This is not a post musing in a mutter about whether Hollywood is running out of ideas since half the new cinema releases these days are book adaptations, but instead looking at the trend towards the young adult audience within those adaptations. Just this year we’ve had Beautiful Creatures, The Host, City of Bones and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, with many more in the works and peeping over the developmental horizon. It’s a pretty interesting trend considering before a few years ago movies based on teen books, much less books for teen girls, weren’t so much A Thing, but now the genre is practically booming.
Why is this? Well, much as everyone has mercifully stopped talking about Twilight I think it’s worth a mention here—Harry Potter too, for being the first to take on the ambitious project of adapting an entire series of seven books (that turned into eight movies), which was a ridiculous feat when it first came out, but now every other series seems intent on following suit. But Twilight stood out as being the first major adaptation of a YA series geared specifically towards girls (not that guys can’t enjoy the saga too, of course… Bella’s so wonderfully bland that inserting yourself into her shell is really rather gender neutral), going on to draw legions of devoted and new fans, casually ruin Robert Pattinson’s life and make squillions of dollars. And while they were at it, prove that adaptations of YA novels made for and led by teenaged girls can be successful, which opened the doors for a flood of new productions.
Which is pretty awesome, because if there’s one thing this little everyman media critic never turns down it’s mainstream fiction with strong female characters, especially those of the coming of age variety which, classically, is a pretty male-dominated field. It’s also interesting to note that a lot of these adaptations are of urban fantasy series, which makes sense because they contain a lot of visual splendour and action that would translate well to the screen. It’s opening up the field for new talent and injecting imagination into the stream of blockbuster releases. It’s great, but is it entirely a good thing? Well, let me bring out my scales.
For one thing, it’s getting me excited because series like The Mortal Instruments and Vampire Academy (which is coming soon) were the ones that I read back when I immersed myself in YA, books that are upon reflection rather like pizza: kind of cheesy and salty in places, fun to share with your friends, and make you realise maybe they aren’t so great if you have too much of them. There are some immensely fun elements of both series alongside vastly problematic ones, and the same goes for Beautiful Creatures with all it’s awkward adoration for the Sexy is Evil/Evil is Sexy trope, and The Host with… everything that was terrible about The Host, which to be fair was not as much as there could have been, but the point remains. Should a faithful adaptation hold onto the flaws?
In some cases this can be remedied by the medium shift, for example, a movie simply doesn’t have time for all the pacing issues in The Host (how did Stephanie Meyer fill three chapters with the main character trapped in a hole??) and the surprise they’re not actually brother and sister! twist in The Mortal Instruments series was made clear to the audience at the end of the City of Bones movie rather than drawing out the squickiness of the not-actually-incest for three instalments. The shift away from a single character point of view also gave The Hunger Games movies the opportunity to branch away from Katniss’ mind and show us more of the world, which was used really well. Adaptations can play with their work a bit and often make it better.
However, they can often make it worse, and that is a worry I deeply harbour. It’s six months away but I’m already apprehensive about The Fault in Our Stars movie. It was a great book, but great books don’t always translate into great movies—especially when what makes the book great is everything that makes it a book, with most of the narrative power coming from the prose and character viewpoint, which you simply have to lose when you go into the movie medium. Sure, you can have introspective voiceovers, but it’s still not quite the same. The Fault in Our Stars handles a very delicate topic that a less careful creative team might fumble, leaving us with shards of illness-stricken-love-story clichés, but for the teenaged audience instead of the Nicholas Sparks crowd (…no offence to them).
Another issue that could arise is that most of these adaptations set themselves up to be part of a series, and what do you do then if the first flops? Settle in for however many more mediocre sequels? Cry because you’ve lost your audience and your budget and can’t actually get sequels green-lighted? That would be disheartening. Granted, most of the YA book movies I’ve seen have actually been pretty decent and loyal to (the best parts) of their source, which may have something to do with a heavy involvement of the original writer in a lot of these projects. Which is awesome too—that’s their baby, you know? Think how gutted the fans always are when adaptations stray in stupid directions, let alone its creator.
Speaking of fans, filmmakers seem to have gotten the hang of the idea that they exist, which I think is also important. The people who have read the books already are usually the main ones that the movies are marketed to–attracting new fans would be great too, but people seem to have caught onto the fact that if they disappoint the people who liked the book they’re going to be in trouble. This leads to a greater respect, I think, for the story and characters and just, you know, the practice of trying to put together a good movie.
So, pros: lots of big-screen young heroines for girls to look up to, faithful adaptations with author involvement that provide a second chance to fix iffy things about the books in a genre where iffiness roams freely, opening the market for new young actors and imaginative titles for the moviemaking world to prove they aren’t running out of ideas. Cons: some iffiness cannot or does not want to be fixed leading to it plastered all over our silver screens, these adaptive series have the potential to drag on forever and lose their punch and power, and in general book adaptations have the deadly potential to be not-good.
Really, as with all things, it comes down to the individual, and I’m going to lie in wait for all the upcoming projects with my fingers crossed. Either way, it proves that not only do teenaged girls read and care about things but things teenaged girls like and star in can in fact be successful. So ya boo sucks to you, naysayers.