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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Divergent

August 22nd, 2014

Divergent - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

Divergent is one of the latest Young Adult adaptations to hit theaters. These films usually fall under one of two sub-genres: Dystopian Future and Fantasy Romance. (There are also a growing number of Dying Girl movies, like The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay.) This film is part of the Dystopian Future genre and will inevitably be compared to Hunger Games. How is it compared that franchise? Does it work on its own?

The Movie

The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic Chicago. We hear in voice-over how there was a war and the only survivors reformed society with five distinct factions. There are the Erudite, logical and intelligent who are the scientists of the new society. The Amity are peaceful and kind and are the farmers. The Candor are candid to a fault and act as the lawyers. The Dauntless are strong and brave and are used as police and soldiers. Finally there are the Abnegation, who are selfless and giving. Because they are selfless, they run the government. Our hero, Beatrice Prior, grew up as an Abnegation, but idolized the Dauntless.

As the movie begins, Beatrice is with her mother preparing for her test. Every 16-year old must take a serum-based test that will knock them out, but give them a dream that tell them what faction they are best suited for. However, you don't have to choose what the test says you are, but once you make that choice, you are there for life. This year, it is hers and her bother, Caleb's turn to take the test. After a trippy test, Beatrice comes to and the administrator of the test, Tori, is a little panicked. It turns out Tris is best suited for Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless. She is what they call Divergent. She is told to keep her real test result a secret.

The next day at the choosing ceremony, her parents bump into Jeanine Matthews, an Erudite, and the Abnegation and Erudite have been in conflict over who should rule. When Caleb goes to choose, he picks Erudite. When it is Beatrice's turn, she picks Dauntless. At first, it seems Tris might not be cut out for Dauntless. She does meet a couple of allies, first Christina, a Candor who choose Dauntless, and later Will, an Erudite. She is also concerned about the dangerous nature of the initiation. When the leader, Eric, asks for a volunteer to make a blind jump, Beatrice accepts and jumps. Being the first jumper earns her some cred and when the man who will be the initiates' trainer, Four, asks her her name, she decides to change and chooses Tris.

The early training doesn't go well and Tris is in serious trouble of being cut. (It doesn't help that Eric seems to have a personal vendetta against her.) Her and her friends go out to get tattoos. There she meets Tori again and Tori explains that since Tris is Divergent, she can't be controlled. And since she can't be controlled, she is a threat to those who want to control her. With early setbacks as motivation, Tris trains extra hard and this gets the attention of Four, both as a trainer and later a little more romantically.

I think that's enough of the plot.

I'm of two minds when it comes to Divergent. On the one hand, Shailene Woodley is an excellent young actress and the chemistry between her and Theo James is a real asset to the movie. Additionally, Kate Winslet is great in practically everything she's in and this movie is no exception. On the negative side, there is just about everything else. Almost nothing in this movie is new or original. I know this is based on a book and I checked online and apparently the adaptation is fairly faithful, but that just means the book isn't very original. The idea of factions is overused, as is corrupt leadership. They even have mind-control serum, just like in The Giver.

I guess this unoriginality wouldn't have been too bad, if the execution were stronger. Unfortunately, the film is lacking in a number of areas, including pacing and energy. The film takes too long getting to the central conflict. I know it needed to set up the world before throwing us into the plot, but this half of the movie lacked the urgency needed. It is just an hour of watching Tris train. Eric is too generic of a bad guy to be engaging, as is Peter, one of the other initiates. The film also lacked enough humor, which would have helped the more tense moments by giving variety to early parts of the movie. Finally, the movie ends in a way that doesn't give resolution, because there has to be a sequel.

Overall, Divergent isn't a good movie, but it is not a terrible one either. Perhaps the next installment will fix some of the weaknesses in this movie and I will enjoy it.

The Extras

Extras begin with two audio commentary tracks. Up next is a four-part, 47-minute long making of featurette. Finally on the DVD is a music video. The Blu-ray has this and a 15-minute long featurette on the five factions.

The technical presentation is strong, for the most part. The level of details is very high thanks in part to the digital cinematography. However, the colors rarely pop, but this is an aesthetic choice and not a problem with the transfer. The Abnegation are a grey faction, while the Dauntless are really into black, so there are not a lot of scenes where there are colors. The 7.1 surround sound audio is stronger with clear dialogue and plenty of activity in the surround sound speakers. This includes ambient sounds, but also lots of dynamics.

According to Amazon, the Blu-ray costs $20, which is just over $3 or 20% more than the the DVD.

The Verdict

Divergent did well enough at the box office to ensure a sequel would be made. I just hope Insurgent will fix the problems this film had, including improving the pace and giving the plot a stronger sense of urgency. If you liked the movie, then the DVD or the Blu-ray Combo Pack are worth picking up, while the latter is the better deal.

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Filed under: Video Review, Divergent, Hunger Games, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Maggie Q, Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Ansel Elgort, Ben Lloyd-Hughes