Why I Think YA Book-To-Movie Adaptations Fail

I love a good Young Adult book don’t get me wrong, but it saddens me to see so many people looking down on it as a genre, claiming that it is not “serious enough” or as good as another. This certainly is in no way supported by the serious spike in YA popularity and the number of novels being translated onto the big screen in the last five years. More often than not though these adaptations do not live up to the expectations of the novel’s fans and more importantly do not do well at all in their opening weekend. YA books have so much potential when it comes to being made into a movie. YA worlds are so unique, rich, complex and usually beautiful that it has every opportunity to be welcomed with open arms into the cinematic medium, but this just usually is not what happens and I’m about to tell you a few of the reasons why I think this may be the case:

  1. The Genre ‘Young Adult’
    As I’ve said, the genre ‘Young Adult’ is usually associated with a lot of prejudice, mostly because of the failed book-to-movie adaptations that have given the genre a not so good reputation. One of the biggest examples I can think of with this has to be that of the Twilight craze, which practically initiated a worldwide disdain for anything else in the future that included vampires in the storyline. I just don’t think it’s right that because of this one failed adaptation people have become so narrow-minded to the rest of the genre, regardless of whether or not a series is completely different. No two stories are the same and I think that writers, directors and producers deserve the utmost respect and congratulations for attempting to produce a YA adaptation regardless of pressure. It’s also nice to see that some producers don’t try to ignore the genre as a whole and don’t tend to steer away from the targeted audience that the book reaches out to. Authors write their books and series for a reason, and write towards a specific age group specifically so when producers ignore this and try to make the movie completely separate from its original medium, then it’s disappointing already. This isn’t to say though that some adaptations shouldn’t be seen as different to their novels, because in some cases (e.g. Percy Jackson), I think that it’s better to do so. Personally I thoroughly enjoyed the Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief movie, but not as an adaptation, just on its own and I think it’s really important that some people learn to do this too. Not every movie is a failure; you just need to view it in different way most times. I understand that directors physically just cannot absorb everything from the book onto a screen, and that is totally okay, but when the whole genre is ignored and the bias of ‘young adult’ novels are obviously pushed away then I think the movie has already lost its credit. You can’t please everybody either, and that’s just it.
  2. Pressured Authors + Casting
    Whenever I read a book I sure as hell think in my head “yeah, that actor/actress would be really good as [insert character here]”. I’ve done this countless times in my reading life just as I’m sure so many other people have, but there IS a line when it comes to expressing it. Everybody has a dream cast for their favourite book or favourite character, but when people start constantly berating the author of said favourite book to cast a certain actor/actress…then it all just gets that little bit too crazy. Most of the time these choices are those mainstream, popular, handsome and beautiful actors that everybody loves and wants, but nobody actually thinks deeper as to if they’ll actually be good for the role. Sometimes those lesser known nobody-actors are so much better than anybody would have thought. Even though I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen an author give in to the demands of their fans for a casting choice, I still think it should be left entirely to the author and the casting directors alone. Sure an actor you love may look the part, but you’ll never know if they actually suit the character and have the right amount of chemistry with the other actors for the movie, which is far more important. Take Harry Potter for example… Who honestly knew any of those actors before then? How perfect were every single one of them for their roles? How well did they get along with one another? From what I’ve heard about the Vampire Academy movie too, this is also the case for most of the characters and it too was successful in a way. Everybody was as hesitant about Danila as Dimitri as they were about Zoey and Rose but they seemed to be two of the most popular and outstanding parts of the movie.
  3. When To Make The Movie
    Everything is just a matter of timing, and when it comes to movie making choosing the release date of a film is pretty important, as well as filming. However I don’t think that when a movie is made impacts on it success as much as other people may believe so. Yes there are all sorts of new technologies developing that assist the movie making process these days but it doesn’t actually impact the movie does it? Harry Potter was just as successful in the early 2000’s as a lot of movies being released these days are (or aren’t). In the end it all comes down to `perception and reception, and probably even some luck but I think that it definitely makes a difference when a movie is released. In amongst all the recent VA hype it can really be a serious detriment if a movie comes out and is not sufficiently welcomed, even if that is not the movie’s fault exactly, just a matter of bad luck and bad timing.
  4. Using The Actual Novel
    Producing an adaptation allows producers and writers so much opportunity, seeing as how the entire background for the movie is there for them to work around already. I don’t understand why directors and producers choose to ignore the majority of the storyline though? Catching Fire, perhaps the most recent success in the YA genre was successful primarily because of how faithful it was to the original novel. It went even further to almost quotes line directly which was both powerful and effective. There’s nothing wrong with using exact dialect if it’s going to both please the viewers that are fans of the book and have high expectations after a failed first movie, as well as if they work. When a novel’s storyline is ignored so much to the point where its film companion can hardly be called an adaptation (e.g. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, I know don’t hate me), then…. Also it bothers me to see that a lot of authors are often not included in the movie making process, either by their own choice or not which is ridiculous. I’ve heard of many instances where authors’ opinions are ignored or not taken on board so that the entire adaptation is left in the hands of writer and producers that are not as connected with the story. Who better to ask an opinion of, get advice from or work with than the author of the story itself though? I understand if an author willingly decides not to involve themselves with the whole process, but it stands to say that the movie really has a significantly lesser chance of being successful at all without them. As I mentioned though, The Mortal Instruments did not do as well as so many people were expecting simply because the storyline was completely chronologically changed. Yes small things were left out but some of these smaller things were relevant for a later point in the movie or series. A lot of the scenery was changed too and the dialogue wasn’t exactly great either. Yes the characters were cast well but I honestly felt no connection to them in the movie as I did in the books whatsoever and that really disappointed me. A lot of the time I think that the authors allow way too much to be changed and don’t exactly realise how much of an impact it can have on how well their movie will do/does.
  5. Cutting A Trailer
    Trailers are extremely important to how people collate their first impressions of a movie. If a trailer is cut and pieced together the wrong way then fans of the books and the general viewing audience will in no way be impressed or have any incentive to see the movie either. Especially for YA movie trailers, it’s so important to match the heavy detailing of world building that usually appears in the books with enough to satisfy and catch the audience up, especially if they haven’t read the book. This was definitely the case with the first Divergent trailer. I hadn’t read the books when the first trailer was released so I was completely confused with what was happening on the screen and it was until I had gone away, read the books and then re-watched the trailers that I understood. I think a lot of the audience would have felt that way too, but the most recently released Divergent trailer had a perfect voice-over that gave a little more depth to the dystopian world which I was so glad to see. In two minutes or two and a half minutes not a whole lot can actually be shown so the people responsible for putting the trailer together have to be really careful in how they do it. The music/score has to perfectly make the scenes that they are showing, match the level of emotion that they would like to convey as well as give the audience an overall general feel of what the movie will be like. Irrelevant scenes don’t need to be put into a trailer but a trailer also shouldn’t be too predominantly action-scene based or love-scene based. It has to have the right balance of action, romance and drama but not confuse either. Show me what the movie is about but don’t give me the entire storyline, show me action but not a whole fight sequence, show me romance but not an entire love scene but most importantly leave me feeling excited to see the entire movie. Show me the characters that I love and that I love to hate, show me the bad guy and how they’re different from the rest of the characters, show me the world and put me in it so much that I want more when the movie ends.

All in all these are just a few of the reasons why I think that YA book-to-movie adaptations are so precariously taken on board and developed. With the right combination of all of these things YA movies have so much potential to be amazing, wonderful, successful and continuous but even the smallest imbalance between them…. Well, I think we’ve seen enough failed attempts on our screens.

-emilyp0tter

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