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From Page to Screen: Divergent

2014 March 25
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The film adaptation of the first book in Veronica Roth’s bestselling and Teens’ Top Ten winning Divergent trilogy has been widely hyped over the past couple of weeks. The Internet Divergent-posterat large has been chattering for weeks now about Divergent stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James and what is sure to be their blockbuster, star creating roles. If you want to play a fun game, then you should YouTube all recent interviews with the actors and see how long it takes the interviewer to ask them about accepting a role in such a huge movie. It seems fairly odd, given the movie hadn’t been released until this past Friday, so unless they were fortune tellers, there was no real way to know whether or not this movie would succeed critically or financially.

Sure, Divergent is a best-selling series, but then again so was City of Bones, Percy Jackson, Vampire Academy and– well, you see where I’m going with this… None of these films were able to capitalize on their source materials success, so how is that Divergent was seen as a forgone conclusion before the film hit theaters? Does it have something to do with the constant comparison to The Hunger Games? Or maybe it has something to do with the enigmatic Shailene Woodley who is apparently the YA book to film “It” girl right now?

I’m wondering about all of the above, because in all seriousness, I really liked the film adaptation of Divergent. As a book and film nerd, this movie is a pretty solid B+ adaptation with a grade A for acting. There is a definite reason Shailene Woodley is the new “it” girl for these films, and she showcases her talents well in Divergent. My filmgirl nerdiness usually means that I understand critics response to movies, which is why the 40% rotten rating from Rotten Tomatoes or this film is pretty baffling to me. It seems a pretty weird trajectory for a movie that has had such non-stop hype and one where the movie is actually a good movie. To be honest, the critical response to Divergent has me wondering if critics are having some YA book-to-movie fatigue. This movie is definitely as good as the first Hunger Games film, which had an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes when it was first released. 

Thankfully all of this critical panning  didn’t stop Divergent from achieving commercial success as it topped off the box office this weekend earning $56 million dollars. This top spot at the box office hopefully will solidify the rest of the trilogy’s book to screen adaptations, but the critical response still bothers me. It bothers me, because it may stop others who haven’t read the books from seeing the film. Part of the reason films like The Hunger Games and Twilight have been so successful is because they reached these non readers. Owen Gleiberman wrote an excellent article that talks about this possible YA fatigue for Entertainment Weekly  this weekend essentially asking if Divergent is getting unfairly trashed for coming after The Hunger Games. If you are a fan of these books, or films like The Hunger Games, please bypass these critics and go see the movie. I think you will really enjoy it!

As a fan of the book, there were some problematic elements to the film’s adaptation. The filmmakers glossed over a lot of the darkness that occurs during the Dauntless initiation, which has the effect of really taking away from the relationships Tris forges with Christina, Will, and Al. The supporting characters seem to lose a lot of their character development during the Dauntless initiation stage of the movie. Shailene Woodley and Theo James are perfect as Tris and Four which kind of makes up for the fact that our supporting characters lose out a bit in this first movie. The pair has the necessary chemistry to drive the film and Woodley has the skills to pull off all the elements of this popular heroine.

The movie doesn’t do the best job making the viewer feel how brutal the Dauntless initiation was. The film takes out a lot of the darker elements of Roth’s story (no eye stabbing here). The other issue is that Peter is pretty much reduced to bully status, which makes one particular scene with Tris and some other initiates seem more bizarre then anything else. All of this might be to try and keep the film’s rating to a PG-13, which is understandable but still kind of unfortunate as a fan of the book. The filmmakers also tweaked some of the ending a little bit, probably to incorporate Kate Winslet some more. This honestly didn’t bother me as much as the rest above. It was an interesting change to have Jeanine in the control room with Tobias. It was more intriguing though then bothersome and, ultimately, the story still ended in the way.

Overall, this is a really good first film to the Divergent series.  I would definitely recommend Divergent to fans of the book as well as moviegoers looking for an escapist dystopian flick.

What about you readers, did you like the new Divergent movie? Were you nervous about seeing the film after reading some of those reviews? Are you worried that some film critics are getting YA fatigue?

Divergent Fun Facts:

  • Ansel Elgort who plays Caleb Prior in Divergent will play Shailene Woodley’s love interest in the film version of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.
  • Miles Teller who plays Peter in Divergent played Shailene Woodley’s love interest in The Spectacular Now.

-Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

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2 Responses
  1. March 26, 2014

    Completely agree about missing the development of the supporting characters. Peter wasn’t as dark and psychotic as he really is. We never really got to see Christina, Will, and Tris become best friends or get to know them that well. And I don’t think we even met Edward, so I’m curious how that will play out in the other movies.

  2. Tara Kehoe permalink
    April 3, 2014

    I enjoyed the movie version of Divergent and couldn’t see any justification for the so-so critical response. The concept of factions is so generally interesting, appealing, and unique. I wish the film version of Divergent had been considered strictly on it’s own merits.

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