Have you seen the Vampire Academy movie yet? Wendy and Kate saw it on Friday, and we thought it’d be interesting to discuss our feelings about it.
We should preface this by saying that we are both huge, huge fans of Richelle Mead’s books. We went into the film with very few expectations: basically, we just hoped it would be fun, and that the characters wouldn’t be ruined. Sadly, we still left feeling pretty let down by what we saw, and incredibly disappointed that this lackluster effort into adapting the book means that it’s doubtful we’ll see any sequels onscreen.
Wendy: Well, this is one of the worst book to film adaptations I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t have imagined this level of fail, we were both literally cringing at some of the scenes. I looked over at you a few times and saw you crouched down trying to hide from the horror onscreen just like I was!
Kate: Yeah, by the end I had curled into little ball facing the back of the theater because I felt really embarrassed on behalf of the people who made the movie–and on behalf of myself as a superfan of the property. Being an adult who reads YA carries such a weird stigma–as grownups reading comics used to do and still does to some degree–and when movie versions of beloved properties miss the mark, the YA community as a whole enjoys the disdain of the larger world.
Wendy: My favorite horrible moment from the film: Lissa catches Rose and Christian leaving the library together and says tearfully, “You were fornicating with her, weren’t you?” *sob* It was such a clumsy moment, and I was laughing so hysterically that I had to throw my wrap over my face in an effort to keep quiet. I felt so bad and tried not to make noise throughout the movie, but I couldn’t help it. So much of it was so over the top that I was literally crying with laughter.
Kate: I got what they were going for with Lissa (with the weirdly prim costumes and old time-y language), but it just didn’t work at all. The whole thing where the vampire world knows nothing about pop culture or the wider world didn’t translate, and it was all conveyed with tedious expository language.
Wendy: Lots of showing versus telling, which is so interesting in a visual medium. You know the couple sitting next to us got up and left.
Kate: Hahaha. I don’t blame them. I knew the movie was going to be problematic about halfway through the first scene because they were pushing for big laughs with overly quirky expository dialogue that didn’t suit the actors, when what they needed to do was set up the deep, gorgeous friendship (between Rose and Lissa) that is the real heart of this series, and make us SMILE at their interactions.
Wendy: Oh yeah, I knew as soon as it started, too. Huge info dumping, high speed dialogue, and humor that never quite found its footing. And I agree, if the focus is going to be on the girls, show us the friendship in a real and meaningful way. The film just basically took the most obvious plot points and ignored any sense of depth or subtlety, and both the story and the characters suffered.
Kate: Um. So. Dimitri. The “Dimitri is a god” thing ONLY makes sense if you’ve read the books, because the actor was not…that. I think they maybe messed up by casting an ESL actor as the romantic lead? It sounded like he learned his lines phonetically. When he and Rose made out, I said, “NO!” and covered my eyes. He has a bit of an Uncle Gary thing going on next to Rose. I guess I always imagined him with a martial artist’s physique. Reading Marie Rutkoski’s post about forbidden love yesterday really reminded my of what it is about the Dimitri/Rose thing that works so well in the books, and why it failed here. There’s no slow burn! He actually seems creepy! I would be fine with his appearance, and everything if he had charisma, and that’s where he was seriously lacking.
Wendy: He has the cutest face and I love his coloring, but yes–he does not have the hard physicality or solid stoicism you imagine from the books at all, and there’s so little chemistry between him and Zoey Deutsch that everything just felt very awkward and forced. There is so much heated sexual tension between the two characters in the books that seeing the hesitant, jokey flirting onscreen was pretty painful. Oh, Roza and Dimka! What’s become of you?
Kate: All the stuff about Moroi being able to do magic, Lissa’s special posers, and Shadow-Kissed Anna made ZERO sense in the movie. There’s no way people who didn’t read the book had any idea what was going on.
Wendy: I like to bring Mr. Darling to these things as a test of whether an adaptation makes sense to the uninitiated (I know, he deserved and got a huge apology for this one), and he was confused throughout the whole movie. The Mortal Instruments has a much more complicated mythology, and he was able to follow City of Bones just fine. I couldn’t believe how bad this film was–like incomprehensibly bad. And it shouldn’t have been, because this property has all the right ingredients for a fantastic film or TV series.
Rose is one of my all-time favorite literary figures. I L.O.V.E. her. And I don’t think Zoey Deutch is a bad actress (and boy, does she ever have an amazing head of hair), but she may not be quite ready to carry a movie. And the gorgeous, wealthy daughter of famous people is maybe not the best choice, casting-wise, for this type of character. In the movie Rose is kind of just a mean girl. She has none of the hidden depths that make the character so appealing in the book.
Wendy: I ADORE Rose Hathaway. So many people criticize her, but she is so strong and grows so much throughout the books, and is willing to admit to her mistakes and learn from them. She’s so snarky and hilarious, too! But in the film, she just comes off as a brat, and yes, just like a superficial mean girl without any chops to back up her attitude. This girl is supposed to kick serious ass both physically and mentally, and this first book is where she starts developing her potential, as well as understanding what she must sacrifice in order to follow the path she’s chosen.
Another reason why I like Rose in the books is that she is so unapologetic about being sure of her sexual attractiveness and she knows how to turn that to her advantage. Girls DO this, and it’s great that Richelle Mead is honest about this portrayal of a girl exploring her boundaries and relationships. The slut-shaming was poorly handled in the film too, so including the Lissa-feeding-off-Rose stigma was really weird.
Kate: The feeding thing was not executed well. It kind of just looked like Rose enjoys rough play in the form of biting. And the way slut shaming is handled in the book is amazing–Richelle Mead is SO GOOD at writing that thing teenage boys do where they make out with you and then tell everyone you went down on them or whatever.
Wendy: Worst yet, the biting didn’t even feel euphoric and sexy, like it’s supposed to (and does in the books). The film made it look like a cheap thrill thrown in for pervy guys in the audience. It’s just sad that a character we love so much was diminished with such typical, predictable moves and a childish attitude.
Kate: It felt like they tried to shoehorn in an extra Rose-centered love triangle, too, and it really annoyed me because in the movie, Mason kind of seems like a better choice for Rose than Dimitri does.
Wendy: I think you’re right about that, and a Rose-Mason pairing is just…totally wrong.
Kate: You made me laugh out loud during the movie when Uncle Victor undergoes a major physical transformation and then checks himself out in the mirror and you said, “He still looks terrible.” I’m laughing again now just thinking about it. He did look bad.
Wendy: Heh. We whispered maybe a little bit too much throughout this thing, but man. I couldn’t hold it in or else I would explode. The special effects and makeup and styling were terrible. TERRIBLE.
Wendy: Damn. Tina Fey should have written this script, I think that would have solved half the problems I had with the film. At least the cheesy parts would have been deliberately funny.
Kate: Yeah. Oh, I thought the actors who played Christian and Mia both did a really good job, though.
Wendy: Agreed. The whole thing is just a shame overall, though. Before I even got the email updates about its box office performance (at $3.9 million for the weekend, it came in under the already dismal Sunday projections), I knew as soon as I saw how bad the film was that this wasn’t a project that was going to succeed, although the mostly empty theater and scant publicity and promotional effort were also big clues. Unless it somehow becomes a cult hit overseas or in other media, there’s no chance we’re going to see Adrian in a movie. *cries* Although maybe that’s a good thing, given what they did with the rest of the characters.
Frostbite is also one of my favorite books in the series, partly because of that thrilling but awful scene towards the end when Rose makes a grave mistake with devastating results. I don’t think there’s ever been another YA paranormal series that shows such depth of character development, while remaining true to many of the faults and uncertainties that a girl would experience. I’m so sad that this series didn’t get the treatment it deserved on the big screen.
Here are some things we think would have improved the film:
Slow the hell down. Why was everything filmed and spoken at such lightning speed? The pacing was frantic and sloppy, and as a result the explanations, the humor, the romance, the friendships, the school drama, etc all flashed by like we’d accidentally set the movie on fast-forward. Everything felt like a loud, overly-exaggerated caricature, and the tone was totally campy and bubblegum. Even if it weren’t completely off from the mood of the books, the frenetic quality was pretty tiresome, and it made it hard to keep up with what was going on.
Don’t stay so faithful to the book. We get it, there’s a lot of mythology and characters to cover when it comes to paranormal stories. But jamming so much information and so many side plots into this movie meant that everyone was talking absurdly fast and we were jerked from scene to scene like we were on an amusement park ride. Things that could have easily been left out/reconsidered: the lack of knowledge about pop culture and the wider world, the number of emotive spirit bond visions (some of those could have just been our seeing them, or toned down–it’s just a goofy thing to see onscreen), possibly the bloodletting/shaming/popularity contests since it was so poorly explained and executed, the side plot about Mia’s relationship with Lissa’s brother, etc. If you can’t spend a decent enough time on developing these elements, or they slow down the narrative too much, just skip them.
Stay more faithful to the characters. This film makes you realize that whatever faults the Twilight movies had, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg did a great job in adapting those books, both in terms of explaining the world to us and in showing us everyone’s motivations and feelings. The VA film needed a script that better showcased the strengths of the characters; its emphasis was on humor, which is a fine approach, except that if the humor falls flat there’s very little to fall back on. It also ignored all the other elements that make the books great: Rose’s strength and loyalty, Dimitri’s determination to do what’s right, the friendship between the girls, interesting adult/teen dynamics, etc. The film failed to adequately capture the vibe of a lot of important scenes (including what should have been seriously sexy love charm scene), and it completely lacks any of the book’s more serious narration.
Recast the principle actors. Danila Kozlovsky is attractive, but visually he overpowers Zoey Deutch so much that with the additional age difference, it made us very uncomfortable to watch. We’re guessing there was some desire to cast a Russian actor, but Danila’s accent often made it really difficult to understand what he was saying. Zoey also seems like a matter of taste; some people seem to respond to the smart-mouthed style of delivery, but it never quite flows naturally. In A Separate Peace, John Knowles defines sarcasm as, “the protest of people who are weak,” and that piece–the pain and weakness that Rose is covering with her bluster–is missing in the film. Those two casting choices were our main issues, but to be fair, the directing and editing made it very difficult for anyone to really showcase their characters properly.
Supporting cast-wise, Joely Richardson did a great job, but the Queen Tatiana scenes almost felt like they belonged in a different movie. Natalie felt like a caricature. The headmistress was WEIRD. And the villain didn’t seem threatening, he seemed eccentric and in a hurry to get to a shuffleboard tournament or something.
Do a better job with the action. There are some fantastic action sequences in the books, and there should have been better training scenes/fight choreography in the film, as well as photography and editing that showed them off better. C’mon, how are these scenes better in the books than in the movie?
Rehaul that soundtrack. Not every single scene has to have pop music, you know? It got pretty distracting and annoying and loud, and so often seemed to fade in and out without purpose. A lot of the songs were pretty forgettable, too. But maybe there was an issue with partnerships or something, because we definitely noticed that random dig at Hot Topic.
Utilize a decent budget. Among the many things that sorely needed more dollars invested in them were the awful special effects and laughable wardrobe. Those psi-hounds were horrendously bad, like something out of an old Stephen King movie (pony up some CGI dollars or just digitize some real dogs, okay?) and Rose’s expensive necklace looked like something you’d find under the bleachers in a middle school gymnasium. Dimitri’s famed duster was unappealing (good call, Jen) and needed at least another $500 invested on that price tag. The girls’ clothes looked like they came straight off the discount rack from the mall, especially the prom dresses; Rose’s dress is described in the book as “This was the kind of dress that changed the world. The kind of dress that started religions.” Nope. This was the kind of dress a secretary would buy on sale for an office party. And don’t be fooled by Lissa’s cool costume on the movie poster. They dressed that girl like she had a terrible skin condition they were trying to hide, and her clothes made her look emaciated. Lissa’s makeup was problematic, too, and made her mouth look CRAZY.
Rethink the tone of the film. The humor tried so, so hard but succeeded in being so, so unfunny. We were worried when we first saw the team chosen to develop this project, because as much as we love Mean Girls (and it really is one of one of our favorite movies of all time), it seemed as though going that direction could be too different from the extremely dark and serious tone of the last few books. And it makes us wonder whether this was ever seriously considered as a long term project to begin with.
And as a general comment, we’ve been saying for years that in order for book-to-film adaptations to have a shot at becoming successful, they must expand beyond the existing fan base and cross over to a wider audience. They can’t rely on readers alone to fill those seats, this is a symbiotic relationship, not a parasitic one.
The best parts about the film were mostly the ones where they kept lines from the book and didn’t speed them up or toss them away. Examples: “If I let myself love you, I won’t throw myself in front of her. I’ll throw myself in front of you.” (Oh, DIMITRI.) “That is my dress.” Sadly, these were literally the only ones we could think of. Although there was that nice, if way too brief, moment when a traitor says (paraphrasing), “Do you have any idea what it’s like to always be second”?” And Dimitri says simply, “No.” We think that was an original line.
One last note: we’ve been seeing a lot of chatter implying that people “trashing” the movie aren’t showing support for the YA film adaptations. We absolutely want to see more YA film projects succeed, but we also want and deserve good films. It’s also pretty tiresome that this onus is constantly upon YA book fans to do more more more on behalf of authors and their projects. We spend massive amounts of time and our own dollars to support projects we love (did you notice we went on opening day? Eh?) but it is pretty outrageous to take the position that expressing disappointment or criticism is a shameful thing, or that we’re the ones preventing more films from being optioned.
You know what will get more films made? A decent movie that expands beyond its fan base. Because friends, books and films like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight are massive, lightning-in-a-bottle projects, none of the other YA bestsellers that have been made into films or optioned come even close. Do your homework and don’t be fooled by uninformed internet speculation about why one project succeeds or fails, or even by what defines success. And don’t let yourself be guilted into something that is not your responsibility. If we accept books and films of poor quality as the norm, we’re just going to continue to get more of them.
Speculation: Divergent has a good chance of doing better than these last few YA adaptations if it’s done well, based on the action-oriented and easy to understand plot, as well some of the talent behind the scenes. The Fault in Our Stars looks like it has potential to get that Nicholas Sparks type audience to become a sleeper hit, plus there’s all that John Green power and a major studio behind it, too. It’s probably too soon to tell about other adaptations at this point.
What did you think?
So have you seen the film yet, or are you planning to? Let us know if you agree or disagree with our reactions to the film! And please link us to your own movie reviews as well if you did them.
Our opinion is: stick to the books, peeps. VA is one of the best YA series out there, and sadly, this film just didn’t do justice to the characters or story. This sums up the characters in the movie nicely: View Spoiler » « Hide Spoiler. Sorry, couldn’t resist. But it’s true.
Photos appear courtesy of the studio. We love you, Weinstein Company, but we didn’t love what you did with this awesome series.