The next book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, Allegiant, is set to debut on October 22nd, the film version of Divergent is slated for release in March 2014. However with the box office failings of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Beautiful Creatures readers may wonder if future cinematic versions of young adult novels are as doomed as a rom-com starring Jennifer Lopez.
Young adult fiction film fans can take comfort in that Catching Fire, the next book in The Hunger Games series, looks like it will be a hit – after all its star, Jennifer Lawrence, is the most recent recipient of the Best Actress Oscar. Tickets for the movie go on sale October 1st for this November 22nd release. In comparison Divergent has its own acting pedigree with Oscar nominee Shailene Woodley starring as the main character along with Oscar winner Kate Winslet in the role of the story’s villain. The question for those who are familiar with both series comes down to if the Divergent trilogy is different enough from the Hunger Games universe for its targeted audience – especially if they have not read the novels. Will this group believe it to be only a pretender to the current young adult novel to film throne and stay away from the theaters?
Of course the Twilight films, Harry Potter saga, and Hunger Games trilogy have more in common than love stories and teen protagonists; they each have a fantasy/science fiction element to them. These films are not Judy Blume stories about trying to be extraordinary within the ordinary, they are about being extraordinary within the parameters of the extraordinary. Harry Potter was such a juggernaut that the embracing of this trend was not readily recognized until Twilight was translated from page to screen. Much like the Harry Potter series, Twilight created stars out of the actors who were cast in the main roles. However unlike the actors of Potter, the Twilight thespians were hounded and analyzed due their relationship statuses which appeared to mirror their cinematic creations.
Some of these teen idols rhapsodized about the loss of privacy, but the memo was out to young Hollywood; if you want to make a big splash in the worldwide movie market sharpen your incisors and practice your smolder. Not surprisingly the Hollywood decision makers saw the potential of making young adult novels into films which can be produced on low budgets and procure huge profits. All that was needed was the right material, the right cast, and the publicity would take care of itself with all fans of the books and their laptops. Just throw in a Q&A at Comic-Con and call it a day.
Listen, one of the best things about young adult literature is that most of these novels can be consumed in one afternoon on the couch. Yet just because these books can be devoured quickly does not mean they are easily digestible in cinematic form. I believe part of the failure of the recently released Immortal Instruments was because too many story elements were thrown into too short a cinematic time frame. I read the Immortal books and found myself confused about the movie’s storyline so what chance did someone who hadn’t read the books have to decipher the plot? Audiences did not need to read Twilight to get the various rules of the how Stephenie Meyer defined vampirism, but Instruments had vampires, werewolves, warlocks, nephilim, along with a Hogsworth type of institution.
The second problem is the fans of the books themselves. It is hard to condense a novel into a two hour (two and a half hour tops) movie. To do so means that a chunk of the book is going to end up first, not in the script, second, on the editing floor. While most moviegoers understand these logistics hardcore young fans of these novels aren’t so forgiving. If a production company does not grab their interest with the casting, and then later with the film trailer, these fans are the first to proclaim on sites like Goodreads, that they wish a movie had not been made because Hollywood just screwed it up. Granted, such has been the lament of many a reader through time, however Internet social networking means fans have numerous outlets to voice either their excitement or displeasure about a film way before it is even released.
Ergo for a young adult film series to be successful it needs source material that is easy to downsize into a film format (the problem with Mortal Instruments) and casting lead actors who meet with the approval of the fans and also fire their imaginations (a problem I think Beautiful Creatures had). Judging from the novel and the recently released preview, I believe the film version of Divergent meets these two criteria.
Divergent benefits from being a trilogy in that movie goers and novel readers know there is an alpha and omega to the overall story arc. I believe it is a plus for the film that all three novels will be in print by the time it debuts. Unless the book series is Harry Potter viewers and readers want a guarantee that their time has not been wasted on a story that is only partly told. Who hasn’t been greatly disappointed when their favorite series (Deadwood I’m looking at you) has been cancelled even though it was still spinning great stories?
So here’s to Divergent and hopes that a decent book will make a decent movie! Time will tell the outcome.