Welcome to the YA Movie Countdown, our resident expert’s continued guide to young adult book-to-film adaptations.
As the young-adult book-to-film mill continues to churn, we pluck out a particularly promising candidate worth keeping an eye on – Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
The first wave commenced when the mothership broke through the planet’s atmosphere and society went into disarray. There was martial law, incessant news coverage, and endless Internet chatter until the Others put on the finishing touch – an EMP strike knocking out all electricity, frying cars and crippling humanity.
That initial attack took out about half a million people. The second wave upped the body count big time when the Others triggered a fault line, creating a devastating tsunami. The third wave came in the form of a more intimate attack: a plague. And then, with only a fraction of the population left, the fourth wave kicked in during which the only way to survive is to trust no one.
Now the fifth wave is about to commence and young Cassie Sullivan is all alone in the woods, but alive. However, there’s just so long Cassie can lay low for the sake of survival because if she’s going to find and rescue her little brother, it’s now or never.
Cassie: Cassie grew up in a family of four with her loving parents and little brother Sammy. The Sullivans were one of the lucky ones, making it through both the first and second waves until the third started to tear the family apart. Now, at the onset of the fifth wave, Cassie is all alone, but still has hopes of reuniting with Sammy. Trouble is, she doesn’t know where to find him or what it’ll take to get him back once she’s there.
Sammy: Just five years old when the Others arrive, Sammy is sweet, innocent, and doesn’t deserve any of this, and that breaks Cassie’s heart. Eventually, the two are separated in an effort to preserve humanity by saving the young ones, but Cassie soon discovers those intentions aren’t as noble as they original sounded.
Ben: Ben Parish was the high school golden boy. He was the star wide receiver and the ultimate ladies' man. Similar to Cassie, Ben watched his family get torn apart as each wave rolled through until he was the only one left, leaving him no choice but to give up or fight back.
Evan: Abiding by the stick trust-no-one policy, Cassie is a little trigger happy, but when Evan swoops in to help her out of a bind, he becomes one of the first to bypass coming face-to-face with Cassie’s precious M16. However, even though Evan seems to only have the best intentions, Cassie can’t shake the feeling that she’s putting her life at risk, and therefore Sammy’s too, by trusting a total stranger.
Cassie: Talk about an easy pick. If you caught Short Term 12, you know Kaitlyn Dever can do know wrong. She’s the right age, has the right look and, most important of all, she’s oozing with talent. Need proof? There’s one scene in Short Term 12 where she’s literally just telling a story, narrating while she flips through pages of illustrations, and the results are overwhelming.
Sam: Between child-labor laws and the fact that it’ll be tough to put an actual five-year-old through what Sam experiences in the book, this role will likely go to an older actor, perhaps someone closer to 10. Pierce Gagnon recently killed it in Rian Johnson’s Looper and considering he was able to handle one heck of an arc in that, he’d have no trouble whatsoever nailing both Sam’s innocence and his strength.
Ben: Similar to Cassie, Ben’s an easy one to place thanks to one particularly enjoyable film that dropped this year: The Kings of Summer. Not only can Nick Robinson make for a convincing charming high school jock, but he can also flip the switch to tap into Ben’s flaws, too.
Evan: Considering Tom Holland is probably in high demand since being showered in praise for his work in The Impossible, it’s a safe bet that the kid learned to put on a convincing American accent. If you’ve seen The Impossible, it's probably pretty obvious that if Holland can nail that and bulk up a bit, he'd be an excellent get.
At the beginning of September, news broke that J Blakeson was in talks to direct the film adaptation of The 5th Wave. There’s still no word on whether or not the deal went through, but assuming Blakeson did eventually sign on the dotted line, the film should be in good shape.
Blakeson’s first feature, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, is hauntingly profound to say the least. The material gets dark and incredibly brutal, but Blakeson earns it all, always ensuring that each act of violence serves a purpose, building both the characters and the narrative.
The 5th Wave is nowhere near as ruthless as The Disappearance of Alice Creed, but it does go far beyond the large majority of young-adult novels when it comes to acknowledging the truly awful circumstances. Blakeson could have leaned on the appeal of the high concept and turned Alice Creed into an easy-to-digest thriller, but he took it a step further, holding onto that entertainment value while also enticing his viewers to read between the lines, resulting in a much more intense experience. Should he do the same with The 5th Wave, it could produce winning results.
Movie or no movie, The 5th Wave is a worthy read. Yes, there’s romance and a plucky female lead that doesn’t think twice before burying an adversary, but there’s absolutely no branding it the next Twilight or Hunger Games because Yancey takes those familiar elements and turns them into something entirely different.
Even though Cassie is at the forefront, we experience some of the story from Ben, Evan and Sam’s perspectives, resulting in a truly multidimensional experience. And not only does that format offer more insight into the current situation, but it also enhances each character tenfold. It’s one thing to know what one particular person is thinking, but it adds a whole new layer to know where their friends and foes stand as well.
The 5th Wave also has the benefit of being a relentless page-turner. Almost every single chapter comes with a cliffhanger, but none feel heavy-handed or too blatant. You’re not giving yourself a little extra time before bed to see how one particular issue resolves itself, but rather to see where the narrative goes as a whole.
And then, within this well-developed, wholly consuming world, you get four very honest and unique characters. The moment you label someone the big man on campus, it’s easy to write them off as a stereotype, but there’s much more to Ben than that. As the invasion progresses, Yancey never forgets where Ben’s come from or where he’s heading, artfully letting past memories and future goals crack into the task at hand.
The same goes for Cassie who runs the risk of being branded a wannabe Katniss. She’ll do anything for her family and there’s no doubt she’ll pull the trigger when necessary, but she’s also reckless and absolutely terrified. You want her to get her way and forge forward as she sees fit, but, thanks to the other perspectives in play and Cassie’s own self-doubt, you’re also forced to acknowledge that she’s very capable of making the wrong decision in the heat of the moment and that keeps you on your toes from start to finish.
The cherry on top is the way the book ends. You just can’t create a world and situation this expansive and expect to wrap them up in a single book. However, then the challenge becomes leaving your reader satisfied while still wanting more, and in that respect, Yancey hits a home run. Once you wrap up The 5th Wave, you’ll undoubtedly be counting down the days until the sequel, The Infinite Sea, arrives on May 6, 2014.
The YA Movie Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday.
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