Welcome to the YA Movie Countdown, our resident expert’s continuing guide to young adult book-to-film adaptations.
Even though the YA-to-film category has experienced hits and misses this year, those hits were still enough to compel the industry to forge forward with more young-adult properties. Like last year, there are quite a few worth keeping track of coming our way, so before we forge forward with that 2014 lineup, we want to make sure you’ve got all the basics on the ones that could become or continue to be the next big thing.
What It Is: Vampire Academy features Lucy Fry and Zoey Deutch as Lissa Dragomir and Rose Hathaway, respectively. They both attend the same school – St. Vladimir’s Academy – but are plowing through two totally different curriculums because Lucy is a Moroi and Rose is a Dhampir. Or, better yet, Lucy is a vampire and Rose is the half-human/half-vampire who’s being trained to protect her. In addition to the Moroi, there are also Strigoi vampires lurking about and they’re out to kill Moroi because by dining on vampires rather than humans or Dhampir’s, they stay stronger, faster and are also immortal.
At the start of the first book of Richelle Mead’s six-book series, Lissa and Rose have been on the run, trying to avoid a threat within the walls of St. Vladimir’s. Eventually the pair is caught and brought back to the school where they’re expected to jump right back into classes and social lives.
Why It Could Be Great: This could be 2014’s Warm Bodies. Roll your eyes at the abundance of teen vampires and supernatural romances all you want, but with Daniel Waters writing the script and Mark Waters behind the camera, Vampire Academy could and should have a unique sass à la Mean Girls that’ll keep it out of schmaltzy, melodrama territory and give it enough momentum and bite to make it an exhilarating experience, fueled by a Warm Bodies-esque combination of humor and captivating world-building.
On top of that, the creatives behind this movie are an absolute pleasure. Should Vampire Academy spawn a franchise, it’d be an honor and pleasure to bring you more interviews with thoughtful and insightful filmmakers like Daniel Waters.
What It Is: Divergent takes place in a future version of Chicago where society has been divided up into five factions based on a citizen’s core values. Those who honor peace reside in Amity, the brave belong to Dauntless, folks who pride themselves on selflessness are in Abnegation, the honest go to Candor, and those who place prime importance on intelligence belong to Erudite.
Shailene Woodley leads as Beatrice Prior, an Abnegation-born 16-year-old who’s about to face the Choosing Ceremony where she’ll have to choose whether to stick with her family in Abnegation or leave them behind for a faction of her choosing. Typically, a teen walks out of his or her aptitude test knowing which faction he or she has a disposition for, but in Beatrice’s case, her test is inconclusive because she’s Divergent, meaning she shows signs of having an aptitude for more than one faction and in a society that’s structure around people’s dedication to just one thing, being Divergent is not going to fly.
Why It Could Be Great: Lionsgate is definitely treating Divergent like the next big thing and it certainly could be. There are a number of Hunger Games crossovers in the narrative, namely a fiery heroine who becomes quite lethal, but in order for the film to hit it big and spawn a franchise, it’s going to have to hop off Hunger Games’ coattails and carve a path of its own, and Veronica Roth’s original material has the potential to do just that.
This isn’t your typical dystopian future. There is a reason Chicago is the way it is and that should give the visuals and the narrative a lot of layers to look out for. There’s also romance in this one, but again, it’s not your typical big screen YA fling. Tris and Four have some serious issues, which should make the courting process far more compelling to track. But the factor that’ll really make or break this one is Woodley. Should she pull off a Jennifer Lawrence-caliber performance here, she could carry the film and considering the body of work she’s amassed thus far including The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, there’s no reason to think she won’t.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
What It Is: Have you lost all your patience for dystopian and supernatural YA-to-film adaptations? The Fault in Our Stars is for you! This one also features Woodley, but this time she’s playing Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenager suffering from Stage 4 thyroid cancer with metastasis in her lungs. She was diagnosed when she was 13, but thanks to an experimental drug called Phalanxifor, she’s still strong enough to get out, take classes and have a social life. One night, Hazel spots Augustus Waters in a support group meeting and he notices her too, kicking off a pure, heartfelt romance, even in the midst of the threat of their conditions.
Why It Could Be Great: Not only should The Fault in Our Stars be a breath of fresh air for those looking for young-adult material sans a high concept filled with guns, action and high-octane romance, but it’s also a genuinely moving scenario that could absolutely be elevated by two exceptional lead performances. Again, should anyone be able to bring Hazel to screen with all the life, sharp wit and passion of the character in the book, it’s Woodley, but it’s also worth keeping an eye on her costar, a young actor who’s actually in Divergent as well: Ansel Elgort. We haven’t really gotten the chance to see what Elgort is made of just yet considering his only released feature is the remake of Carrie and that one isn’t really a claim to fame for anyone involved, but there’s got to be a reason he was cast in Divergent, this and even more. Plus, after the guy was this charming during our San Diego Comic-Con interview about Divergent, you’ve just got to root for him.
What It Is: The Giver is a school-curriculum classic. The Lois Lowry book was given a Newbery Medal back in 1994 and has accumulated a number of other honors since. The book hones in on a boy named Jonas who’s growing up in a world of sameness. Husbands and wives are matched based on personalities, they’re only allowed to receive two children – one boy and one girl - via Birthmothers, and then those children age in a rigid society where they’re encouraged to suppress emotions and follow stringent rules in order to ensure the smooth operation of day-to-day life.
However, when 11-year-old Jonas receives the job that he’s meant to hold for the rest of his life at the Ceremony of Twelve, he discovers that there’s much more to the world than what he’s experienced in the Community. Jonas is the Receiver of Memory-in-training and that means the current Receiver of Memory, the Giver, must transfer all of his memories, including memories filled with emotion and activities that are forbidden in the Community, to Jonas, making him aware of the pain, but also the wonderful things his friends and family are missing.
Why It Could Be Great: It won’t be easy nailing Jonas’ arc on-screen the same way Lowry pulls off the monumental transition in the book, but should director Phillip Noyce pinpoint the precise visuals, his cast should be able to take it from there.
Newcomer Brenton Thwaites is taking on the role of Jonas, so it’s tough to know if he’s got the chops to develop the necessary connection from the character to the audience unless you’ve seen his work in the Australian TV show Home and Away, but the guy is locking in projects left and right, including Maleficent, so casting directors must see something serious in him. The Giver will also feature Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder and Jeff Bridges as The Giver, both of which should have no problem living up to the hype. However, it will be interesting to see how Alexander Skarsgård and Katie Holmes pair up to portray Jonas’ parents and to catch what up-and-comer Cameron Monaghan pulls off with the memorable role of Jonas’ best buddy, Asher.
THE MAZE RUNNER
What It Is: This one focuses on a teenager named Thomas who, one day, is lifted up into a boxed-in place called the Glade with no memories of his past. Thomas is the newest member of the 50-boy community in which everyone is fed, has a place to sleep and is protected from the Grievers. The Glade is isolated by gigantic walls for a reason. The region outside the Glade is an enormous maze and at night, when the doors between the Glade and the maze shut, the maze is overrun with vicious machinelike creatures called Grievers. The boys operate according to the functional schedule they’ve created, one that allows them to live comfortably in the Glade, but also spare a few member as “Runners” to explore the maze by day in hopes of finding an escape before the Grievers roll out at night. Trouble is, even after two years of trying to solve the maze, the Gladers have yet to figure it out - but that could change with Thomas’ arrival because he’s got loads of dark secrets buried in his mind. Now he’s just got to figure out how to access them.
Why It Could Be Great: Yes, The Maze Runner brings us back into the violent, dystopian YA realm, but trust me when I say The Maze Runner is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Sure, there are kids trapped in an arena, fighting for their lives like in The Hunger Games, but the Gladers talk an entirely different talk and play by very different rules, both of which should make the experience strikingly fresh.
There is some concern regarding the fact that Fox nixed the film’s original February 14, 2014 release date in exchange for the September 19, 2014 slot, but this isn’t really Valentine’s Day-appropriate material anyway and hopefully the studio will use that additional time to make the film even better. Those Grievers are going to have to be digital creations, so Fox is better off spending the time to get them right because in James Dashner’s book, it’s those horrific visuals and their highly intense threat that create a good deal of the book’s suspense.
It’s also worth mentioning that this is Dylan O’Brien’s first major big-screen starring vehicle, so it should be interesting to see what he does with a role that doesn’t call for the same type of charisma as his characters in Teen Wolf and the indie feature The First Time, but rather something a bit more stoic, thoughtful and determined.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 1
What It Is: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 will pick up right where Catching Fire left off, with Katniss having been lifted out of the Quarter Quell arena and being taken to District 13 where she’ll help lead the rebellion against President Snow and the Capitol.
Why It Could Be Great: Gary Ross and Francis Lawrence set the bar quite high with The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, but Mockingjay is actually the one with more potential because there’s so much worth expanding from Suzanne Collins’ book and the choice to turn that one book into two films gives the filmmaker all the opportunity in the world to expand the abundance of cinematic material. The filmmakers are no longer locked into the structure of having to build characters and then hurl them into the Hunger Games. This time around, they’re working with preestablished characters and new circumstances, so the chance to let those characters grow within the context of this brand new situation could open up the story tenfold and justify the Mockingjay movies as vital installments because they won’t just bank on the originals’ success; they’ll broaden the world.
Per usual, the next Hunger Games installment will also bring in a wealth of new characters. I’ve got my eye on Lily Rabe who’ll step in as Commander Lyme, a former Hunger Games victor and a leader within the rebel forces of District 2, as well as Natalie Dormer who’s set to play Cressida, an ex-Capitol resident who’s now in District 13 helping to take down President Snow by directing “propos” featuring Katniss, which are designed to stimulate morale amongst the rebels throughout Panem. But the really heavy hitter amongst the newcomers is Julianne Moore. Alma Coin’s got a lot on her plate in the next two movies and tracking the character’s wartime decisions and her motives should inspire loads of thought and suspense.
The YA Movie Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday.
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