Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The adaptation question

I saw Vampire Academy yesterday. My fifteen year-old daughter accompanied me and we went to the first showing. Sadly, we had the theater to ourselves which doesn't bode well for the continuation of the series into a franchise. When I began reading a lot of young adult novels, of course the supernatural titles appealed to me. After feeling letdown by Twilight, I searched for other YA books featuring vampires and found a handful, most notably The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith. I enjoyed reading the first two books in that series even though Elena in her blonde glory did get on my nerves. Like Twilight, the characters who were most interesting were the guys (Edward, Stefan and my favorite, Damon). The females were mediocre. Then I picked up a copy of Vampire Academy. Rose had snark, plenty of attitude, was a bad ass in training and yet her heart was exactly where it belonged--with keeping her best friend Lissa, the Moroi princess, safe. Here was a true heroine.

When I heard the a movie version was being made, I was thrilled but as the movie posters were made available, I cringed. Hot pink. Neon green. What the heck? This wasn't My Little Pony. This was paranormal at its strongest: well-developed characters, engrossing conflict(s), a series which got better with every installment. Hot pink? I understood marketing and the need to appeal to teens/tweens but still, neon green? Is it still the '80s? The tagline: They suck at school. Seriously? Is that the best they could come up with? **Excuse me while I shove my finger down my throat.** I saw the trailer and cringed. Seriously? Rose Hathaway was so much more than zinging one-liners. I didn't go to see the movie on opening day. I couldn't. I scanned some reviews and saw the mixed field of commentaries. Then I read from fans--readers who knew and loved the series as much as I do--and knew I had to see the movie and make up my own decision on its worth.

I made the right choice. The movie was enjoyable. I did cringe a couple times, most notably after Lissa was mad at Rose (after she witnessed her friend hug Christian and assumed the worst). Pivotal, emotionally charged scenes were reduced to quick lines delivered with aplomb. Why all the comedy? Did the movie makers think they could only attract a younger audience by overdoing the funny lines and having the lead actresses wear trendy clothes? Of course there are some who really find those components important, but then there are the others--the readers and fans. I thought the movie was faithful to the book and for that I am immensely grateful. But then there was all of the snappy one-liners, the overdoing of comedy, which I found distracting. The emotion--the true essence of the novel--seemed lost in translation. What happened to the heart of Vampire Academy during its adaptation process?

Adaptation has always interested me. I spent an entire semester studying adaptation for my Capping paper in senior year. I used J.K. Rowling and Jane Austen's novels as my main subjects.Working on my paper, which was a pre-cursor to a thesis, was incredibly hard, but I found all of the research, the compiling, the structuring of the project, to be fascinating. I learned a lot about adaptation so when I sit through movie versions of beloved novels and question the scriptwriter's decision or director's direction, I switch back-and-forth from student to fan.

As much as I did enjoy VA, I found its smugness a bit upsetting. Why can't we treat a serious story with the proper degree of thoughtfulness and sprinkle the comedic touches throughout? Why not leave in the emotional scenes which color the tale and give the characters depth, instead of relying on camp and fluffiness? And why do any type of werewolf or in this case, the psyhounds, have to look so freaking silly? Can't the special effects people create something believable and not make me burst out laughing? The Twilight wolves? Hugely ridiculous. VA's hounds? Cartoon-ish. C'mon, people!

The best adaptation of a YA novel I read and loved was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Perhaps since the author, Stephen Chbosky, also wrote the script and directed the movie, he kept in what gave his story heart. The Hunger Games was pretty good. I sincerely hope Divergent and The Fault in the Stars receive the proper treatment their engrossing novels demand. There is a time and place for comedy, but when it overpowers the main story and takes away from the power of the original material, it does a disservice to viewers, gives critics fodder for their reviews, and turns readers off. 

I still believe Vampire Academy would have worked better as a weekly series instead of a two-hour movie for during its adaptation process a story I loved lost its heart, the core of its draw, which is a shame since I thought the lead actors did a very good job in their roles (and in the beginning I wasn't convinced they were chosen correctly with the exception of the actress who played Rose). Unfortunately, I can only give Vampire Academy a B- and not the A- or A I hoped to as I watched the movie yesterday. On an aside note, my daughter now wants to read my copy of Vampire Academy.

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