I once heard a screenwriter say that the best way to adapt a novel is for the initially overwhelmed writer to take what he or she most loves about the novel and discard the rest. Good advice, I suppose, but it must have been particularly difficult for someone like Salman Rushdie to follow, particularly in adapting his own 1981 novel, Midnight's Children, for the screen. Director Deepa Mehta, who directed a trilogy of beautiful films -- Fire (1996), Earth (1998), and Water (2005) -- provides this two-hour and 28-minute movie with plenty of impressive imagery, but can't bring the story to successful fruition. Over-plotted and unable convincingly to blend some of the novel's magic realism with an otherwise conventional narrative, Midnight's Children is one of those sprawling, thematically rich movies that probably needed to be great. It's not. Those unfamiliar with the novel need to know that the movie's title refers to children born at the stroke of midnight on Aug. 15, 1947, the exact moment India attained independence from Britain. Using two such children as a focal point, the story -- which spans 50 years of Indian and Pakistani history -- becomes a kind of smorgasbord of conceits that includes, among lots of other ploys, the old babies-switched-at-birth trick. Midnight's Children serves as a primer on recent Indian history, which is fraught with ethnic and political tensions. It also features a fine performance from Satya Bhabha, who portrays the main character, Saleem, as a young man. During its lengthy and intermittently arresting course, Midnight's Children makes room for some affecting scenes and instructive observations. Parts of the movie work well. Overall, though, Midnight's Children enters the world as an ambitious disappointment. Rushdie provides the movie's voice-over narration.