LonCon3 #20: YA on the Big Screen

Panellists: Carrie Vaughn, Amy H. Sturgis, Martin Lewis, Thea James (The Book Smugglers), Erin M. Underwood

The YA publishing boom has been accompanied by a boom in film adaptations, but while some have seen commercial success others have stalled. What does it take to transition from book to film? Are there any special considerations when working with a young adult story? Modern YA is a genre with distinctive tropes — how are these being transferred to the screen? How is “classic” YA adapted in that context? Is this to the original story’s benefit or detriment? Which YA books have successfully made the transition–for good or ill? What stories would make great films, but haven’t yet been done?

These days movie options are sold on books that haven’t even been released yet. You also have adaptions that are catching up or overtaking the books on which they’re based. Game of Thrones is the most famous example of this, which I believe is going on hiatus for a year to give George R.R. Martin time to pump out the next book. There’s also True Blood. Many have argued that Charlaine Harris’s later books written after the TV show were actually heavily influenced by the show instead of vice versa, despite True Blood‘s departing from the source material. I believe Martin is less likely to be influenced by outside forces than Harris was.

Dystopia as the current craze for adaptions is a monotonous affair in certain respects. We’re rarely privy to what inspired the inception of these dystopian societies or the rationale behind them, which is a shame because some of these worlds seem implausible. Humour is a scarce commodity, and with no comic relief there’s no contrast. It’s constant fear, death and doom. Instead there’s romance, gushy and unnecessary romance. A white boy and a white girl saving the world while falling in love – a trope lifted from the typical action movie.

Once you’ve seen one dystopian adaption, you’ve seen them all. They share a lack of diversity in their bleak, colourless landscapes and equally colourless people. Certain actors and actresses are making the rounds with Shailene Woodley recently starring in both Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars.

Whitewashing is an issue with some complaining about the light skin colour of the actor playing Four in Divergent and the actress playing Katniss in The Hunger Games, and the author’s outrage at the blatantly obvious miscasting of Earthsea‘s Ged as a white boy rather than one with red-brown skin. Her fans were equally upset at this turn of events, and who can blame them?

Why not cast an unknown of the representative race? The majority of fans would be happy. These relatively untested actors would be cheaper to hire, though I suppose they wouldn’t be as bankable, and by that I mean the actors themselves wouldn’t have a reputation and an established following that would entice large swathes of the global population to part with their cash, therefore they’re a risky investment.

It’s important to find new talent when a surprising number of our current crop are over 40 and a good percentage are collecting their pensions. RED, The Expendables, the Fast & Furious franchise, The Bucket List, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Heat, etc. can all attest to this. (For more see actors over 40 and actresses over 40). Now I’m not saying older audiences shouldn’t be represented by these actors, just that we need fresh blood from younger generations.

While I’m on the topic of diversity I should address the the sometimes offensive vitriolic comments by authors against diversity. Panellists Martin and Thea wouldn’t pay money to see Ender’s Game due to Orson Scott Card’s warped views on sexuality. “You can’t separate the author and his works,” an audience member challenged. Martin and Thea’s response: Paying to see the movie puts money in his pocket and we don’t want to support him in any way.

Commercialism is ruining adaptions. Generally speaking, they aren’t made by fans of the books so faithfulness to the source material is often an issue overlooked in favour of a director’s creativity in producing his or her take on how the story should be presented and perceived. Jeff Bridges is one of the exceptions. As a fan of The Giver, he optioned the movie rights with his father in mind to play the title role. Both Carrie and Thea are worried about this adaption in particular judging by what they’ve seen in trailers thus far. It looks like it’s a carbon copy of Divergent.

Author involvement in the adaption process usually contributes to its success. Again Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games have been roaring successes. But an author’s stamp of approval doesn’t necessarily translate into a popular and profitable end product. If I remember correctly, Cassandra Clare’s The Immortal Instruments and Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy fall into this category.

Roald Dahl seems to have been blessed with great adaptions. Each one seems to have been a labour of love by the people who made them. And there have been many. The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, and Danny the Champion of the World.

As endings go, happily ever after is anathema to YA adaptions.

What movies are better than the books?

  • Martin preferred the Harry Potter movies to the books.
  • Thea thinks The Hunger Games movies exceed the books.

What book would you make into a movie?

  • Erin chose Scott Westerfield’s Stupid Perfect World.
  • Amy chose the House of Night series /sarcasm. Genesis is her true choice. [I was judging her for her first answer. Thank god for sarcasm. I love her real choice.]
  • Thea chose the Touchstone trilogy.
  • Carrie chose Scott Westerfield’s steampunk Leviathan.

“I’m a terrible armchair director.” – Carrie

A few of the other adaptions that were discussed:

  • Jumper
  • Battle Royale
  • The Secret Circle
  • The Vampire Diaries
  • The Neverending Story
  • Escape to Witch Mountain
  • Race to Witch Mountain
  • Watership Down
  • The City of Ember
  • The Secret Garden featuring Maggie Smith
  • Men in Black [I had no idea this was an adaption.]
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone is in the works

Recommended Reading


One thought on “LonCon3 #20: YA on the Big Screen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s