Adapting a book for the screen is a tricky thing to do, especially if the original story is told by first-person narrators. The entire narrative is hinged on how the story is delivered and this is true for John Green's "Looking for Alaska," (LFA) where the narration of protagonist Miles Halter is "the book’s greatest tool and its most obfuscating feature," according to entertainment news site Vulture.
But the mysteries and questions that surrounded the book are what gave the screen adaptation of LFA the chance to go beyond the first-person narrative.
Inside Miles' head
Vulture was among the numerous media outlets that got to see LFA on screen prior to its release date on October 18.
Since the book is told in Miles' perspective, everything about the story is stuck in his head—a limitation that Vulture says is exactly the point of the narrative. The idea of the novel is how tragic it is to see Miles' "inability to see outside himself" and how frustrating it is that the protagonist will never see Alaska Young—the girl whom she quickly falls in love with—as a real person.
To put in context, Miles' perception of Alaska is someone who shows her pain that makes her "more appealing, exotic, and mature" for the teenage narrator.
"To explain it in a way Alaska might appreciate, it’s like the book builds a fascinating and intricate labyrinth, a maze meant to demonstrate something powerful about how we’re all stuck inside our own heads," the entertainment website says, noting that the fact that the story is told (and is stuck) in Miles' head is what makes it demonstrate the erasure it's looking to dramatize.
"But in the process of constructing the maze, the book also seals itself inside."
The absence of the protagonist's narrative voice one of the biggest—and most crucial—defining features of the miniseries. For Vulture, ditching the first-person narrative helped the story move closer to what it was trying to be in the first place.
Without Miles driving the story, the LFA adaptation sheds new light on its characters. The protagonist himself was portrayed as this young, well-intentioned idiot whose voice is just among the many others that are crucial to the story.
The depiction of Chip (a.k.a the Colonel, Miles' roommate) on screen was so great and far from the one caught up in Miles' world that he nearly unbalanced the narrative.
"The things that happen to the Colonel, his relationship with Alaska, his life story, the depth of his grief, the messy webs of honor and inequity he’s trying to navigate — all of it is so much more compelling than most of Miles’ story that you can’t help but wonder why exactly he’s not the main character," the Vulture writes.
The successful end
Hulu's adaptation of LFA pulled off something that is rare for book adaptations: successfully navigating away from the first-person narrator and improved the original. And it was worth it, especially after years of navigating the winding path for an on screen adaptation.
book was published in 2005 and the film rights were sold in the same year. Development of the project was stalled for years until 2014 when a deal was announced that actress-filmmaker Sarah Polley will be writing and directing LFA's film adaptation.
According to IndyStar, the online publication for local newspaper Indianapolis Star, the film adaptation never saw the light of day. Even another version, which features "The Fault in Our Stars" screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, was also junked.
Still, the executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage persisted to put Miles and Alaska on screen. Finally, on Friday, Hulu will release the long-awaited adaptation spread out in an eight-episode series.
"I'm just so happy that Josh and Steph, who are the people who've been working on an adaptation of the story this entire 14 years, are the people who get to make it," said Green, who also credited the producers for not giving up on the project.
Green, who wrote LFA based on his high school experience, was actively involved in the adaptation process but still allowed the production and cast to make the series as their own. Entertainment Weekly reports that the author even visited the set and watched how actors Charlie Plummer and Kristine Froseth give life to Miles and Alaska.
"It was really lovely having him as such a helpful creative force," Froseth told EW, telling the entertainment news site about how grateful she was for Green's on-set visits and sharing his stories with them.
"He was always really supportive and gave us so much freedom and trust. He really blessed us by telling us, ‘These are your characters now,’ and it was really powerful," the young actress added.
Plummer also shared his encounter with Green, in which he told EW knowing that the author was on set was "f*cking terrifying" for him. In spite of the jitters, the actor spent a lot of time with Green prior to the filming to "pick his brain" regarding the characters, EW says.
"Before we began the shoot, we were so fortunate to get to go to the school that he attended in high school," Plummet said. "He shared so much of himself and his life with us. It became so clear how important this story is to him and was for his career, but also just in his life."