In a post Harry Potter world, in a post Twilight universe, there’s no denying the power the Young Adult (YA) novel has had on modern moviemaking. They command huge box office and attract a frenzied fan base that has seen studios rushing any semi-decent selling YA series into pre-production. The potential for a safe franchise has led them to rival comic book movies in recent years as the go-to tent pole film. In a five part series we take a look at several YA properties heading for the big screen and consider their prospects. This is Adaptation Fixation – YA Edition. DIVERGENT
Want to talk author success stories? Forget E.L. James. Meet Veronica Roth: author of the best-selling dystopian YA series that begins with Divergent. She wrote the first book while in college and at the age of 22 girlfriend had sold the film rights before the first book was even published. At 2011 Comic Con Summit Entertainment were pushing Roth and her tale heavily and it's easy to see why. With the box-office success of The Hunger Games - a story whose themes Divergent closely resembles - and the plethora of A-list talent lining up for the film, the big screen adaptation looks to be one of the more interesting offerings from within the genre. That is to say: Divergent, like The Hunger Games, has the ability to cross over from a teen-orientated audience and into the mainstream with viewers of all ages. Here's why . . .
WTF is it?
Set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, society has been split into five different factions in order to uphold the values they think are key to maintaining a peaceful existence. They are:
Abnegation (the selfless): this group believes selfishness was what led to humanity’s downfall, so they try to counter balance it.
Amity (the peaceful): they’re lovers, not fighters (think Hufflepuff).
Candor (the honest): telling it like it is, as they feel lies and deceit are society’s kryptonite.
Dauntless (the brave): self-explanatory this one, as these are the heroic fighter types that value loyalty and physical competence (Gryffindor).
Erudite (the intelligent): cats who value knowledge and wits above all else (think Ravenclaw crossed with Slytherin).
In lieu of a Sorting Hat, there’s an annual event where all 16-year-olds must take an aptitude test to determine which faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives ( regardless of what one they were born into). Our lead character Beatrice was born into Abnegation but always struggled with it, so when the results of her test determine that she could belong to any three of the Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless factions she decides to join ‘The Brave’.
As part of The Dauntless she renames herself Tris and undergoes an intensive training regime in order to make one of the limited number of positions available in the faction. And by ‘intensive training’ we mean ‘often resulting in death’. As she battles to overcome the challenges of becoming a member and her feelings for her instructor, Four, Tris and learns there’s something much more sinister going on between the factions. Something that’s about to result in all out war.
Besides answering to a delicious name like Mister Burger (mmmm), the guy can make movies. From the unfortunately timed The Illusionist to the undervalued The Lucky Ones, Burger is a filmmaker and not a Hollywood studio pup. There’s integrity to his craft but at the same time – as demonstrated with the uber impressive Limitless – he can handle a high concept and a meaty budget. Also worth a mention is some of the great performances he has pulled out of some very talented thespians including Tim Robbins, Edward Norton, Bradley Cooper, Paul Giamatti and Rachel McAdams.
To match the relative inexperience of screenwriter Evan Daugherty (who’s coming off his debut success with Snow White and the Hunstman), there’s Vanessa Taylor who – quite frankly – is the shit. Not only has she written and produced a swag of episodes for another female powered property, Alias, she’s also a writer and executive producer on Game Of Thrones. Nuff said.
And shiiiiiite. The cast, ho boy. Not since The Hunger Games has a YA adaptation had such an acclaimed mix of A-listers, veterans and up and comers.
After successfully transitioning from TV to film with a Golden Globe-nominated performance in The Descendants, Woodley has been firmly marked as one to watch. She has the acting chops, strength and attitude to be a Hollywood leading lady and the role of Beatrice/Tris (in the same year she plays Mary Jane Watson) will cement it. The important thing is they’ve chosen an actress over a star for the central role, which is promising.
Mastermind villain of the piece, Jeanine Matthews. Excluding a kind of antagonist role in The Reader, you can’t help be excited about seeing Winslet play against type as a *cue Electric Light Orchestra* evil woman.
HUZZAH! Jai Courtney! It’s easy to get lost in the sea of Aussie actors ‘making it’ at the moment, but Courtney is one that stands out thanks to a really solid (and villainous) performance in Jack Reacher. He’s also one of the few good things about Die Hard 5, but let’s not talk about that movie. Like, ever. He plays the leader of The Dauntless faction – Eric – in what is a meaty and interesting supporting role.
Again, Divergent is reeling in the A-list actors. Harvey Dent (“RACHEL!”) plays Tris’ father. It’s a smallish but significant part in the novel, which will no doubt be extended now given his attachment.
Another interesting piece of villain casting is Miles Teller: one of my favourite working actors and a massive talent. He’s shown he can do the Vince Vaughn gabble thing in 21 and Over (and playing himself in Project X) and he’s charming-as-fuck in the surprisingly good Footloose remake. But by playing a twisted and misogynistic member of Dauntless, Peter, it will take Teller back to the role that made us all stand up and take notice: the tormented teen in Rabbit Hole. It’s the second time he’ll team up with Woodley after their Sundance hit The Spectacular Now.
When ‘the rest’ includes the likes of Maggie Q, Zoe Kravitz and Ray Stevenson it’s testament to how good ‘the rest’ actually is. Some chap named Theo James is to play the main male love interest, Four. Nothing much is known about him except that he’s good looking. Obvs.
Why it could work
Why it could fail
There’s one glaring reason it could flop and that’s because it’s too similar to The Hunger Games. Even Tris’ association with crows – her fear of them and the tattoo she later gets of them – could be seen as too similar to Katniss’ association with the Mockingjay. Whatever.
What we hope they include
One of the many standout moments in the novel is how Tris summarises The Dauntless in her days before joining the faction. Instead of disembarking at the station, members of the group leap from the speeding vehicle in feat of glorious bravery and, in a way, stupidity. Visually, seeing a bunch of peeps jump from a bulleting train and into a dystopian Chicago landscape sounds amazing.
GOOD. Very good. From the creative team down to the cast, it seems highly unlikely that they could World War Z this concept. Instead Divergent is shaping up to be an exciting, poignant social commentary and definitely one to add to your 2014 must-see lists.
Maria Lewis - follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz
Release date: March 21, 2014