The Jess Lomas Book Club: I Am Number Four

*Welcome to a brand new feature in which literary connoisseur Jess Lomas examines the upcoming book-to-film adaptations worth keeping an eye on!*

Welcome back film and book lovers. This week we continue with another science-fiction film, but trust me, it’s not going to be a recurring theme. Purely for timing’s sake this week’s book-to-film is I Am Number Four, a tale of aliens and survival with a dash of romance.

The novel was written by Pittacus Lore, who is actually two individuals – the infamous James “I swear this memoir is real” Frey, and his underling Jobie Hughes. The story focuses on Number Four, human name ‘John’. When their home planet Lorien is destroyed, nine children are sent to Earth with the hope that the Lorien race will survive. As they age their powers, or “legacies” as they’re called, develop and strengthen but they are being hunted, by Mogadorians, and killed off in the order of their numbers. Three have been killed and, as you would have guessed by now, Number Four is next.

The film adaptation is directed by D.J. Caruso, who is best known for Disturbia, his modern remake of Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window, and for the lesser identified Eagle Eye. The film is also produced by explosions-and-bad-dialogue-mad-man Michael Bay, whose directing and producing credits range from Bad Boys to Transformers (and who could forget the classic Pearl Harbour?). Uh, as I was saying … The team behind the adaptation implies I Am Number Four will be little more than disturbed alien transformer type bad boys … then again, perhaps this is what people want.

British up-and-comer Alex Pettyfer stars as John (Number Four); who after the forthcoming Beastly is rumoured to be in contention for either of the coveted male roles in The Hunger Games adaptation, or as Jace in The Mortal Instruments adaptation. He is already being tagged the “YA actor”, trying to squeeze as many roles in before his time is up – and at 21 years old he’s still got a while to go. Pettyfer is joined by Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood) as his guardian Henri, Dianna Agron (Glee) as love interest Sarah, Teresa Palmer (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) as Number Six and Kevin Durand (Lost) as the Mogadorian Commander.

Back to the book; James Frey made headlines when his memoir “A Million Little Pieces” was debunked after appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s show. It was less memoir and more fiction and he took a mighty beating from the press. But after all of that he seemingly came back from the dead, co-wrote this YA novel (the first of a planned six book series), and sold the film rights to DreamWorks before even finding a publisher. What a success story you’re probably thinking; but Frey is not without his critics even after this seemingly golden comeback.

Frey has come under fire from fellow authors, scholars and some media after announcing his project, Full Fathom Five; a literary sweatshop or assembly line designed to churn out Young Adult content, from books to movies and television. You see, James Frey thinks literature and film are formulaic; that after the success of Twilight there’s a pattern to follow and money to be made, and he’s just the man to make that money.

This pattern is what you will discover if you read or watch I Am Number Four. Sure, there’s no glitter, no fangs and no over-the-top makeup, but the essential YA elements one has come to expect from a film or book are there. Supernatural or mythical element? Check. Love interest with complications? Check. Hot protagonists? Check. Teen angst? Check. In the case of the film you can also add explosions, special effects and cool weaponry.

So, is this the film franchise to pick up where Twilight will leave off? My prediction is no. To capture the success of Twilight, and to try and replicate the impact Twilight has had on pop culture since its release back in 2005, is a hard task indeed, and certainly not one to be undertaken with Frey’s ‘insert paranormal male hunk’ formula. That’s not to say I Am Number Four will not be successful; there’s always a market for these stories with teenagers, though it’s the ‘Twilight moms’ market and money such stories will widely miss.

Is the book worth reading before seeing this film? Absolutely not. You’ll appreciate the film more not having read the book, which is rare but true. The book is heavily weighed down with stereotypes and bland writing and while the core ideas and story prove at times to be interesting on screen – though the acting is still questionable – on paper it’s an entirely forgettable reading experience.

Gone are the characters’ personalities, replaced instead with their identity as simply “alien”, “ex-cheerleader”, “nerdy side-kick” and so on. A lack of character development means a lack of audience investment and thus with the film it operates on a level of enjoyment involving aforementioned explosions and effects, and not, as it is in Twilight, a heightened investment in the protagonists, Bella and Edward.

I Am Number Four releases in Australia on February 24. The second book in the series, The Power of Six, is due out in August this year with no news yet on a film sequel. Check out Simon’s review of the film here.

Discuss: Your thoughts on I Am Number Four?

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