In 2005, at age 27, John Green (famous for penning YA novels The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns) published his first novel: Looking For Alaska. This book tells the story of a boy who goes in search of his “great perhaps” at a boarding school in Alabama and ends up falling for a mysterious girl named Alaska. Though the story was almost brought to screen many times over the years, it faced its fair share of setbacks until finally, in October 2019, it premiered as an eight-episode miniseries on Hulu.
Though Looking For Alaska is by no means perfect, being that book-to-screen adaptions can be difficult to adjust to — especially for nostalgic book fans — the series had a lot of strong points. We’re taking a look at what some viewers believed the series could have been done better, as well as the things that made it great.
Here are five things the small screen adaption of Looking For Alaska got right and five things it could have improved on.
10 RIGHT: The Cast
Starting with the positive, Looking For Alaska features a strong cast of young actors. Rather than having performers in their late twenties play the roles of teenagers, the casting directors had actual teens and early twenty-somethings playing teenage roles. This was a good call.
The teens were diverse, compelling, and truly became one with the characters they played. The last of these points was helped by the fact that none of the actors are too mainstream, meaning none of them have already become synonymous with some other role.
9 WRONG: The Pacing
Unlike Green’s other book-to-movie adaptions, Looking For Alaska got a set of eight 50-ish minute episodes. This had the entire series clocking in at over 7 hours, whereas the average reader would have gotten through the book in about 4.
Sure, the extra time gave creators more time to explore the characters. That being said, it also caused the first part of the series to feel a bit drawn out. Then all of the sudden, the very important second part of the story, the “After,” got shoved into the last couple of episodes. It wasn’t the worst pacing, but it definitely came off differently.
8 RIGHT: Developed Character Storylines
Yes, the show was longer than it needed to be. However, as we mentioned, this did allow the characters to get richer histories. Most notably, the Colonel’s life is more deeply looked at and expanded as were the viewpoints of the Eagle, Jake, Lara, and Dr. Hyde.
Although Takumi’s development was unfortunately lacking and the Eagle’s story came off a little clunky and awkward, we were still glad to see many of the characters gaining a few layers of depth. It explained things that weren’t explained in the book, like the Colonel’s random outbursts of anger and Lara’s clinginess toward Pudge.
7 WRONG: Weak Personalities
Though each character has a backstory, their personalities came off more like a set of circumstances. Alaska was mysterious, wounded, and reckless because her dad blamed her for killing her mother. Or on the other hand, Pudge was lackluster himself but fascinated by Alaska because he had grown up under boring and cautious parents.
Cause-and-effects like these are important for advancing a story and defining characters, but circumstances shouldn’t be the only thing that defines who a character is. They needed more interests and goals outside of playing pranks, searching for some definitive meaning of life, and being well-read.
6 RIGHT: Alaska’s Point Of View
The show couldn’t have developed the other characters without having also taken a harder look at Alaska.
Though she still at times has the Manic Pixie Dream Girl persona that Pudge projects onto her, she also comes off as more of a real person. We get to see some quiet moments occur without Pudge around. For example, we get to witness Alaska’s teasing on campus and her dealing with being an outcast. Then as soon as she hangs with the gang, she puts on her usual reckless and wonderful front.
5 WRONG: The Talky Dialogue
A common complaint of the series comes in the form of its dialogue. Alaska often entrances Pudge with her dark, contemplative views on the world. Dr. Hyde tells a long, winding story about a former flame who died of AIDS. Lara shares the tale of her family’s difficult move from Romania to the United States. As we mentioned, these expanded backstories are great, but also overdone.
It’s more important to show story to viewers rather than tell. And while there’s still a place for characters to quiet down and share a tale, there were definitely times the dialogue got flowery or drawn-out in a way that isn’t natural in real life.
4 RIGHT: The Soundtrack
Looking For Alaska takes place in the 2000s. Though slight differences can be noticed in the clothing, and the lack of social media influence was also loud, there weren’t many other ways the time period was shared with viewers. That being said, one time-specific element stood out — the soundtrack.
Viewers are instantly greeted by “All These Things That I’ve Done” from The Killers’ hit 2004 album, Hot Fuss. Later we get other songs synonymous with the times from The White Stripes, The Strokes, Outkast, Coldplay, and Kelly Clarkson.
Bonus points for that moody cover of Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into The Dark.”
3 WRONG: Ambiguous Ending
Those who read the book were prepared for an ending that didn’t answer all the questions, and the series’ creators had warned us that the TV miniseries wasn’t changing this.
However, some people who watched only the screen adaption and didn’t read the book were hoping for a more conclusive ending. While we were happy with the way the series closes, some people were hoping for a more solid conclusion.
It’s hard to go into this without spoiling too much, but if you haven’t watched the series, just be warned that the ending is open-ended.
2 RIGHT: The Real Topics
The show isn’t afraid to dive into things teenagers struggled with in the past and still do today.
Though it’s never directly addressed in the book, it’s strongly hinted that Alaska deals with depression. The TV series continues to expand upon this, which is vital — especially in a culture where its been realized how important mental health is. The conversation needs to expand, and the show tries to create this opening.
Another topic the show tackles is privilege. It shows how the Colonel has had to work hard to get into and stay in boarding school, and how if this opportunity is ripped away from him, he doesn’t have much else to fall back on. This isn’t his fault, and the show makes that clear.
1 WRONG: It’s Different
Perhaps deeming this “wrong” is a little harsh, and we’re not particularly saying this is a bad thing. Simply, fans of the book who have been waiting fourteen years for Looking For Alaska to get a screen adaption might be surprised by it.
Sometimes it’s hard for readers to connect to the screen adaptions of their favorite novels. After all, it can feel strange when a book shows up on screen looking different than it did on paper.
Nevertheless, Looking For Alaska is a solid adaption. It’s just important that passionate book fans are prepared to separate their feeling for the 2005 book from the 2019 Hulu miniseries.
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