Thursday, August 29, 2013

YA Movie Adaptations & What's Going On: A Dialogue.

A discussion between Ceilidh & Christina.

Ceilidh: I lost count of the number of articles written before the theatrical release of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones asking if the film was the next Twilight or The Hunger Games in terms of YA adaptation success. The film industry operates on a simple rule: make money by any means possible, and I can theoretically understand why a studio would think a TMI movie would bring in the big bucks. It's the most generic mix of bankable elements from other successful projects, it's sold a heck of a lot of copies, comes with a dedicated fan-base and there's a definite scent of sparkly vampires in the air. To the big suits in the studios, it makes sense.

Well, in hindsight...

So far, TMI sits at 12% on Rotten Tomatoes, the same as The Smurfs 2, with practically every review mocking its highly derivative nature *cough* and general ineptitude. It took less in its opening weekend than the other YA adaptation stinker The Host (note: I'm aware that Meyer's other work was not categorised as YA upon release but the movie definitely was). Now, there are articles dedicated to Cassandra Clare's back-tracking (including our own) with others asking where it all went wrong and what this means for YA adaptations in general as we sit in the aftermath of other flops such as The Host (9% on RT)Beautiful Creatures (46% on RT)Beastly and I Am Number Four

Christina: This is where it gets interesting. The blame has been shifted to timing and uninterested teens and CoB's hodgepodge of things that worked for Twilight, Harry Potter, and Star Wars but didn't work for CoB itself. 

The blame, however, might be to us. That's right. See, if you want more YA adaptations, you have to help market the YA adaptations that are out there (according to Clare and Ally Carter). It's not enough to merely spend your money and focus your attention on better crafted adaptations such as The Hunger Games. You gotta go all out and talk up the adaptations that are out there. Your YA needs YOU!

Ceilidh: This call to arms for the YA community to support these movies at all costs reminds me an awful lot of John Green's comment on readers's duties in the analysis of a novel. It's a deliberate shifting of blame from the creators to the consumers, and it really annoys me. Did the many critics who slated TMI just interrogate the film from the wrong perspective? Yes, there were a few sexist jerks making unnecessary comments about Lily Collins's eyebrows (the woman may be a terrible actress but cut that crap, she's gorgeous), but they weren't the majority rule on this topic. 

I also question why I should support bad things in order to keep YA movies coming. By that logic, I wonder if Clare and Carter are rallying their support around the upcoming Ender's Game movie, something I have already pledged to boycott. I highly doubt it. I saw similar arguments like this in regards to supporting female film-makers and female led movies. The idea that if one flops then it's game over for everything else after it is probably more real than we'd like to admit since Hollywood thinks women aren't worth the financial risk, but it's not my feminist YA reader duty to support TMI for the good of the industry. I didn't see these arguments when The Host and Beautiful Creatures flopped. So why so you think these movies are flopping?

Christina: In short, a lack of originality. When describing Beautiful Creatures or City of Bones, people often cite Twilight comparisons ("Twilight with witches, Twilight and Star Wars and Harry Potter, sort of"). Sure, The Hunger Games isn't the first dystopia of its kind, and yes, there are comparisons to Battle Royale, but the synopsis was fresh. Now dystopias are cropping up like mad. Movies and books are being touted as "The Hunger Games with zombies/robots/etc.". Maybe I can be optimistic and hope that the recent failures of copycat paranormals can provoke actual originality in YA stories, but we'll see. It's possible the only real good thing is that it might delay the release of movie versions of such horrid books like Fallen or Hush, Hush. A girl can dream.

Ceilidh: It reminds me of the bandwagon jumping and desperation to set a trend mode that publishing's been stuck in for a while now. I can't blame it since the traditional model is dying so quickly, but the serious lack of imagination doesn't bode well for us audiences.

The Hunger Games also had the fanbase many people thought TMI had. It was large, dedicated and crossed age and gender. Not that you need both men and women to sell a movie (see Twilight for that). THG was also well made. Time, effort and serious thought went into it, something that was lacking in TMI according to the reviews (having said that, I really am quite intrigued by the mental image of Jared Harris with a flamethrower. All I've ever asked for in a man!) THG also has the added benefit of a true star in the lead role, one who now has an Oscar. Neither Lily Collins or Jamie Campbell-Bower possess the range, charm or goodwill within the industry that Jennifer Lawrence has. I don't think we'll be seeing either of them leading big projects in the future.

Weirdly, while I think TMI's failure may put a dent in some optioned projects, primarily the paranormal romance stuff, one of the projects I think might succeed is Divergent. I wasn't a fan of the book or the recent trailer, and Shailene Woodley's appeal continues to elude me, but there's a book series with actual clout. Both books are hanging in there on the NYT best-seller YA list, Veronica Roth's been given spots on The Today Show, and there's just more buzz. I don't think it'll quite reach THG in terms of box office but it could make a comfortable amount. It certainly risks the calls of Hunger Games copycat so they'll need to be careful with their marketing.

Christina: Right now it's at the point where YA adaptations in the works are trying to emphasize what sets them apart from such failures as Beautiful Creatures and City of Bones. Also, the latest Hollywood gossip has Sigourney Weaver going from definitely getting involved with City of Ashes to "may possibly" having a role in it. The lacklustre performance of CoB has people wondering about a possible "Twilight curse" on movies that try to copy that sort of success.

Ceilidh: Here's the thing. I get why it's unfair to compare these films toTwilight since every project wants to be able to stand on its own merits, but this is also exactly how these books were advertised. We all live in the shadow of sparkles, whether we like it or not (surprise, I don't like it). 

But now that the Twilight franchise is finished and Stephenie Meyer has said she's over it (wish she'd been over it before she wrote it, to be honest), the paranormal YA bandwagon has come and gone, particularly for films. There are one or two book exceptions but they're usually continuing series and even then they're running out of steam. The dystopian post-THG bandwagon was never the huge hit many thought it would be, which I think is why we're not seeing as many dystopian YAs being optioned for films. A lot seems to be resting on Divergent

The YA adaptation that I think will do very well is The Fault in Our Stars but I don't think it will be marketed solely to a teenage audience. Green and his work have broken out of the YA mould in terms of readership and respectability given to the category (see the mentions in Time Magazine) and his work continues to sell extremely well. It fills up the NYT YA list week after week (actually, the top 15 seldom changes, which if nothing else is an indication of how stagnant YA has become lately, at least for me). I think you'll see TFIOS marketed as a touching indie dramedy, the kind that usually fills up at least one spot on the Best Picture Oscar nominations. Think Little Miss Sunshine or Juno. I've spoken before about my ambivalence for Green and my annoyance with his work but it's tough to deny that it resonates with many readers who don't consider themselves YA fans. There's the key - make a YA movie that doesn't call itself a YA movie.

What YAs would you like to see adapted for the big screen? I would love to see an indie director like Kelly Reichardt tackle one of Hannah Moskowitz's books or possibly Shine by Lauren Myracle. I think Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles have immense cinematic potential but would require a budget that would strike fear into the hearts of studios. Maybe Hayao Miyizaki's interested.

Christina: What the genre needs is a fresh voice. I'd love to see adaptations of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, although the set design and special effects would make it a huge undertaking for a studio. If done correctly, however, it could make Hunger Games-like waves at the box office and in pop culture.

Two darker YA offerings, such as I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga and The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison could make for some interesting filmmaking. 

One series that wouldn't cost hardly anything to make (and is more realistic while being topical to real issues young girls face) is the Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart. 

Why not some diversity? Let's see an adaptation of Gone, Gone, Gone by the awesome Hannah Moskowitz. Update the classic lesbian love story of Annie On My Mind

I'm craving something different, something real, and that's not to say avoid supernatural elements or fantasy worlds, or even dystopia. What I want is a great story, with great characters, devoid of a formula that's cooked up to make profits. Audiences want the same thing. Maybe now that's being made clear.

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