“Snape raised his wand and pointed it at Dumbledore. ‘Avada Kedavra!'”
I remember reading this traumatic bit of literature from “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” at the young age of 11. The Harry Potter books were my first foray into the young adult category, and I quickly fell in love with the genre. From “Inkheart” to “Eragon,” “The Giver” to “The Hunger Games” and nearly everything in between, this branch of books has created a lasting and inspirational impact on my life. I even read the Twilight Saga before it was popular (they weren’t good books back then either). So it is with all the experience of my self-proposed authority on the subject that I make this claim: young adult novel movie adaptations need to stop.
Not forever, that’s too harsh of a sentence, but at least until young adult authors (and Hollywood producers) can generate some fresh takes on the genre. The recent slew of young adult films set in a dystopian America about a diverse group of teenagers who rise up against the evil government while being thrust into unrealistic life-or-death scenarios has set the bar so low that someone injected with Tracker Jacker venom could stumble over it with ease.
The problem here seems to stem from corporate greed (shocker, right?) coupled with a lack of originality. “If we can just rehash everything that made this franchise so popular, then our franchise will be a guaranteed hit,” producers sneer as they count their Benjamins. Studios are so focused on establishing the next sensational teen franchise that they don’t stop to consider the repercussions.
The “Battle Royale” rip-off (a.k.a. “The Hunger Games”) franchise has set the bar fairly low with its incomprehensible, “shaky cam” action scenes, heavy reliance on exposition and eye-rolling teen drama. Establishing yourself that poorly as a one-off offender is bad enough, but using what you’ve done as inspiration for future young adult adaptations is downright sinful. Franchises following cliches established by “The Hunger Games” (I’m looking at you, “Divergent” and “The Maze Runner”) are about as original as a forgery, and offer nothing fresh or exciting to the already lackluster genre.
Perhaps the worst offense this group of films has spawned (started by its least appealing member, “Twilight”) is splitting the film based on the final book of a series into two parts as a cash grab. If Peter Jackson could so masterfully capture the characters, themes and action of “The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King” in one movie, then I guarantee it could have been done with “Mockingjay” (and, ironically, “The Hobbit”).
Writers, directors and producers have a sincere challenge to conquer: they need to start caring about the source material as much as the fans. With many of these young adult stories set up as trilogies, quartets or even full-fledged sagas, there will be ample time to set up the series’ narrative if the first film is done right. They don’t need to go full “Mockingjay – Part 1” with all setup and no payoff, but carefully establish the characters, craft the world and explore the themes so that the film can stand on its own while acting as a link in the chain to connect the broader established universe.
It’s a challenging and tricky technique to master, but that’s art for you; and until someone accomplishes it, I fear future entries in the genre will continue to be as bland and lifeless as their characters.