All the books you love, and hate, will be made into movies. Movies based on books, especially Young Adult novels, have the possibility to bring in huge box office dollars and enough movies to keep a studio busy for a decade. It’s so pervasive that I automatically imagine actors while reading books so I can argue about how wrong they get the casting (BECAUSE IN MY BRAIN IT WAS DIFFERENT AND I’M JUST NOT SOLD ON WHO THEY CHOSE AS FINNICK, OKAY?).
The problem is that studios want to pump these out as fast as possible, and in as many movies as possible, to prolong the profit. So you get characters lost completely, final books broken into two overlong movies, rushed special effects, important scenes cut and reworked, and the wrong directors brought in to bring your beloved characters to life. There are three specific books that I’ve read that are being developed into moving pictures that I am quite worried about.
Divergent is the first book Veronica Roth’s trilogy of a dystopian future where all of the citizens are divided into different factions. Dauntless are the fearless faction who hold the traits of bravery and strength above all others. Erudite prize knowledge above all else, while Amity thinks peace is most important, and Abnegation believes putting others before themselves is the way to live your life. Protagonist Tris is Abnegation and must decide at her Choosing Ceremony whether to remain there with her family, and the only life she has ever known, or to choose a new faction and leave them all behind. You can guess how she chooses, right?
I’m worried about the casting (more on that in a moment), but I’m even more worried about which characters will be cut out, combined, and how much of some of the harsh reality of the book they’ll choose to leave intact. There are a myriad of important characters who each serve a purpose in either pushing Tris to change, bully her, or befriend her. There are sequences of intense brutality between the teenagers, not unlike The Hunger Games, but this brutality isn’t necessarily centered around survival. It’s borne from a place of sheer ruthlessness, fear, and the need to damage and destroy anything that stands in the way of a goal. It’s also important in understanding characters that become bigger players in the second book.
Then there are the Dauntless jumping onto moving trains, and then off again, and other fearless feats that could look like a weather reporter in front of a shiny map of cold fronts instead of a seamless action sequence. Zip-lining, climbing creaking ferris wheels, jumping from buildings, and other, again, important sequences that Tris has to engage in to show her growth and change could be removed entirely for the sake of other plot points.
Shailene Woodley (The Descendents) has been cast as Tris, which I see as a misstep, and the male lead of Four has been whittled down to three actors: Lucas Till (X-Men: First Class), Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike), and Jeremy Irvine (War Horse). Of the part of Four, Woodley says, “We’ve been doing some auditions, and we’ll see what happens … As of right now, we’re scoping out the land. There are two particular guys I think are pretty great … The thing about Four is he has to be a man. No feminine actors, please. You cannot walk in that room with pretty little boots and pretend you are a man. You need to walk in there and you need to not have muscles that look good but don’t actually work. It’s just this character needs to be extremely masculine.” I admit it has been a while since reading this book, but what? Four needs to be a little unreadable but not arrogant, somewhat harsh but also tender, and not the biggest or strongest guy around. He has to have inquisitiveness about him while also seeming aloof. Dude has layers like an onion or a parfait. Dear Godtopus, not Pettyfer. I’m pulling for Lucas Till who already proved he can show some of Four’s traits in his portrayal of Havok. Havok seemed like he thought he was better than everyone else, but he was afraid of getting close to the others because he might hurt them unintentionally. Meanwhile, Pettyfer is an assh*le getting by on looks.
Tris is supposed to be tiny, blonde and blue-eyed, with the stature and appearance of being younger than her 16 years. I can live with losing the blue eyes and blonde hair, because that’s not important. What is important is that Tris is seen as weak because of her appearance and it fuels some of the jealousy and rage sent her way when she proves that she is strong-willed and tough. I don’t know that Woodley can bring that to life.
Another YA novel I’ve read, Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, has been acquired by Universal. There are no casting suggestions as of yet, but I’m sure they’ll muck it up. We have 17-year-old Karou, who has peacock blue hair, tattoos, and was raised by demons. Then we have the angel Akiva, who has fiery eyes and IS AN ANGEL. I mean, who the frick are they going to cast? Then you have Issa, snake from the waist down and woman on top, save her hooded head and fangs; Yasri, who is a parrot/woman hybrid; Twiga the giraffe-necked dude; Kishmish, the bat-winged, bird-headed messenger; and Brimstone, Karou’s guardian who has a man’s chest, ram’s head and horns, lion legs, tough skin, and claw feet. Done incorrectly, these characters will look like something your one-year-old made while playing in their own feces.
Karou could easily be miscast. She needs to be engaging and immediately likable. She also needs to know how to defend herself without more than her body and a small knife from her boot. Unflappable, artistic, curious, and able to speak several languages, Karou is one hell of a heroine and needs to be played by someone who can act well. Akiva is a mothereffing angel with a gigantic chip on his shoulder and a singular goal to achieve, but he also needs a vulnerability to break through his anger. I fear we will get Pretty in spades and Acting in shards.
Now we have word that Ron Howard is in talks to direct Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book for Disney. Originally pitched as a Selick-like stop-motion affair, Graveyard will now be live-action. This is another beautiful book that could fall to ruins under the wrong director and special effects. There are dead people in this book. Not Sixth Sense dead people, but ghosts. GHOSTS. I’m fearing some ghosts that look like The Frighteners instead of, um, a movie where ghosts looked good and not clearly like the ghost was green-screened? Is there one? Damn it, this is going to be awful, isn’t it?
I suppose you’re wondering, “What the f*ck, Clager. Do you have a point?” Yes I do. My point is, not every single popular novel needs to made into a movie. Most of these novels have such scope, such fantastic visuals, such striking moments, and those can be lost when changed from the written word into motion pictures. Hell, I’ll take cable channel series adaptions of most of the books I just named over movies any day, as long as you keep Alan Ball the f*ck away from them and STICK TO THE BOOKS.
There are plenty of amazing Young Adult novels out there that tell simple stories that would make great movies without being split into twelvesies. They only require a good writer for the screenplay, the right young cast, a good director, and adherence to the story. “Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver. Kelley Armstrong’s Darkest Powers Trilogy. “The Raising” by Laura Kasischke. These would all be strong movies, even the trilogy, and within the abilities of special effects available today.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m still watching Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, The Graveyard Book, and Divergent when they hit theaters. I have to see how they turn out, whether they are faithful to the core of the stories, and if they prove me wrong about their inability to properly cast and create characters. I hope to be proven wrong, but Hollywood’s track record isn’t so great.