UPDATE: Check out the first trailer for Divergent below, then stick around for our primer on the YA book series and why we think it may be the next Hunger Games.
Note: The following primer first ran back in September of 2012 before any casting was announced.
With Ender’s Game, The Mortal Instruments, Warm Bodies, Incarceron, The Night Circus, Switched and so many more on the way, which upcoming adaptation really has the chance of replacing The Twilight Saga and following in The Hunger Games’ footsteps? While all have pros, cons and all the potential in the world until we see the full feature, I find that it’s Veronica Roth’s Divergent that has the best shot at being the next big, successful franchise.
Summit’s had the rights to the series since February 2011, but is first making moves toward bringing the film version to fruition now. It was recently revealed that Limitless director Neil Burger is in early talks to direct and, just the other day, Variety broke the news that the studio has set the film for a March 21, 2014 release. Remind you of a certain very successful book-to-film March release?
Divergent certainly has the most going for it, making it the most likely to become the next big thing. Here's what you need to know about it now:
Divergent, the first of a three-book series including Insurgent and book number three due in the fall of 2013, focuses on 16-year-old Beatrice Prior, a young girl born into the faction Abnegation. Come the Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice has the option to leave Abnegation, the group that places a focus on selflessness, and switch to one of the other four factions – the truthful Candor, the intelligent Erudite, the peaceful Amity or the fearless Dauntless.
Picking a faction isn't like picking which club to join; it's picking a lifestyle. Because she's a member of Abnegation, Beatrice is not permitted to look into mirrors, must always wear gray clothing and have a plain hairstyle amongst many other faction requirements. Your faction dictates everything, even idle behavior. For example, an Erudite with free time on his or her hands better feel like studying.
And then, even when you finally do make that fateful decision of which faction you'll live out your days with, there's a chance you might not even get in. Whether you choose the faction you were born into or not, you need to go through a rigorous initiation process. Of course initiation policies change from faction to faction, but each requires potential members to go through trying tests to make sure they're dedicated to their values. Should someone fail initiation, they are dubbed factionless, our equivalent of being homeless. Beatrice even goes as far as to say, "Without a faction, we have no purpose and no reason to live."
Making the process even more difficult for Beatrice is that she's "Divergent". Going into the Choosing Ceremony, you've got three things to help you choose the right faction - the faction you were born into, the faction your heart draws you to and the results of your test -- one that measures your aptitude for the factions. Typically, a test offers up a single answer and that answer is the faction you’re meant for. However, in Beatrice’s case, she’s got an aptitude for more than one faction, making her Divergent, a quality she is strongly advised to keep to herself.
It's a Fast Read
Clearly I’ve plowed through my fair share of young adult novels, so at this point it’s easy to pinpoint the standouts. I’m a painfully slow reader, so while I wouldn’t want to reduce Divergent to an “easy read,” the fact that I could breeze through it certainly says something about Roth’s writing and the material’s entertainment value. Then there’s the late-night, can’t-stop issue. No, not every book needs chapter-ending cliffhangers, but they can’t hurt. Just like The Hunger Games, every time a chapter of Divergent comes to a close, you get that desperation to continue, regardless of how early you’ve got to get up the next morning.
A Strong Leading Lady
Beatrice may not battle vampires or jump into an area where she’s got to take out 23 underage opponents, but her journey does involve life-changing decisions, a great deal of violence and, quite frequently, death.
The way Roth opens the book is ingenious. Similar to The Hunger Games, before getting to the actual violence, we see our heroine through an incredibly trying scenario. For Katniss, it’s the Reaping, and for Beatrice, it’s the Choosing Ceremony. This isn’t like getting sorted into a house at Hogwarts. Teens must make a decision that will dictate their entire lives. Do you go with your gut and join the faction with the values that you believe in, possibly defying your family, or do you stay true to your roots and honor your parents?
Without spoiling anything, further down the line, Beatrice encounters a number of very adult dilemmas, ones that require her to consider the well-being of her closest friends and what’s best for the population as a whole, all while struggling through some truly horrifying personal scenarios.
What’s a young adult adaptation without a steamy romance? For all of you who are maxed out on love-struck brooding, you’re in luck: Divergent is without a love triangle and sappy situations. Beatrice does get herself a guy, but she certainly isn’t some schoolgirl with a secret crush on the cutest boy in class. Her relationship is directly connected to her post-Choosing Ceremony experience and is deeply rooted in the chain of events that follow.
The Volturi? A talking Lion? Witchcraft and wizardry? Divergent has its heightened moments, but in general everything is firmly grounded and, therefore, is something you can relate to.
When Beatrice is choosing her faction, you can’t help but wonder what you would do should you find yourself choosing between personal values and your family. By the time Beatrice makes her choice and is on her way to becoming a full-fledged faction member, you’re torn between her desperation to avoid becoming Factionless, the equivalent of being homeless, and the severity of the initiation tasks she must complete.
Similar to Hunger Games, Divergent also has quite a bit to say about government and means of managing the masses. It starts with this concept of the population being divided up into the five factions and whether or not that really is an effective structure, but then it transpires into something far less cut and dry, something devastatingly out of control and something we get to experience through Beatrice.
It Won’t Be Easy
Summit has certainly got another hot property in its hands, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the material will translate to film well. Again, similar to Hunger Games, this is going to be a very difficult world to bring to life visually. The story takes place in a dystopian landscape, and considering we get quite a few of those a year courtesy of the film industry, it’s going to be tough to make this world stand out and still feel authentic.
It’ll undoubtedly be a handful, but Divergent is a stellar opportunity for a production and costume designer. The differences between the factions extend well beyond their core value. Each group also resides in regions tailor-made for their particular way of life and dress accordingly, too.
Another challenge in the visual department will be the action. We’ve got characters jumping off of moving trains and it’s got to look like they do it with ease – eventually. It’s going to be really tough to get one clean shot of a character making the leap and landing. Could this compel Burger or whoever seals the deal to direct to go the shaky camera route à la Gary Ross? It’s a possibility, but as that was one of the more widespread criticisms of The Hunger Games, I’d like to bet the director and studio will make a point of not going that route again, or at least doing so with restraint.
But perhaps the biggest challenge of them all will be casting Beatrice. Just as they did with Katniss Everdeen, Beatrice will likely be played by an older actress. She’s blonde, a little on the short side and, as a member of Abnegation should be, is described as plain. After deliberately trying to avoid the Fanning sisters, my mind gravitates towards AnnaSophia Robb. She’s got the look and, more importantly, is a very seasoned and incredibly talented actress. This is actually the reason I’m partially betting against The Mortal Instruments. With Abduction and Mirror Mirror on her resume, it’s just impossible to imagine Lily Collins carrying a film.
As with any book-to-film adaptation, or really with any film at all, there’s always the chance of taking missteps with top-notch books or scripts, but having that quality source material is definitely one step in the right direction and Roth’s book is just that. Should Summit pick the right director (and Burger is certainly a solid option), pinpoint an appropriate budget (something along the lines of The Hunger Games’ $80 million would be more than enough), and nail the casting of Beatrice (which they may have with Shailene Woodley), Divergent and the films to follow could become one of the bigger and better young-adult adaptations out there.
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