Monday, 21 September 2015

现实 | Running in circles

Posted by: Ryan O'Riordan

Recently, I had the misfortune of being subjected to the newest part of the Maze Runner cash cow 'Young Adult' (God, I hate that term) series: The Scorch Trials. First of all I'll admit that I haven't actually seen the first film, which my friends assure me was much better. Also, I realise that the middle installment of trilogies often suffer from a lack of momentum. Their beginning won't grab you because the important stuff has been established already, and they can't give you a satisfying ending because they still need you to see Final Movie: Parts 1 and 2. The best they can often manage is to leave you on a good cliffhanger.

So, yeah, there are mitigating factors that should make me a bit more forgiving of The Scorch Trials than I am. The key word in that last sentence is 'should' though. Things as simple as facts haven't stopped me from forming opinions in the past, and I'll be damned if they stop me now. Hopefully the opening line clued you in a little, but in case you didn't pick up on it, I didn't like this movie.

This post won't be me going on a crusade against The Scorch Trials, as much as I might want to. Instead, I'd like to share a question that I've been asking myself since I saw the movie: what is with all the Young Adult films coming out recently?

I'm not trying to convince you that cinemas are showing these kind of movies to the exclusion of all else, and a large part of me noticing them is probably down to me being squarely in their cross-hairs from a marketing point of view. Also, I'm not attempting to style myself as the arbiter of cinematic taste. My appreciation of films as an art form is very surface level, as is nicely shown by the fact that I thought 22 Jump Street was funnier than 21 Jump Street. Apparently this constitutes some kind of crime against comedy*.

Nevertheless, unless I'm going crazy there are loads of movies coming out soon/have been out recently that are either based on YA books, or aimed at that demographic. Twilight, The Fault In Our Stars, Paper Towns, The Percy Jackson Series, The Harry Potter Series and of course, the main event, the big beast, The Hunger Games. We also can't forget The Hunger Game's two misshapen, but ever so earnest clones, The Maze Runner and Divergent series.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the genre, if it were up to me I'd throw the Avengers franchise in there as well, but hopefully there are enough movies in there for you to see my point. However, I'm going to focus on the final three in the list. Firstly because they are the most obviously comparable, sharing as they do that great literary theme of post-apocalyptic teenage slaughter. And secondly because, to me, if we imagine YA media as a mountain, these three movies are the mighty peaks. They look haughtily over other, lesser examples of the genre, and represent a fierce challenge to even the most courageous of climbers. Or something along those lines anyway.

The thing that fascinates me most about the popularity of films in the vein of The Hunger Games is the seemingly endless thirst we have as movie-goers to watch teenagers kill each other in creative ways. And saying 'movie-goers' instead of 'teenagers' in that last sentence is deliberate, because at least in The Hunger Game's case, these movies do absolutely silly numbers at the box office. Mockingjay Part 1 made over $700 million at the box office, and  The Scorch Trials took $30.3 million on its opening weekend.

But why are these movies so popular? A common explanation I hear/read is that the people who watch these movies are overgrown children looking for an escape, or actual children attracted to the 'Kids = Good, Adults = Bad' theme invariably present in them. While I think this an unfair caricature, and the generally positive critical reaction to The Hunger Games so far shows that not all Young Adult movies are style over substance, the question remains unanswered.

I know not all movies can be resonant explorations of the human spirit, and I wouldn't want them to be, but I think it's an interesting question anyway. Personally, I think the popularity of Young Adult as a genre is down to the increasing distinction between a person's teenage years and adulthood. Things like social media have spawned an entirely new culture out of thin air, and so perhaps it's natural that a new genre emerges to cater to this new kind of teenager. After all, the central character in all of these films is almost always a teenage take on the archetypal Chosen One: strong, clever, charismatic. They alone can rally the masses and fight back against the tyrannical adults telling them to do their homework forces of darkness!

I think that speaks to the desire to be Someone, which is by no means limited to teenagers. However, I do think it's a desire that's a little more pronounced as a teenager, when things like setting yourself apart from your peers/parents become more important than they have been before.

This is by no means a definitive answer to the question from the start of the post, and, let's be honest, is probably completely wrong. Still, I think it's important to try and understand why we like the things we like. Oh, and I almost forgot one last point to leave you on:


*We all know I'm right though

Ryan's listening to: 'REALiTi' by Grimes


Read my previous post here.

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