enough, on Friday the 13th of August, Stephen King's "Needful Things" arrives, with Max von Sydow as the devil himself - rather inventive casting when you consider that the Swedish actor made his English-language debut playing Jesus in "The Greatest Story Ever Told" nearly 30 years ago.

If that's not enough, this literary cinema trend continues with the third adaptation of the children's classic "The Secret Garden," also scheduled for Aug. 13.

Adapting a best seller can be tricky, of course. On the one hand the movie has a built-in audience, those who read and loved the book. On the other, you have the task of pleasing the reading audience - no small feat.

Steven Spielberg has been taken to task by critics and moviegoers about how much of the original "Jurassic Park" story was gutted for the sake of a two-hour movie - especially in its open-ended climax. And despite enthusiasm for the dazzling dinosaurs, most agree that the human characterizations are rather weak.

None of these complaints has hurt the film's profits, of course.

Director Sydney Pollack and screenwriters Robert Towne and David Rayfiel are similarly taking heat for changes in the movie version of "The Firm," in particular an ending that is quite different from the book.

Pollack was recently quoted as saying,"Mr. Grisham visited the set with his family several times a month and he knows the film's going to be different. That means he knows realistically that he may or may not like the movie."

Pollack also defends the film's ending. "I think, by the way, that the ending works well in the book. However, the vocabulary of books and movies simply (isn't) the same. We didn't have time for that final long chase in Florida, so we confined it to Memphis."Even before "Rising Sun" has even been screened, there are rumors that the movie - scripted and directed by Philip Kaufman - has downplayed the book's controversial commentary on the Japanese business community in America. (This rumor was fueled by Crichton's decision to drop out of the film in mid-production, due to the ever-popular "creative differences.")

Meanwhile, here's the rundown of best-seller flicks that are on the boards:

- Crichton's latest, untitled suspense novel, about sexual harassment in the workplace (to be published early next year), has been sold to Warner Bros. for a record $3.5 million. No word on casting or a production schedule as yet.

- Grisham's "The Pelican Brief" goes into production this month, with Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington starring (and it may be in theaters before the end of the year). And Grisham's "The Client" is also being prepped for production, though it is not yet cast.

- Director Pollack will reportedly follow up "The Firm" with Robert James Waller's romance "The Bridges of Madison County," to star Robert Redford.

- Tom Clancy's "Clear and Present Danger," a follow-up to "The Hunt for Red October" and "Patriot Games," is scheduled for release in the summer of '94, with Harrison Ford reprising his role as CIA analyst Jack Ryan.

- Scott Turow's "Pleading Guilty" has just been purchased by Universal Pictures and will go into production soon. Turow wrote the novel "Presumed Innocent," a movie hit three years with Harrison Ford in the lead.