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Hulu’s ‘Looking for Alaska’ adaptation spreads averages out

| Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Joseph Han

Hulu’s eight-episode limited series inspired by John Green’s debut novel, “Looking for Alaska,” premiered Oct. 18.

Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage are the series’ executive producers, and author John Green had some influence as well. While I am happy that Green is having a third work adapted for the screen, so to speak, this third go-around feels like a bit of a stretch in terms of plotline and character description as well as development.

While the significant events remain mostly true to the book, a lot of plot points fall out of order. Order isn’t too big of a deal in constructing a story, but “lumping together” events in the series that may have stood further apart in the book may affect the way it is ultimately understood and experienced by viewers. Sometimes, this works in favor of delivering the story’s message; other times, it clouds certain parts. Dividing the story into episodes further complicates the story’s chronology, although the breaks between episodes do provide some relief from the more intense themes. In fact, as one of Green’s more angst-ridden stories, it makes sense that ‘Looking for Alaska’ would become a series on Hulu rather than a movie.

Charlie Plummer plays an aloof Miles “Pudge” Halter. His daydreamy personality tinges the edges of the camera, giving the show an atmosphere of youthful hope. This characterization works well when combined with the convicted capriciousness of Kristine Froseth’s Alaska Young, strengthening the adolescent appeal of Hulu’s adaptation.

Denny Love and Jay Lee balance out this somewhat rosy outlook as Chip “the Colonel” Martin and Takumi, respectively. Love maintains a somber Martin throughout the show, evoking emotion through his soulful eyes and skilled facial expressions. Lee’s matter-of-factness aligns well with Takumi’s all-knowing character.

Hulu’s series also manages to infuse the book’s overwhelmingly moody tone with some colorful aesthetic for plot background. The Culver Creek Dorm rooms look a little homier than the ones Green describes, Alaska’s Life’s Library is certainly enticing, and the Smoking Hole becomes a desirable hangout spot, even if it would reek of Marlboro Lights in real life.

Two characters that come across most differently on the screen are Dr. Hyde (Ron Sephas Jones) and The Eagle (Timothy Simmons). Simmons creates a more sympathetic Eagle. Despite his intimidating “Look of Death” and thick mustache, he seems significantly more approachable than Green’s Eagle. Jones’ Dr. Hyde is more likable as well. His outfits and overall calm, wise manner better explain why Pudge considers him both a genius and his favorite teacher. In the book, Hyde comes off as more arrogant.

The soundtrack selection provides opportunity for some new playlists and hits, alongside some oldies but goodies like “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers. Other familiar contributors include Silversun Pickups, Beck, LCD Soundsystem and Modest Mouse, all contributing to create a somewhat “indie hipster” vibe. I particularly liked the context of “Man O’ War” by Eric Bachmann.

Though the events building to the show’s ending have been somewhat altered, the conclusion is simultaneously triumphant and sad enough that those changes don’t make a big deal.

I admire Hulu’s attempt to bring John Green’s first big novel to life, and while they did a pretty good job, I feel like it was missing something that I can’t quite put my finger on. The story itself might influence this feeling, but as long as books continue to be adapted cinematically, I will continue to support the efforts.

Title: “Looking for Alaska”

Starring: Charlie Plummer and Kristine Froseth

Produced by: Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage

Where to Watch: Hulu

Shamrocks: 3/5


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