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The Blue & Gray Press | July 18, 2019

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Movie versions of young adult novels are dominating Hollywood


Over the past few years, writers, and subsequently film producers, produced a series of dystopian novels for young readers that seemingly created a guaranteed formula for success: high readership, and, of course, a Hollywood movie version ripe with promising young talent that reaps huge ticket sales.

This spring’s “Divergent” is no exception, featuring a new group of teenagers being hunted and driven to great lengths by an oppressive and corrupt government.

The film sticks so closely to the “Hunger Games” formula, presenting a plot based off divisions of people into areas filled with young, rebellious personalities. It would be ironic if it ended up not being successful.

With $5 million on the first screenings, the formula is working yet again. Given the success of movies such as “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight,” it seems as if future movies will not dissent from this winning formula, and we will be stuck with the same theme and plot for blockbuster hits.

Looking back to the originator of this trend, “Harry Potter,” it’s not hard to understand why there is a desire to emulate the famous successful book series. For so many readers, Harry’s tale was the perfect coming of age book tied with tantalizing fantasy; the results were impossibly high sales, handfuls of sequels and a big movie deal. The movies alone went on to gross nearly $2 billion worldwide.

“Harry Potter” was fine; it had lovable characters, a good plot and an original story. However, the backwash of unoriginal and horrible stories since has even the most ardent fans regretting their allegiance to the wizard-centric books from which these awful new stories stem.

Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan wrote a fair review of the film “Divergent” which addressed the film’s nature in the title, saying, “‘Divergent’ plays it by the book, a winning strategy,” and that it is but “the latest, most snug-fitting version of the trend.”

The article opens with two paragraphs that essentially encompass all that it is wrong, and right, with the book.

“From Harry Potter to Bella Swan to Katniss Everdeen, the hottest phenomenon in publishing these days is young adult fiction about risk takers who dare to go their own way.

So it’s more than a little ironic, if predictable, that films made from these books are completely risk aversive. Why rock the boat and jeopardize a potentially huge franchise if you don’t really have to?”

There certainly is a paradoxical and ironic element to this trend: adventurous and unique characters squished inside a rigid and common plot. This sort of begs the question: why is this working, and working so well?

The LA Times too is keen on this and notes that the whole young, angsty and isolated girl who cannot fit in, yet nabs the cute boy plot line is a big money maker due to its relatability factor, which is high (over 17 million have bought the book).

The redundancy of these movies is appalling and offensive. Can writers not do better than this.

Moving forward, the article goes onto say that playing it safe may be best, as the stereotypical romance between the film’s two leads shows great chemistry and should propel the film to financial success.

Given how poorly constructed the plot and characters are, the rewards alone seem like a reason for this kind of story and formula to continue. The simplicity and the little effort required to write the initial book points to a continuation of this trend, much to the chagrin of anybody who is searching for something new and exciting when going to the movies in the future.