Book to Movie Review: Divergent

Title: Divergent

Author: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor (screenplay); Veronica Roth

Release: March 21, 2014 by Summit Entertainment

Director: Neil Burger

Genre: Dystopian/Science Fiction

Today I went to see, for the second time, the film adaptation of Veronica Roth’s YA dystopian novel Divergent. Book to movie adaptations are often disappointing in one way or another to bookish people like me, so I thought I’d have a go at reviewing this one for anyone who was unsure if they wanted to see it. The marketing campaign for the movie was HUGE, with commercials, posters, social media, sneak peeks (like on the new Catching Fire DVD release), and just a whole lot of hype, and often movies with that much excitement surrounding it disappoint in a major way. But I have to say that this time, Divergent delivered.

Divergent Movie PosterFor anyone unaware of the plot or needing a little refresher, here’s a summary of Divergent:

In a post-apocalyptic Chicago, the citizens are divided into five factions according to their personality, and each faction has their place in the running of the city. Candor, who value honesty, run the court system. The Erudite value knowledge and pursue the advancement of science. The people of Amity are peaceful and work the fields surrounding the city.  The Dauntless are brave and operate as the security for the city. Beatrice, the protagonist, is a member of the Abnegation, who value selflessness, and operate as the government. When the people of Chicago reach the age of 16, they take a test that tells them which faction they have an affinity for, but the citizens are allowed to choose which faction they’d like to join despite which result they get in the test. The test tells Beatrice that she is Divergent – a very rare result that means she is suited for more than one faction. She decides to join Dauntless – and changes her name to Tris – as she’s always loved their bravery. However, her capabilities mean that she does not fit into the social order of the city. The leaders of the world in Divergent believe that by segregating people into factions will ensure that order will continue to hold and war will not break out again. Tris threatens that order by not thinking in a singular fashion, and so, as she finds out, she is being hunted down.

Dauntless initiation is highly competitive, and it forces Tris to figure out who her friends really are. She also begins a sometimes confusing but overall promising romance with her initiation leader, Four. However, Tris’ secret threatens to be discovered while a growing conflict threatens to destroy the supposedly perfect society in which she lives. Tris’ Divergence could help save her friends and family or it could kill her in the process. Let me just quickly say that I REALLY enjoyed the novel. I thought that the world that Roth created was completely believable and perfect for its dystopian genre. The characters were well-rounded, and you really felt for them as they went through initiation and what followed. The romance between Tris and Four was not overpowering and was interwoven into the story in a way that fit well into the rest of the plot. It was pretty well-written, entertaining, and left me wanting to read more. If I’d reviewed it on here, I would have given it an 8 (freaking fantastic). I will say, however, that I was not a big fan of the second book in the trilogy, Insurgent, and had mixed feelings about the last book in the series, Allegiant.

Now on to the movie: First, the actors. I was a little apprehensive when Shailene Woodley was cast as Tris. But she proved herself, at least to me. Her portrayal of Tris felt honest, endearing, fully formed, and well-done. I enjoyed watching her on-screen development and thought she did a fantastic job of getting the audience emotionally involved. There’s one scene in which she practically has a breakdown that had my heart breaking because her performance was so realistic. One of the best parts was her chemistry with Theo James, who plays Four. The two operate well together and their romance was one of the most believable things to me in the movie. Then you’ve got Zoe Kravitz, who plays Tris’ friend Christina, an Erudite transfer. There’s Ashley Judd as Tris’ freaking awesome mom. We’ve got Miles Teller as the hilarious and rude Peter, a Candor transfer. And then we have Jai Courtney as the Dauntless leader Eric, the seriously sadistic bad guy. I thought the performances by all of these actors were completely on point, perfect casting. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but the only performance I thought was a little disappointing was that of Kate Winslet, as Erudite leader and creepy creep, Jeanine Matthews. Her portrayal was a little flat, almost stiff, and while I can appreciate that as potentially part of Jeanine’s character, it just felt odd.

Trisposter

I think this might have something to do with the script, which overall, is good. Just good. It’s even a little cheesy in some parts, like when Jeanine quips that Tris is “a poor blend of impulses and impurities” or when Four has this brilliant revelation that a vial he found HAS to be a simulation inducing serum. Duh. Also, the last 20 minutes or so of the movie were like a competition to see how many times they could include the word Divergent. However, there were several parts of unexpected humor that I quite enjoyed.

I’d say that the main change that hurt the movie was the development of the characters. As much as I enjoyed the performances by the actors, Tris’ best friends in the novel (Al, Will, and Christina) are somewhat pushed to the side in favor of Tris’ and the storyline’s progression. This is completely understandable, but a few of the characters’ were so pushed aside that when one of Tris’ most painful deaths to handle occurs, the audience barely has time to process, let alone actually have many feelings about it. My friend who joined me for the movie hadn’t read the book, and she said she barely felt bad about the death, which saddened me because it felt as if that character didn’t get the appreciation he deserved because he was so badly developed. I wish that a little more time had been spent on the secondary characters from the novel. These changes result in some missing context, and this means confused audiences members, particularly those who hadn’t read the book. Actually, this occasionally means confused audiences members who HAD read the book (e.g. some of the climactic scene had me going “WHAT the heck is going on?)

On a more positive note, the visual effects and cinematography in the movie are wonderful. The use of mirrors in Tris’ faction affinity test is beautiful as well as terrifying, and much of the time while in the simulations is completely awesome. The portrayal of the Dauntless, both before Tris chooses them and after, is brilliant, full of glee, terror, passion, and bravery, and I enjoyed pretty much every minute of seeing them operate as a faction. The movie also creates a believably decaying Chicago, fenced in by a huge, electric fence. One of the first things we see is a giant, grounded ship, rusted, crumbling, and looking to have been there for hundreds of years. I also enjoyed the faction costumes, which impeccably portrayed the way Roth describes the way the factions feel, if that makes sense. The people of Amity look like happy hippies, with long, flowing skirts, loose hair, and tunic-like tops. Candor is clad in pure black and white, the way in which the Candor see the truth.

The bottom line: This movie was highly, HIGHLY entertaining, action-packed, and powerful. Other than some changes with character development, I thought this was a pretty good adaptation. I’d definitely recommend seeing this movie in the theater, as the fear landscapes, fight scenes, and decaying world are super cool on the big scene. I enjoyed this movie so much, I saw it twice.

Rating: 7 – Pretty good

Divergent is rated PG-13 for violence, some obscenity and disturbing thematic material.

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Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Title: The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

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Genre: Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Delacorte Books

Publication Date: October 2009

Paperback: 375 pages

Stand alone or series: First book in a series

How did I get this book: Bought

Do you ever have a book on your to-read list for a long time, but you just never seem to get to it? Well, for me, that was The Maze Runner. I have heard great things about the series and have wanted to read the books for years, and yet I always had other books to read. I think it was the impending approach of the release of the movie based on the first book in the series that pushed me into finally buying them.

I wish I’d done it sooner.

Let’s start with a brief synopsis:

The book begins when a boy awakens in a darkened elevator, ascending into the unknown. He is unable to remember anything about himself or where he is from except for his name – Thomas. When he reaches the top, he is brought into the Glade – a giant courtyard that includes a farm, a slaughterhouse, and a homestead where a large group of teenage boys lives, all of different ages and sizes. These boys are like Thomas: they were sent to the Glade with no memory of themselves but their names. The Glade is surrounded by a giant labyrinth, called the Maze, the walls of which move every night after the doors leading into it close. Most of the group of boys tends to the Glade each day, farming, cleaning, killing. But there is a small group of boys that head into the Maze every day to try to solve it, making maps of what they find. They believe that if they solve it, they will find the way out. Only the fastest and smartest boys are able to be Runners, because they must be quick and get back before the doors close lest they fall victim to the monsters that roam the Maze, the Grievers – large, blubbery, half-mechanical beasts that can sting you with their various metal arms.

This has been the way of the Maze and the Glade for two years. Until Thomas arrives. The day after he comes out of the elevator, what the Gladers call The Box, someone else comes up, something that shouldn’t happen for another month. But that is not the most shocking part to the Gladers; what is frightening is that it’s a girl. She brings with her a disturbing message – everything is going to change. Though they cannot explain it, Thomas and the girl are connected, and they believe that it is their responsibility to figure out the Maze and lead the Gladers to safety.

What I thought:

This book consumed me from the beginning. The world that Dashner has created is frightening, intense, and everything I look for in a dystopian novel. The characters are isolated and fighting for their lives, and there is basically non-stop action the entire book. There are a lot of questions to be asked in The Maze Runner, but each time one is answered, another, bigger question is left in its place. I have to say that I have read books that have done the same thing and it has irked me to no end. However, Thomas is in a similar situation as the reader; he cannot remember anything about his life, so he is asking all of the same questions that the reader wants to know the answer to. Thomas is a well-rounded, developed character. He is clever, curious, and brave, and he knows the questions to ask. As Dashner keeps us guessing, Thomas keeps asking, making this an effective, and not-at-all annoying device to keep readers just out of reach of the truth. I don’t want to say too much about the questions that Thomas is being forced to ask, but let’s just say that Dashner can write! His prose is crisp and irresistible, keeping you turning pages and unwilling to lay the book down.

As for the world, it’s terrifying. Somehow, from somewhere, this group of boys has been transported into the middle of a gigantic maze, which is miles across. Its walls are hundreds of feet high and look to have been there for hundreds of years. Weirdly, none of the boys can remember anything about their lives previous to their time coming up in The Box. The Maze’s walls change every night and there are huge, frightening creatures that roam inside it at night. The reader will be just as curious as the Gladers – have they been sent there for an experiment? Is there actually something outside the Maze, and if so, what is it? Is this a prison that these boys have been sent to for crimes they cannot remember? How was this place created? The Maze Runner keeps the reader guessing, keeps you turning the pages to find answers. But don’t worry; the questions are addressed. I think there is something to say about an author who confuses you constantly, but makes you want to keep reading anyway.

One of my favorite things about the novel is Dashner’s made up slang employed by the Gladers; they use words like “shank,” “greenie,” and “shuck.” It is somewhat strange at first, just as it is strange to Thomas, who has no idea what the other Gladers mean when they say these things. And these other Gladers are brilliant characters, each with their own distinct personality. There’s Newt, Minho, Chuck, Alby, and the hostile (though we’re not sure why at first), Gally. Some of these characters are leaders in the Glade, while others are relative newbies, giving Thomas and us a range of knowledge to be had in the ways of the world. Throughout the novel, these other characters are developed just as well as Thomas, and the reader connects with them and empathizes with their situation.

Then there’s Teresa, the girl who was sent up in The Box to deliver the ominous message that everything was about to change. We don’t get much of her in this book, as she’s in a coma for part of the book and then ostracized for much of the rest of the book. However, I can say that this is remedied in future books.

The novel takes us on a journey while Thomas, Teresa, and the Gladers work to solve the Maze and find their way to safety. I won’t give anything away, but I will say that you will continue to be surprised until the very end – watch out for that cliffhanger, guys!

The bottom line:

If you couldn’t tell, I LOVED The Maze Runner, and I flew through its pages on the edge of my seat. The fast-paced, thrilling plot, engaging characters, often confusing answers to questions, and Dashner’s brilliant writing makes for a very successful novel. Almost immediately after finishing Book One, I began reading Book Two, The Scorch Trials, as I couldn’t handle that cliffhanger and needed to know what happened next. I’ve currently read Books One – Three, and I’m reading the prequel to the series, The Kill Order. At the same time that I was wanting to read them even faster, I wanted to take the time to savor them. I would highly recommend this book, as well as the entire series, for anyone who likes post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, action packed, thrilling adventures, especially if you’re into series. They are unputdownably good.

Rating: 9 – Practically perfect

You can read an excerpt from the first chapter of the book HERE 

See more from James Dashner on his website 

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