Young Adult

Film Review: Vampire Academy is “Sweet, Sassy, Molassy”

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Vampire Academy finally released in India yesterday, and after five years of waiting, I spent my V(A)-Day with Dimitri and Christian on the big screen. The film adaptation, based on the first book of Richelle Mead’s series, released last week in North America to some harsh critical reviews and a poor box office. This in turn made me anxious to see the film and I was starting to feel sure it would disappoint me. Guess what fangirls and boys? It did not. We’ve covered the release of the film these past few months and now we are going to discuss the film, without (any major) spoilers so that all of you can go watch and enjoy it.

For the uninitiated, the story is about Rose Hathaway, a half-human, half-vampire Dhampir girl who is best friends with Lissa Dragomir, a Moroi vampire princess and must save her not only from the threats of the undead Strigoi that lurk in the shadows but also the threats that lurk within the halls of their school, St. Vladimir’s Academy.

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The Cast

The most wonderful thing about this film has to be the performances from the cast. When the casting was announced last year, there was a huge uproar in the “Vampire Academy” fandom with many fans turning their backs on the film (some still don’t accept the casting). This is rather unfortunate, because the cast captures the characters so well and as the author, Richelle Mead, has stated on numerous occasions, the actors GET their characters.

Zoey Deutch owns Rose Hathaway and no one can be Rose anymore in my head. When she’s onscreen, you forget all about Zoey from her interviews because she’s gone and in her place, stands Rose – fun loving, fast talking, flawed Rose Hathaway.

Lucy Fry as Lissa really surprised me. I was still unsure about her from the clips but she brought Lissa to life as a soul that is at first kind and gentle and later all buzzed up and peppy.

Danila Kozlovsky … what can I say about this Russian man except that he lit up the screen as Dimitri Belikov with his scenes, whether it was the badass training sequences or the badass fighting sequences or the scenes with his smile that basically could melt all of Frozen’s Arrendale. I could basically listen to a tape with him saying the words “Roza, Roza” continuously.

Now Dominic Sherwood basically IS Christian Ozera. There is no denying it and there is no fighting it. He IS Christian Ozera with all his creepy talk at first and then that sadness in his eyes when he talks about his Strigoi parents and then his longing for Lissa and then BAM the next thing you know is that you are all head over heels in love with Christian who would do anything to protect Lissa.

The supporting characters did a great job with their scenes. Sarah Hyland was absolutely brilliant as the rambling Natalie and Cameron Monaghan, in his limited scenes, brought to life the love struck Mason who you can’t help but feel for as Rose ignores his feelings towards her. Sami Gayle as Mia was just short of delivering the mean girl, perhaps because of her limited scenes and the fact that they revealed her story to the audience a little earlier than in the book. Claire Foy played “Crazy Karp” just like I’d imagined and though Olga Kurylenko‘s Kirova was a little spiced up, it didn’t affect the story.

The Changes

Book to movie adaptations all suffer changes and purist fans of books often renounce the film version. It is true that most book adaptations now days do not do the story any justice, especially as seen in the recent The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones film where some changes took away from the spirit of the book, even if necessary.

In the case of Vampire Academy, fans that are staying away are completely missing out on how true this film is to the book. Yes there are changes; some of these changes are required to explain things to the audience while some other changes make things grander (seriously guys, explosions and fights make things better on screen). Then there are a few changes like the following that simply roll three different scenes from the book into one, case in point – the classroom fire scene.

This scene combined three classroom scenes from the book, firstly, when Mia and Ralf accuse Lissa of killing the fox and Christian sets Ralf on fire, secondly, where Rose and Lissa are passing notes to each other and are caught by the teacher, Mr. Nagy who reads it out aloud, and finally, another when the rumours start spreading about Rose in class and the someone shouts out “Rose, I bleed for you,” which is also included in the film! While we would have liked more classroom scenes than we got, it is understandable that the included all three scenes in one because of time constraints.

There are also some minor changes, such as the use of British accents amongst the royal Moroi and of course the fact that Sami Gayle’s Mia is devoid of her curls, but these are little things and don’t change character personalities or the story. It can be hard for purists, but if you can let go of these small details and appreciate the true personalities of the character and the spirit of the story that is capture in the film, you will really enjoy the experience.

However, there are some scenes amiss that I would have really liked to see and these would have helped develop some characters more as well as explained things without the use of too much exposition in dialogue and voice-over (and while I can listen to Rose talk all the time, others aren’t too impressed by such things). A classroom scene with Guardian Stan could have helped explain the three classes of vampires (with the animation included from the music video) and the need for the Dhampirs to protect the Moroi. Some more scenes with Mason (which could have showcased his humour and interactions with Rose) and with Dimitri (to develop his relationship with Rose further, such as actually reprimanding her for being with Jesse) could have helped the script as well.

So, are those harsh reviews valid?

No. Fans of the book series know that the first book, on which the film is based, is not as good as the rest of the series and is full of high school drama and cheesy lines that are now quoted with cult like fervour (but which were missing in the film). They all know that the best parts with all the serious stuff and the darkness start from the second book onwards. Even if you haven’t read the books and watch this film, there is a huge possibility that you will enjoy it, especially if you don’t go in expecting too much out of it. It’s a fun film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and if you can give in for those 104 minutes, you are guaranteed to be entertained.

The film isn’t without its flaws and does fall short in its pacing, scene transitioning and editing. It has been speculated that the Studio (The Weinstein Company) cut out scenes to shorten the length of the film and one wonders that those scenes could have helped the film flow smoothly and in turn the film would have avoided such harsh critical scrutiny. For instance, the film had some great action scenes but there was not enough build up of tension leading to those scenes. Further, the arrival of the Queen was done very randomly and some scenes jumped in and out, almost out of sequence and such things can make non-book readers very confused.

Daniel Waters has adapted the book cleverly with his dark humour and Mark Waters brought out some great performances from the young cast of the film. However, the books (and any future films based on them) get progressively darker and while Mark Waters’ adaptation of the first one just about works with his mainstream vision, it might not be the case when it comes to the more serious films and perhaps a change in the creative team can help give the future films a bit more seriousness that comes with the future books. For this film, however, the team works, and while some scenes could have been added to help make the film flow smoothly, it is in no way a poor film.

From most of the reviews, it seems that critics didn’t even TRY to understand what was happening and most certainly walked in “knowing” they will dislike it – although from some reviews it’s hard to make out whether they wrote the piece after watching the trailer or the movie because they have no idea what the film is about. Further, it doesn’t do any good that they try and compare it to previous works just because it is a fantasy film catering to younger women.

Why the film failed to get the numbers?

As is widely known, the film didn’t generate enough in ticket sales this past weekend in North America. If anything – or anyone – is to be blamed, it is the marketing of this film. For months, the trailers have passed it off as a Mean Girls-esque comedy and they couldn’t have been more misleading. The film is not Mean Girls 2.0 and while it retains its sarcastic humour from the book, it isn’t slapstick funny either.

Further, the neon green poster with the pink tagline that said “They Suck At School” was the worst idea ever. The film and the story is SO MUCH MORE than that stupid tagline which not only keep non-readers away but also alienated a huge percentage of the fanbase, most of whom will still not give it a chance. If only they could have marketed it with this absolutely EPIC music video featuring CHVRCHES’ cover of Bela Lugosi’s Dead – again, something that most people have unnecessarily criticised. Covers are not meant to be copies of the original work and the CHVRCHES’ version retains the haunting spirit of the song while making it accessible to an entirely new generation.

Why you still need to see it

Vampires may not be your thing and their recent invasion may have made you weary, but if you want a night out to watch a fun film, then Vampire Academy is right up your alley. Many film-goers, both from within the target demographic and outside it have enjoyed the film, such as this person below –

If you are a fan of Young Adult books and films, then supporting them by watching the movies is very important because there are some excellent book series (Shatter Me? The Fifth Wave? Hush Hush? anyone?) out there that depend on the success of films like The Mortal Instruments and Vampire Academy to be made into films themselves. So do give it a chance. If the reviews and fan reactions make you weary, check out the review from Page to Premiere who specialise in book-to-film adaptations and despite the film’s flaws, enjoyed it.

Final Verdict

You may think that we may be biased (being a fansite and all that) but the fact is that the film is very enjoyable. Yes, it is not perfect and there are some flaws, but there are also some great performances and some fascinating sequences. Further, there is just something surreal and eerie about seeing these characters from our imaginations, brought to life with such precision.

A book and its film adaptation called “Vampire Academy” isn’t trying to be life-changing or a critical darling – you can’t go in expecting Shakespearian prose. What it is, is pure entertainment with some great messages of friendship, love and loyalty. So all you need to do is give this film a chance because the story gets so much better from the second one onwards and with all that character development yet to come, you don’t want to miss out on some excellent performances by this cast in future films. Oh and of course, Adrian Ivashkov only enters the scene in the second book (incentive for the book readers).

If you’ve seen the film, check out some BTS videos and interviews with the cast below (spoilers).

For more coverage on the film, click here!

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