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Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/5/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/1/2014
I've written before about the concept of "cultural baggage". When we approach some form of entertainment -- a movie, a book, a song, a TV show -- we carry along with us the knowledge of every piece of entertainment that we've every experienced before. It would be great if we could approach everything with no prior knowledge, but we can't (outside of having some sort of neurological disorder). So, when we watch a movie or show, we not only compare it's quality to things that we've seen before, but the originality of its content as well. We'd love to give everything the benefit of the doubt, but it's often impossible to avoid thinking, I feel like I've seen this before. Such is the case with Divergent.
Divergent is set in Chicago and takes places in the future, 100 years after the "Great War". Society has been split into five factions, each of represents a component of the human condition: Amity are peaceful and oversee agriculture; Candor are honest (they cannot lie) and oversee justice; Erudite are intelligent and oversee knowledge; Dauntless are brave and act as the police; and Abnegation are selfless and oversee the government. Those in each faction keep to themselves, but they can interact with other groups. When teens reach a certain age, they take a test to determine in which group they should belong. They are then given the free-will to choose a group. Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) belongs to Abnegation and her parents, Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) and Natalie (Ashley Judd) are government officials. She goes to take her test, and her tester (Maggie Q), immediately makes her leave. It has revealed that Beatrice is a "Divergent", someone who possesses the traits of all five factions. When it comes time for Beatrice to choose her faction, she picks Dauntless. She suddenly finds herself thrown into a world which focuses on physical fitness, bravery, and problem-solving. Re-christening herself "Tris", she attempts to fit in and is taken under the wing of Four (Theo James), a veteran Dauntless. While attempting to better herself and learn her true nature, Tris stumbles upon a conspiracy within the factions.
When I finished watching Divergent, I e-mailed a friend and wrote, "If you know someone who has just emerged from a 15-year coma, have them watch Divergent, as it will sum up all YA novels which have appeared in that time." Again, it's impossible to go into this movie and not think about other recent (or semi-recent) movie adaptations, and Divergent often feels as if it's culled from them. The dystopian setting and the separation into social groups is reminiscent ofThe Hunger Games (which is a shameless rip-off of Stephen King's work). The selection process is straight out of Harry Potter. (I kept yelling "Hufflepuff!" during this scene because I'm a jerk and that word is fun to say.) The training of the new recruits reminded me of Percy Jackson. And the "I'm a teenager and I've just discovered that I'm not who I thought I am." is a plot-point which has appeared in nearly every YA sci-fi/fantasy/action-adventure book of late, so that definitely doesn't feel unique. It also appears that males are in the minority in this genre, as Beatrice or Tris is another example of a strong, teenaged girl who goes from being a nobody to a real go-getter. Nearly every moment of Divergent felt like something which I'd seen before and that does not help the film.
The movie also doesn't receive any favors from its troublesome central plot. If I remember correctly the first lines of narration in the film tell us that in order to avoid another "Great War", society was split into Factions. Yes, nothing helps to keep humans from being hostile towards one another like being placed into different groups. We see that the people live and work amongst their faction and we know that they chose to be there -- There is no mention of a genetic tie to the group of anything like that. So, why the test? Why be told which faction you should be in and then be allowed to choose? That doesn't really gel. Assuming that there haven't been any mutations in this world, couldn't anyone possess the traits of all five groups -- Why isn't everyone a "Divergent"? The movie also stumbles by being an origin story. I haven't read the book, but I felt like Tris' time in Dauntless training was way too detailed and it took too long to get to the main plot. When that plot arrives, it's quite hackneyed, but at least it propels the story forward.
As far as judging Divergent as a movie, it is well-made. Director Neil Burger does a nice job shooting the film and for the most part, the production design and the visual effects are fine. (Save for the guns, which look like they were brought from the set of a 1940's Buck Rogers serial.) The movie has a very impressive cast and the acting is solid. The problem with Divergent is that I found the story to be uninspired and unoriginal. Is this what we want for our young audiences? Do we want to feed them things that they've seen before, with a slightly different twist? (Very slight in this instance.) As is the new trend, three more films are planned, with the last one coming in two volumes. Perhaps some new ideas will creep into those movies.
Divergent made me wonder how they got the zipline back to the top on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is extremely sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, which is important as the drab clothes of some factions must contrast with others, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture offers a nice amount of depth and in certain shots the actors are nicely separated from the backgrounds. The level of detail is good, as we can see textures on objects. The Disc carries a DTS-HD 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track shows off an impressive mix which takes advantage of the various environments. There are several scenes on a train and the sounds of it fill the speakers. When it passes by, it moves through the front channels and the rumble hits the subwoofer. The same goes for the group scenes at the Dauntless headquarters, as we get detailed effects from the rear channels. Overall, an impressive technical package.
The Divergent Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Neil Burger. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY by Producers Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick. "Bringing Divergent to Life" (47 minutes) is a four-part featurette which explores the production process, beginning with the script phase and then moving through the shooting and post-production. We are treated to a ton of behind-the-scenes footage showing key scenes being shot and the cast preparing for scenes. The pieced also includes interviews with all of the key players from the cast and the creative team, including author Veronica Roth. "Faction Before Blood" (15 minutes) explores the different groups seen in the film and the thinking behind them. Again, this includes on-set footage and interviews. The Disc contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes. All of these are relatively brief and one contains a particularly gruesome moment which may have been cut for ratings reasons. We get the MUSIC VIDEO for "Beating Heart" by Ellie Goulding. The extras are rounded out by two TRAILERS and a "Poster Gallery".
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long