Saturday, 29 March 2014

On Divergent: Book, Movie, and the Drama in Between

I work in YA and children's publishing and I read the books, so of course I was excited for Veronica Roth's Divergent to hit the big screen. I went to see it last week and it was great! I devoured my bag of popcorn early on, sat on the edge of my seat, and flinched at every fight in the Pit. Afterwards, I stood on the subway platform and thought about how utterly dull it was to calmly walk as I boarded the train. 

The books are addictive and they really are "the books to cure your Hunger Games hangover." But in spite of ALL the similarities to another wildly popular franchise, in spite of the anticipation, after the HarperCollins vs. Scholastic marketing war as Allegiant came out during the holy reign of Catching Fire's premiere, and after watching as both franchises obviously made good money off the other... Divergent did not hit the ground running.

Divergent earned a terrific $56 million last weekend on its premiere. But considering the hype, the money put into marketing, into the film budget, and KNOWING that the fan base for the books gave the movie a solid chance... that number is disheartening. 

Even without it's multi-million dollar franchise to back up a giant movie budget or marketing campaign, The Hunger Games earned a whopping $152.5 million dollars on opening weekend. And that was with a fan base that was half the size it is now. Moreover, there had never been such an explosion in the popularity of the YA genre. Divergent had all its ducks in a row, so what happened?

I am Team Hunger Games, but I did have high hopes for the franchise. Divergent is simply not on the same wavelength as The Hunger Games. As much as people vehemently argue the books are too similar, they aren't. Plot aside, look at the writing style... look at the length of the books and how much time Roth spends on Tris's in-the-moment thoughts and actions. Put your petty District-Faction / Katniss-Tris comparisons aside and look at the actual look and size of the book and the target audience. Finishing Divergent requires a much larger commitment than The Hunger Games. The resulting box office numbers is likely partly due to the fact that one series is easier to get into and finish.

Divergent will not be joining the three YA titans: Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, but it was an exciting movie and I thought it was just as good as the book, no more or less. 

Most importantly, no matter what fandom you follow, you should appreciate the value of a book that gets millions of young people reading. Hopefully they'll want MORE and they'll go out and find similar books and keep reading. Yes, there are people who bitterly insist that Divergent steps on the toes of The Hunger Games, but I say let them moan and groan. 

We need to encourage young people to read and Divergent has and will continue to do just that. Does it upset ME that the books are similar? Maybe a little. But I'd rather see one hundred too-similar books be published and get kids reading than worry about finding yet another synonym to describe a community.

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