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Looking for Alaska (2019)

Paramount Home Entertainment

DVD Released: 4/21/2020

All Ratings out of

Movie: 1/2




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/23/2020

As the father of two young women who excel in school, I can tell you that teenagers can indeed be smart.  And, they are capable of having deep, philosophical thoughts.  They are also pre-occupied by music, cell phones, and gossip.  But, can teens be wise?  If you look at how young people are portrayed in movies, you would think that they are all village elders who have a wealth of life experiences.  Their angst, combined with an incredible connection to their emotions, as well as a wealth of knowledge, makes them all seem lie a bunch of post-pubescent brilliant minds.  Why does this happen?  I assume that it’s so that the teen viewers don’t feel like they are being put down.  However, these decidedly unrealistic characters can also be very annoying.  Case in point – the kids of Looking for Alaska. 

Miles Halter (Charlie Plummer) is a shy, nervous teenager who has decided that he wants to attend Culver Creek Academy, the same private school where his dad went.  Upon arriving at the school, Miles immediately meets his roommate, Chip (Denny Love), who goes by the name “The Colonel”.  As nicknames are a big them with him, The Colonel decides to call Miles “Pudge” due to his slender frame.  The Colonel introduces Miles to his two best friends, Takumi (Jay Lee) and Alaska (Kristine Froseth).  Miles is immediately taken with Alaska, a mysterious girl who likes to drink, smoke, and read as many books as possible.  Miles finds the school to be a very challenging place due to the social hierarchy, the pranks between the socio-economic classes, and the classes.  However, he also loves the bonds which he is forming with his new friends, especially Alaska.  But, Miles will soon learn that the seemingly isolated campus of Culver Creek is also a microcosm of the real world and the students there can have real, troubling problems.

As a lifelong horror fan, I’ve seen all of the Friday the 13th films, but I’ve never really understood the structure of those movies.  Each entry in the series introduces us to a group of characters, most of which are either unlikeable or forgettable, and then it asks us to watch them die.  Having said that, given Culver Creek Academy looks like a summer camp, I kept hoping that Jason would show up and kill all of the irritating characters in Looking for Alaska.  (Oddly, Jason does appear, as one the movies is being shown at a Halloween party.)  From the outset, each of the main characters is incredibly unlikeable.  Miles is too nervous and shy for his own good, and for a lead character, he is shockingly devoid of personality.  The Colonel is supposed to be a headstrong and funny guy, but he comes across as a complete jerk in every scene and one has to wonder why Miles didn’t ask for a new roommate withing the first 24 hours.  Worst of all is Alaska.  She is the quintessential aloof, damaged girl who flirts with everyone despite the fact that she has a boyfriend.  She has street smarts, but is so well-read that she also knows everything.  These attributes make her Miles’ dream girl, and he ignores other females just to be around Alaska, something which makes them both equally annoying. 

Looking for Alaska is based on a novel by John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars.  That story also featured teens which were improbably old souls, but the dire nature of their circumstances made it more palatable.  With Looking for Alaska, we get a group of teens who want to be wise beyond their years, and yet spend most of the series involved in very immature pranks.  (Pranks are a huge part of the story.)  We learn in the extra features that at one time, the plan was to turn the book into a feature film, but that plan eventually morphed into an 8-part mini-series.  That span of over 450-minutes allows a lot of time for plots and sub-plots, but, unfortunately, the more interesting stuff gets buried beneath the grating characters and their odd activities.  The story has some compelling messages about social class, race, gender politics, and love, but these things have a hard time breaking through the noise.  The series’ central point, which has to do with Miles’ obsession with famous last words is actually brilliant, but it too takes a back-seat to the portrayal of the characters here.

The truly odd thing about Looking for Alaska is that it takes a tragic event for the characters to become likable.  When something truly awful happens in the third act, these blustering dolts finally start to act like real people, and more importantly, real children, and the show finally achieves the emotional heights that it had hoped to achieve all along.  But, this is too little, too late.  Many viewers, like my wife, will bail out long before episode 7 due to the negative attributes.  I get that John Green wants to portray teenagers as people with brains and souls, which they certainly are.  But, adolescence is also a magical time and when everyone acts like an adult, the magic instantly fades.

Looking for Alaska is not the travelogue which it sounds like on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.  This set contains three DVDs which house all eight episodes of the series.  The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs.  The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials.  The colors look very good, most notably the greens which dominate many shots, and the image is never overly dark or bright.  The picture is somewhat soft at times and the level of detail doesn’t quite match HD broadcast quality.  The DVDs contain a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  We don’t get a ton of impressive audio effects here, but there are some nice moments where the front channels and the surround sound speakers highlight sounds coming from off-screen.  The music offers some subwoofer effects. 

The Looking for Alaska DVD contains only two extra features, both of which are found on Disc 3.  “Finding Your Tribe” (10 minutes) has the primary cast of young actors describing their characters and discussing how they find each other and fit together in the show.  Each talks about how they relate to their characters and how they approached the roles.  “In Search of a Great Perhaps: Taking Alaska from Page to Screen” (14 minutes) allows the adults behind the camera to talk about how the project came to be.  We hear from John Green himself as he discusses the origins of the story and characters.  The creative team talks about the decision to make it a mini-series and the work which went into casting the show, location scouting, and transferring the story from the novel.

Review Copyright 2020 by Mike Long