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Has the ‘young adult’ ruined youth cinema?

Studios keep trying to repeat the magic formula from 'Harry Potter' and 'The Hunger Games' but only manage to be repetitive in the process. Why?

If you have already seen the sequel (eponymous) to The Craft, you may have felt a major disappointment. Directed and written by Zoe Lister-Jones, this Blumhouse production has tried to  imitate green the laurels (or henbane) the cult classic released in 1996 without success, offering hackneyed formulas and a half-baked development instead of adolescent anguish and frights.  But we have another possible culprit for the poor results of the film. And the name of that culprit is “young adult”.

The wave of publications (and film adaptations) that has sparked the success of Harry Potter since the turn of the century has introduced scores of young people to the pleasures of reading, as well as those of the screen. But that is not an obstacle to recognize that has brought a good number of vices that we have been suffering for about a decade. And because of which the cinema for young people has been turned into a wasteland of squalor for too long.

But be careful, because in this article we do not want to blame these problems on the literary authors, or the screenwriters of the films:  in most cases. Rather, we want to point out the misuse that Hollywood studios make of them, seeking to repeat a magic formula that promises them success … but that, in most cases, ends in disaster.

The protagonist, that god

It’s clear that regardless of what you think of her, JK Rowling did her best to surround her wizard with memorable side actors: the fact that Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley or (gasp!) Severus Snape have so many fans. as Harry himself is the proof. Likewise, other authors such as Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson) or Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) understood that a main character does not usually work alone and needs a good cast around him. Another thing is that Hollywood has understood this in this way.

By now, we all know that a novel can compress and stretch time in ways beyond the reach of cinema (at least, multiroom-oriented cinema, but that’s another). So, between offering an interesting narrative and having a charismatic figure with which to sell your product, studios tend to bet on the latter. Young and Witches offers us a good example of this: while the original film went a long way to giving personality to all the members of the coven, the 2020 sequel puts all the meat on the grill with Lily (Cailee Spaeny) … but she completely forgets to explain who her friends are, where they come from, and what has led them to dedicate themselves to sorcery.

In search of a new Harry Potter, a new Bella Swann (Kristen Stewart in Twilight) or a new Katniss Everdeen, young adult films often offer narratives centered on a character that, to top it all, is often cut by the same pattern. We are talking about a young individual (so that the target of adolescent viewers can empathize with him), eccentric (but not too much) and generally in rebellion against a hostile environment, in order to feed that teen need to feel in struggle against those adults who do not understand.

The problem? That the public is much smarter than what marketers usually think: a leading figure cannot be ‘special’ and ‘unique’ if it is cut by a predictable pattern, and much less if what is around it does not justify us let us be interested in their adventures. The box office results for Shadowhunters: City of Bones, The Fifth Wave or Beautiful Creatures speak for themselves.

The universe: laws and wonders

Anime, superhero comics and even video games came to this conclusion before, but it must be recognized that the young adult has taken full advantage of it. Because one of the most implacable marketing hooks to sell products for young people is, as well as its protagonist, to offer a world guided by a set of rules (coherent or not, it does not matter) and peculiarities. An internal mythology, so to speak, that fans can learn by heart and guard to recognize each other and leave out the uninitiated.

Examples? We have a few: surely you know the names of more than 10 Harry Potter spells by heart, and if you are a big fan you can explain where the Deathly Hallows came from and how they got where they are. You can also probably cite the Hunger Games rules more fluently than Effie Trinket. The problem, once again, is that these premises can help us to be interested in the world … but not necessarily encourage us to stay and live in it.

The case of Young and Witches (2020) is bleeding in the extreme, because it does not even delve into the picky women of its magical universe, leaving everything as a sum of superpowers more similar to those of Marvel heroes than to those of initiates into secrets. hermetic: many fans of the original film ended up missing the magic lessons taught then by Assumpta Serna.

Although The Maze Runner has remained as a positive example of this constant (and, thanks to this, it was crowned as an endearing hit of series B), films like Vampire Academy or Mortal Machines have shown that a surprising setting is not enough and more or less intricate to seduce viewers. In the case of this last film, however, that’s a shame, because it was a Peter Jackson production with a lot of risk and worthy of better luck.

The tone: Do not disturb anyone

Here we arrive, possibly, at the most bloody aspect of the subject at hand. And the one that most concerns the cinema, in addition. Because, if we review the classics of cinema for young people, we see that many of them had a subtext that shot against the time when they were born. In the case of many young adult narratives, however, this satirical or commentary intention remains a mere set of generalities.

Those who are willing to cry out against ‘offended’, ‘snowflakes’ and the like can keep their mouths shut, however: here we are not going to talk about sexist, racist or homophobic traits as a result of sensitivities. We are going to talk about how, for example, the Back to the Future saga did not cut a hair when it came to touching the noses of the ‘eternal values’ of American culture, that conservative mythology based on the culture of effort that at that time Ronald Reagan preached from the White House. Serving as a hanger for the blows of the social changes experienced during the times of his trip, Marty McFly showed us that many of these myths were a hoax.

In contrast, young adult stories of the 21st century are often designed to reach the maximum number of readers (or viewers) possible. And that usually translates into premises that lack double readings, satirical vitriol and almost everything else. Without going any further, Jóvenes y witches points out comments about toxic masculinity confronted with feminism and woke sensitivity … but it does not take advantage of the many possibilities that this premise would offer for satire or terror.

Likewise, and although The Hunger Games ran more risk than usual when it came to getting wet on very thorny issues of economics and politics, the rest of young adult works tend to stay at half gas in these aspects. A good proof of this is how the vague anti-authoritarian message of Harry Potter has been gradually degraded as Rowling felt like adding footnotes on the ideas or the sexuality of the characters. About the author’s recent catastrophic blunders, we’d better talk another day.


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