John Green’s ‘Looking for Alaska’ Finds New Life at Hulu

Embracing the limited series format is the best approach to adapting Green’s moving debut novel.
Looking For Alaska Book Cover
By  · Published on May 10th, 2018

Embracing the limited series format is the best approach to adapting Green’s moving debut novel.

John Green’s books have consistently gripped minds and hearts for years. Unsurprisingly, his novels have also made for financially successful movies. The first Green adaptation to come out of the woodwork — the 2014 film The Fault in Our Stars — grossed over $307 million worldwide and was also a critical darling. It’s one of the movies that shot Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort to stardom, and you couldn’t escape any “okay? okay.” references as hard as you tried.

Unfortunately, a follow-up adaptation, Paper Towns, was met with a much more tepid response. The film still made over $85 million worldwide against its $12 million budget. However, Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne just don’t hold the same onscreen charm or spark that Woodley and Elgort do. Paper Towns, as is typical of all of Green’s stories, hinges on chemistry and characterization, and so the film sadly winds up lacking in emotional resonance without there being sufficiently powerful performances from the leads.

Despite that minor stumble, interest in Green’s work hasn’t dwindled in the slightest. Last we heard, Fox wants to make a movie out of his latest novel, “Turtles All the Way Down.” Yet an elephant in the room has remained throughout all the years of potential Green adaptations: what of the fate of Looking for Alaska, the film version of his debut novel that has been in and out of development hell for over a decade?

Green sold the Looking for Alaska movie rights to Paramount Pictures 13 years ago, but the film was shelved indefinitely until the success of The Fault in Our Stars renewed interest. Frustratingly, more setbacks including casting woes kept pushing the production back. The last time Green addressed the diminishing prospects of Looking for Alaska left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth; once again Paramount didn’t seem keen on moving forward with the project at all.

Enter Hulu to the rescue! As reported by Deadline, the streaming service has finalized a deal for an eight-episode limited series based on “Looking for Alaska” from Paramount Television and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s Fake Empire. Schwartz, who is best known for creating and developing teen dramas such as The O.C. and Gossip Girl and was the first person to see the potential of an onscreen Looking for Alaska, has written the pilot script. He will also serve as the series’ showrunner.

Green’s writing schtick was already strongly present in “Looking for Alaska,” wherein his quirky characters attempt to navigate the throes of young love. The book centers on the perennially unexciting life of Miles Halter, a teenage boy who is obsessed with famous last words. He attends Culver Creek Boarding School in search of “the Great Perhaps,” which is essentially his version of the American Dream. When Miles meets the enigmatic and attractive Alaska Young, it would seem countless thrilling adventures await. However, when Alaska suddenly disappears without explanation, Miles is left to pick up the pieces.

In comparing “Looking for Alaska” and “Paper Towns,” some patterns emerge. Both novels deal with the concept of idealized (feminine) identities. Their male protagonists learn about themselves through meeting fiery and mysterious girls who inject color and meaning to life in general. What could result in the dangerous overindulgence in the “manic pixie dream girl” trope is undercut by Green, who thankfully doesn’t fully buy into these superficial conceptions of female characters.

The decision to turn “Looking for Alaska” into a limited series would absolutely benefit its source material as a result. Book-to-series adaptations generally allow for more subtlety and gradual storytelling when compared to forcing a narrative to play out within a two-hour blockbuster package. But when it comes to films that should deconstruct tropes like the ones perpetuated in Looking for Alaska, the breathing room is pretty much essential. The original book is told in the first person, which makes us aware of Miles’s circumstances perfectly. But getting a closer look at Alaska as a well-rounded character should also be a primary concern.

After years of waiting, Green’s fans may very well get the great adaptation they deserve. Hulu has been on a roll lately and wouldn’t likely disappoint. Despite the fact that The Handmaid’s Tale is really the streaming service’s claim to fame, they have nabbed some seriously exciting upcoming projects that ought to receive more attention. Looking for Alaska will be a fantastic addition to that slate.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)