I know, already, that I am going to get some shit for this list. Fans of the young adult genre, both movies and books, cling tightly to their fandoms and will tear the throats out of anyone who disagrees with them or challenges them. I fear that once this post is up and on my website that I am going to have angry people spanning from 14-23 ready to burn down my house and steal my kittens. But no matter the consequences, this is something that has been a long time coming.
Young Adult movies have had a huge surgance since the mid 2000’s. Before someone corrects me to tell me they have been around before then, I am well aware that the genre has been around for decades. However, with Harry Potter and Twilight came a massive wave of young adult movies and more popular books that has been in the forefront of the movie industry for some time. While the movies have waned in popularity over the years, they certainly hold a strong following of people who will see them and fight anyone who says bad things about them to their last breath. While the genre has certainly been a rollercoaster from the acclaimed Harry Potter franchise to the dregs of horrendousness that was The Host, there are certain mistakes that this movie genre continues to make that cannot be ignored. So with that being said, this list is to commemorate 5 mistakes that the majority of Young Adult Movie Adaptations continue to make.
I should stress a few ground rules. First off, I will primarily be focusing on young adult book to movie adaptations. Second, I do not deny that some of these mistakes have permeated to other movie genres. Some of these things can be found outside the young adult spectrum. What I am saying is that young adult movies are the worst culprits of this. Third, I am NOT saying that young adult movies are bad!!! I want to make that perfectly clear. There are some out there that I like. I am not making a blanket statement! With that said, let’s get going.
5 Not Knowing Where to Cut from the Book
Already, I know I have lost most of you. But try to stay with me here! I do get it that anyone who reads a book, and falls in love with it, wants to see an eighteen hour movie dedicated to getting EVERY detail about this book right. I do get it. But, tragically, that is not always going to be the case and movies do have a set structure of 90 minutes to 3 hours. If you want to see anything beyond that, go watch some classic Hollywood, and tell me how long you last in The Ten Commandments. Trust me when I say that once you get past 3 hours, things start to get tedious unless you are REALLY into it.
Movies and books are different mediums. Now, I am not going to be the ass monkey who says that “it just doesn’t transfer to film.” You can make anything transfer to any medium with the right amount of talent and skill. But what I will say is that a movie does have a different structure and if you want to fit the preconceived structure, then there are some things that need to be cut and some things that need to stay. You see this primarily in movies that feature the Part 1 and Part 2 final movie. Pacing takes a big kick straight to the painful area when it comes to these two parters that are, primarily made, to get some more of that capitalist scratch and to include as much source material as possible. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Twilight all suffer from one of their two parts being almost unwatchable do to the fact that the pacing is so slow to build up for one big conclusion.
But other movies have made mistakes as well that doesn’t include the Part 1 and Part 2 problem. Movies like the Percy Jackson movies, The Maze Runner, Divergent, and so forth have the problem of including quick quips about mythos plot exposition dumps that only people who have read the book will truly understand. While this does make it a quite insular movie and can be fun for the people who read and love the books, for those on the outside looking in, they come across as “Well… Fuck you. This was explained somewhere else. Go read it casual!”
4 The Handsome Apocalypse
This has been a somewhat recent trend in a lot of the less well received young adult movies as of late. Not surprisingly, a popular trope in a lot of movies is the apocalypse. To see society crumble and what the few surviving members of the planet do in the post extinction level event is some compelling stuff. It is one of my favorite type of movies. But there tends to be something that goes along with an apocalypse and that is the fact that people do look more than a little rough. Primarily, do to the fact, showers are a rare commodity and designer hair gel and make up aren’t really a thing anymore. However, the latest trend in a good amount of YA movies such as The Fifth Wave, the terrible christian propaganda movies Left Behind, and The Maze Runner series shows our young protagonists looking as if they just came off of the set of GQ taking photos to promote the movie.
In the christian propaganda version of a YA Movie, there is a kid that is supposed to have been homeless for a year with IMMACULATE hair, clean facial features, and teeth so white it could cause a traffic collision of the sun hits them at the right angle. In The 5th Wave there is a massive alien invasion and our protagonist constantly looks like her hair has just been cut, cleaned, and quaffed that day. The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials movie sees our protagonists wander through this desert waste land and the best part is the older members of this society do look like they have been through hell living in the desert. They look weathered, old, and beaten. The protagonists all under the age of 23 look clean, well styled, and good to go. Hell, even The Hunger Games, one of my favorite movies in the genre, is guilty of this. During the second finale, that we discussed earlier, the protagonists are wondering through this war zone, sans protective head-gear, to show off their well-combed hair, chiseled facial features, and clear complexions. You would think you would want to protect your brain in the middle of gunfire and explosions, but maybe I’m the weird one.
I am all for the apocalypse. Give me some of that sweet apocalypse action. But make your characters look like they are actually living in the environment is all I’m asking.
3 Giving Random Names to Things that Don’t Need Random Names
I have to admit that this one may be more of a personal nitpick for me, but the fact that everyone does it just gets on my nerves. I do get that you need to build a mythos and, as I will state later, one of the things that young adult movies KICK ASS AT is building a universe, you need to have some unique names to different aspects of the universe. But does every single thing need to have some kind of weird and vaguely pretentious name to it? I found The Maze Runner series to be the worst culprit of this, but other such as The Hunger Games are guilty of this to. Instead of just calling something a desert, it has to be THE SCORCH! Instead of just calling something a booby trap, it has to be called a “pod”, each group has to be some strange and weirdly pretentious name like they are one of the gangs from The Warriors like The Blades, The Hollows, The Others, and so on and so forth. I’m surprised that the Sun isn’t THE BLAZE or something else like that.
Yeah, video games are guilty of this to and a few other movie genres, but young adult movies are one of the worst culprits of short pretentious names to miniscule things.
2 Interchangeable Characters and/or Characters with One Noticeable Feature
There are certainly exceptions to this and it isn’t the case for everyone. But typically speaking, a lot of characters are so indiscernible between one another that you can only differentiate them from one noticeable feature or in some cases, you can’t tell them apart at all.
Take the love interests from the movie The Host. The main character of that movie is somewhat bland, but her two love interests are pretty much the same guy. The same muscle-bound, abusive dude bros who are white, nuggety, and rugged. In The Hunger Games, Peeta Mallark is a unique character, but Gale is only discernible as being “the other dude.” Granted, I do feel that if they had hired someone with more acting talent than Liam Hemsworth, then they might have brought something to the character. But throughout that entire movie, I felt as if Gale could be completely written out and the overall script wouldn’t change that much. You then get the instances in The Hunger Games where the only noticeable difference is hair style. If it weren’t for the fact that Cato, Clove, Glimmer, and Marvel were color coded by their hair, I wouldn’t have told them apart at all. In the second finale, there are two characters known as the Leeg Sisters, Leeg 1 and Leeg 2. Apparently these twins have no problem just being known as one half of a set and no other definable characteristics beyond that.
In Divergent, after one guy tries to kill Triz, I thought it was the dude played by Miles Teller. But apparently that was a completely different guy. I couldn’t tell, they never established them. Hell, there are even moments in that movie where the main male protagonist, Four, blends completely in the background with everyone else.
The Maze Runner series, everyone blends in perfectly with one another that the only way I can tell them apart is the ones who are not white and the one who is constantly referred to as Thomas.
It is okay to have characters to look the same, but you have to give them personality and flesh out their back story to the point where I can tell them apart from the X amount of other people who are on-screen with them. When one of the major problems whenever I watch a YA movie is trying to discern which character is which because they A) look exactly alike and B) have similar backstories that are only slightly interchangeable, then that is certainly a problem of the genre.
1 They are All Great at Building a World… But Some of them Forget to Make a Compelling Story
One thing that young adult movies kick ass at is the world building! Each and everyone is built upon books and books worth of mythos. That is one of the largest selling points of the book. It appeals to young adults to see these different groups, factions, people with different powers, and different characters. It is fun to sort yourself and your friends into these divisions and see where people lie. Each of the worlds is different, but relatable enough to the real world that it is still one hundred percent relatable. If you ask the writers of the stories, they will happily tell you all of the mythos that they did not have time to put into their books. The problem though is that some of them are so focused on building this huge, cool, and creative world. That they forget to tell an interesting story.
Anything by Stephenie Meyer fits this bill exactly! Stephenie Meyer creates cool and interesting side characters. She has this cool world built around Twilight and The Host. There is so much awesome mythos and great stories focusing on these cool characters and have a deep discussion about vampirism, werewolves, and whether or not these aliens are parasitic or symbiotic… But then the movie focuses on a tepid love triangle between three of the most uninteresting characters in the story.
The Maze Runner is this cool post apocalypse world and these teenagers are put in this strange situation where there are mazes and a desert world and there are these resistance cells living out in the middle of this Mad Max-style wasteland. We even have cool characters in the group who are trained survivalist and yet we focus on Thomas, who is the most bland and uninteresting character out of the lot.
The 5th Wave could be this cool new version of Independence Day… But for some reason we are following Cassie Sullivan who is the most uninteresting character in the entire movie.
There are obviously detractors from this problem, make no mistake. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Divergent are three movie franchises that are able to buck this trend by giving us a great balance of cool characters and a pretty cool world built around it. While I do challenge some of the things that Divergent has to offer, I do have to admit that Triz is a likable, sympathetic, and cool protagonist.
Ultimately this is probably one of the young adult movies biggest flaws is that it does not create fully fleshed out main characters or make a strong case why their story should be the story that we focus on. One of the basic fundamental rules of story structure is asking the question: “Is the protagonists story the most compelling story being told at that time? If the answer is no, then why are you not telling THAT story instead?” Tragically, while it is not ALWAYS the case, this is the young adult movie genre’s biggest flaw.
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