With adolescence comes the question of identity with many a teenager thinking they are some freak of nature. As a result, the Young Adult fiction explosion of the last decade or so has amped that up, coupled with the Millennial generation’s worries about the future as seen in the preponderance of dystopias. As it is, the granddaddy of this genre, The Giver, was the only book my freshmen read, liked, and remembered from middle school. So, once Harry Potter proved box office gold, studios have been mining YA titles seeking similar profit. All too often, though, the adaptations have failed to capture the same themes and sense of wonder. Everyone wants to be the next Hunger Games and the Divergent series of books comes closest. When the first novel was adapted to screen this spring, I watched several of my fellow teachers and students reading or rereading the book in anticipation.
Divergent, adapted from Veronica Roth’s best seller by screen writers Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, does a nice job bringing the world to life. The film has come to home video today from Lionsgate Home Entertainment in Blu-ray Combo pack form along with store-specific collector’s editions. Here, the world is brighter and shinier than the 13 Districts of Suzanne Collins’ Earth but there remains a corrupt underbelly that threatens the government, which is tightening its grip. Here, as you enter puberty, you begin to manifest powers and abilities that society wants to harvest so one by one, people are tested to see if they can be assigned to Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truth tellers), Dauntless (the brave) and Erudite (the brains). Her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) is Abnegation, but is allowed to reject the assignment in favor of Erudite during the Choosing Ceremony (minus sorting hat).
Much as in Lois Lowry’s books, those that do not fit in must be culled and Tris (Shailene Woodley) is one of those mutants, who possesses a mélange of abilities despite coming from two Abnegation parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn). According to Jeanine (Kate Winslet), she must be eliminated but her tester, Tori (Maggie Q), warns Tris. She then rejects Abnegation for Dauntless and so begins her Coming of Age. Tris leaves behind the world she knew and enters unknown waters, eventually coming upon other Divergents who have formed a mutual survival society and burgeoning underground.
Tris begins to train and train and train as the film slows down. Physically, she’s barely up to the demands of the Dauntless but thankfully the incredibly handsome mentor Four (Theo James), pushes her and makes her heart go pitter pat. She also gains a BFF in the bullied Christina (Zoë Kravitz). Once we get past this section, things pick up steam and we bring things to a somewhat satisfying conclusion, resolving some threads and laving others dangling for the sequels.
Director Neil Burger needs to work on his timing and editing since the film feels overly long but he does coax excellent performances from his cast which makes the entire film eminently watchable. Woodley’s Tris is a more decisive heroine than Katniss and she handles the action quite well. It’s not Burger’s fault that the film and the book its based on now feels derivative. We’ve been getting heavy doses of dystopia in print, on television, and in film so, like zombies, its feeling like pretty mined territory.
The high definition transfer is most satisfactory and is matched by the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix. Similarly, the extras are straightforward, informative, and useful if unspectacular. We have Audio Commentary with Director Neil Burger, who nicely credits his crew; Audio Commentary with Producers Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick, which delves more deeply into the pre-production and casting; Bringing Divergent To Life (47:17), four shorter pieces that examines the production, casting, and adaptation process; Faction Before Blood (14:51), looks at the structure of the walled in society; Deleted Scenes (4:27), nothing essential but good to see; Beating Heart Music Video (1080i; 3:48), trailers and poster gallery.