Monday, 17 March 2014

Divergent adaptation and the YA phenomenon

Guest post by Elizabeth Eckhart @elizeckhart

On April 4th (March 22nd for US viewers), the much anticipated Divergent will finally premiere in theaters. Like many of its predecessors, the YA book has provoked passionate responses from fans who love the series, and those who hate to see another another sci-fi/dystopian trilogy be given the Hollywood treatment, while many other excellent books are ignored by major film studios. Still, based on the latest theatrical previews, Divergent is not a film you will want to miss - especially with the star casting of Shailene Woodley as Tris, Theo James as Four, and the Oscar winning Kate Winslet as villainess Jeanine Matthews. 

For those who are unfamiliar with the series, it follows the heroine, Tris, on her journey to fit into a world where the authoritarian government rules with an iron fist and anyone deviating from the norm is harshly punished. During a placement test to determine which area of the city she should live, as is required of all residents her age, Tris discovers that she is Divergent, or unable to fit neatly into one of the five factions of her world. Being a Divergent is not only unsafe, but is also a result of much bigger events and government cover-ups than she could have ever imagined. The story is also interesting since it takes place in a dystopian future based off our own world. Author Veronica Roth, who attended Northwestern University directly outside of Chicago, Illinois, wrote her series within the setting of her beloved city - changing well-known landmarks such as Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue, and the famous John Hancock skyscraper into decaying remnants of their earlier selves.

The film crew went through great lengths to transform Chicago into the decrepit scenes Roth had originally imagined. In fact, massive areas of the city were shut down this previous summer in order to film certain scenes. Entire housing projects were created in the downtown area, and rumor has it that an incredible aerial stunt on the John Hancock will be featured in the film. Add the hopefully awe-inspiring set with Neil Burger’s directing skills, and it becomes no surprise that many are predicting a positive response toward the movie. For those unfamiliar with Burger’s previous work, he previously directed the visually stunning films Limitless and The Illusionist.

As mentioned before, Divergent is a series that has drawn both praise and critique from readers. While many enjoyed the original setting for the plot, others believed it to be too similar to The Hunger Games with its strong female lead, dystopian world, and eventual war against a controlling government. Personally, I believe that if every book was criticized for having the same gender lead, era, and basic major plot point, there would be far fewer books in the world. Also, The Hunger Games begins in a world where only a few people (those living in the Capitol) are content, whereas Tris’s world is filled with generally happy people that are well-fed, clothed, and living in factions with people of similar interests and abilities. The minority groups, such as the Factionless and Divergent, are the people who reveal the darker aspects of Tris’s society, whereas within Katniss’s Panem, only the minority had even their basic human rights fulfilled. This setup leads to a very different story, with very different consequences when revolution becomes an option.

However, it could be said that the Divergent series is lacking in depth, regarding many characters, and that the world-building isn’t done to the detailed perfection of the great sci-fi books before it. On the other hand, the Divergent series is quick, entertaining, and very plot-driven, which is excellent groundwork for a film to develop from. Plus, for those readers irked by the younger reading level of Roth’s books, the film could possibly provide a different outlet for the story beyond the author’s narrating voice. 

Divergent arrives in UK cinemas April 4 2014.

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