Friday 19 September 2014

The YA Invasion (VOR #24)

The young adult genre is an inescapable phenomenon of the modern movie industry - after the immense success of Harry Potter (and before that, Roald Dahl adaptations like Matilda and James and the Giant Peach), studios are racing to snatch up the hottest paperback fantasy currently capturing the imagination of tweens everywhere.

This year alone we've seen several new 'franchises' try and find their feet in the increasingly crowded multiplex - to be met with varying degrees of success. So what are the benefits (and drawbacks) of this unrelenting onslaught of adaptations?

People may complain about the sheer number of superhero films hitting cinemas, but my God, that's nothing when you look at the looming amount of young adult (YA) adaptations being hurled at the screen - the last three weeks alone have given us If I Stay, The Giver and The Maze Runner, all of which were preceded by The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent and Vampire Academy earlier in the year.

It's an epidemic I tell ya - an epidemic rife with angst, love triangles and worst of all...puberty.

Young adult (YA) isn't just a term used to group a variety of films into one bunch anymore - they're essentially a genre unto themselves. They may cover everything from arena death battles, cancer therapy sessions and mythological Greek gods, but YA films all conform to an, arguably more fluid, set of codes and conventions the same way a Western, a space opera or a buddy cop movie do.

Before I go on, I will say this - this post isn't about bashing YA films. Quite a few YA films are good, some are great, and I'm not against this raft of adaptations being brought to the screen. The only thing is, as with any new trend, there comes a raft of positives and negatives. So, what are they?

  • They provide a comfortable proving ground for the big talents of tomorrow - Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Logan Lerman, Shailene Woodley, Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Will Poulter have all fine tuned tested their acting craft in YA adaptations before finding their feet with other projects. 
  • They generally contain a mix of both strong male and female characters in lead roles - recent YA adaptations have brought us characters like Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games), Tris Prior (Divergent), Ellie Linton (Tomorrow, When The War Began) and Hazel Grace Lancaster (The Fault in Our Stars). YA adaptations arguably have a greater split of men and women in lead roles than other genres, like superhero or sci-fi movies which violently veer toward male lead characters and are yet to fully address the gender divide. They also, in some instances, empower their female characters and focus on their emotional resilience, strength and determination (Katniss, Hazel Grace)
  • This in turn empowers and informs the ideology of their audience, young adults. Huh, positive role models make for successful films after all...
  • They provide an avenue for discourse on tough subjects to open up - cancer sufferers from The Fault in Our Stars, alcoholism from The Spectacular Now, coping with loss and adversity in The Hunger Games and overcoming childhood trauma and anxiety in The Perks of Being A Wallflower.
  • The stories are multi-generational - mostly, the deal with themes that can be applied to each our own experiences during adolescence, high school or college. Except for Hunger Games, I don't recall being reaped during uni.
  • They're relatively inexpensive to make for studios - The Fault in Our Stars had a budget of just $12 million but returned nearly $300 million at the box office. Now that's what I call a profit. Even the more expensive YA adaptations, like the first Hunger Games movie, made over $600 million with a budget of $85 million. 
  • They come with an audience built-in - they're well-known properties with teens and this all but ensures the film will draw ticket sales.

  • They're a mixed bag for quality - for every Hunger Games, there's The Giver. For every Harry Potter, there's The Mortal Instruments. Many feel like slap-dash cash-grabs designed to capitalise on the success of their predecessors. It's no coincidence films like The Giver, Divergent and The Maze Runner have all been fast-tracked into production following the success of The Hunger Games.
  • This leads to some movies being encumbered with incoherent narratives that only serve fans of the book - we're looking for an adaptation, not a retelling. Include us not-tweenage girls thanks.
  • Many don't get past the first instalment, leaving many fans disappointed they didn't persevere with the series. After sitting through Tomorrow, When The War Began and Percy Jackson, I was personally keen to see where the series went. Alas, they faded away or received an equally so-so sequel.
  • That being said, there is not a single person on this planet who wanted a sequel to Eragon.
  • I Am Number Four sucked as well. That's two hours I'm not getting back.
  • What I said earlier about positive role models is not an all-encompassing statement for the genre - again, for every tough, independent, admirable Katniss Everdeen we have a whiny, bored-looking Bella Swan and for every Hermione Granger, we have that Lena girl from Beautiful Creatures. Ugh.
  • They tend to be poorly framed by the media - I've seen clips where interviewers ask fans of Hunger Games if they are 'Team Gale' or 'Team Peeta', completely bypassing the point that the series isn't about who Katniss has doe-eyes for but actually about spearheading a revolution against an evil regime. It's a film that offers comment on modern media culture itself, as well as satirising reality TV. But of course that doesn't matter, because Liam Hemsworth is so totally hawt and Katniss should totally date him.
  • Some feel very 'tumblr'. I think you know what I mean.
Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, YA adaptations are here to stay - books like John Green's 'Paper Towns' and 'Looking for Alaska', E. Lockhart's 'We Were Liars' and 'Eleanor & Park' are all in various stages of development, amongst others. Surely it can't be long before authors like Garth Nix and Eoin Colfer are targeted for the movies (I know I'd like to see an Artemis Fowl flick).

So, I throw this over to you - where do you stand on this influx of YA adaptations being brought to cinemas? Keen to see The Maze Runner saga carry-on, or sick of half-baked fantasy Harry Potter-wannabes like Mortal Instruments?

And most importantly - is there a YA book out there you'd love to see adapted for the big screen?


  1. I actually don't mind YA movies, but the YA movies I'm inclined to watch are adaptations whose novels I've read. With the exception of Divergent (because I don't think I can sit through 3-4 more movies of that), the ones I've seen (HP, Hunger Games, Fault in Our Stars) have been pretty great. For YA movies that I haven't read, trailers and marketing make a big impact on me, because it informs me on whether I'd like to see the movie (and possibly read the novel it's based on). I've skipped a couple of YA movies that way because they weren't something I'd watch, and so far I haven't regretted not seeing them.

    1. I'm the same, I'm always apprehensive of the adaptations I haven't read because there is always the chance they've cut important points out of the story to make the movie work. Divergent wasn't that great if I'm honest, but I'm willing to give the second entry a chance. Even the Hunger Games had its flaws in the first movie which were rapidly improved upon for Catching Fire.

      Good point about the marketing of a YA film - things like the Mortal Instruments just completely flew under my radar because the trailers made them look crap. I think that the really successful films will try and market a movie as wide as possible, because otherwise older viewers are going to completely zone out. That's why HP and THG are so successful, because they appeal to lots of people even though the books are aimed at YA.

      Phew! Thanks for commenting!

  2. I like watching adaptations in make more...I don't mind.
    I think another reason for the increasing number of YA adaptations is that the YA book genre is also increasingly popular among adults so the adaptations would also appeal to them too. Most of these movies are PG also which means bigger audience pool.
    Some of the YA books I like already have an adaptation in the works with parts already casted like The Fifth Wave and A Monster Calls. So I guess I'd like to see Stolen, Unwind, Cinder and Noughts & Crosses. I think the movie rights for some of them have already been bought...but that doesn't quite mean we'd get a movie any time soon.
    Wandering through the Shelves

    1. All good points mate! Especially about the book genre being popular amongst a wider audience than just YA. Thanks for commenting :)

  3. Such a great post! If it weren't for YA movies, I'm pretty sure I would by-pass the genre for reading because it doesn't do much for me as a whole. The ones I've been really interested turned into okay-to-great adaptations like Fault In Our Stars and Divergent, but also the stars peaked my interest too. It's not so much that I dislike the YA genre for movies, but like the superhero genre, I feel like no matter how well the script may be or how hard the production crew works to make each movie different, they're all packaged relatively the same, the interest in them is the same (who is "shipped" with who) and so on.

    I don't mean to turn this comment into a novel, but it seems like Harry Potter is the defining series of the younger generation and even adults, and it seems like YA movies try to reach both audiences (the readers, the young adults who are just curious, and the older adults who understimate YA); the studios either take on too much or take on too little to adapt YA and most movies end up falling to the curb. Does anyone remember Ender's Game? :)

    1. I think you're onto something there! Ender's Game was really forgettable, and I have no idea who they were trying to market that movie at.

      As a whole, I don't mind the YA genre (it has its merits!) but there are certainly aspects that annoy me - like you said, the who is 'shipped' with who aspect is kind of silly, especially with movies that are trying to say something serious. Thanks for commenting Katy :)

  4. An Artemis Fowl movie would be so good! Ive been a huge fan of the series since i was in primary school.

    Once again, good write up.

    1. Thanks Anon! Artemis Fowl would be an ace adaption, I hope it happens too :)



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