Adaptation Fixation: YA Edition

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 Vamp Academy Pic 1

In a post Harry Potter world, in a post Twilight universe, there’s no denying the power the Young Adult (YA) novel has had on modern moviemaking. They command huge box office and attract a frenzied fan base that has seen studios rushing any semi-decent selling YA series into pre-production. The potential for a safe franchise has led them to rival comic book movies in recent years as the go-to tent pole film. In a five part series we take a look at several YA properties heading for the big screen and consider their prospects. This is Adaptation Fixation – YA Edition.

Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters

WTF is it?

Outside of The Twilight Saga, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series is the second bestest selling YA set of novels featuring vampires. From the get-go there have been plans to adapt the six novels into at least one film – the sales were enough of an incentive, but add to that the dedicated fanbase and opportunity for a franchise and you have studio heads rubbing their hands together with glee.

Vampire Academy (and its spin off series Blood Lines) is Mead’s only YA series, which is perhaps why it works so well. Her other novels are adult supernatural fiction: one creatively told from a female antagonist’s perspective (a succubus) and the other set between multiple worlds and featuring kinky bondage (before 50 Shades Of Gray ruined it for the rest of us). Some of the more grown-up themes have spilled over into the YA work making Vampire Academy more mature and – from a teenage perspective – more realistic than a lot of other novels. There’s swearing (lots of it), sex, nudity, alcohol and drug use – plus a dash of violence for good measure. This is by far the edgiest of the YA adaptations being brought to the big screen.

The tale

Excluding the Hogwarts-esque title, the world of Vampire Academy is a complex one with history and hierarchy, so lets break it down like this.

Dhampirs – half-human, half-vampire beings that are usually destined to be Guardians. They eat normal human food i.e. fries as opposed to lives.

Moroi – considered the pure-bloods of the universe, the Moroi are the top tier of the social and literal hierarchy. Many are royalty, having descended from a handful of families with a noble bloodline. They survive off human food and humans – although they don’t kill them. They probably only need a mouthful of blood every now and then to stay chipper. Their teeth inject a venom into the skin of their victims that acts like a narcotic, lulling them into a druggy state of pleasure so mortals are totes cool with the blood draining thing. Blood < salvia heroine. Moroi are also sensitive to sunlight. Note: sensitive, not instantly flammable.

Strigoi – the villains of the piece. These were once normal peeps turned into bad, soulless creatures that kill humans to survive. What’s their food of choice? Moroi. They’re faster and stronger than the royal vampire line and their constant attacks see the rest of the vampire world living in fear (and hiding) as their numbers dwindle. Note: quite flammable to sunlight.

Guardians – with all of the Moroi’s strengths and none of their weaknesses, Guardians are dhampirs who dedicate their lives to protecting Moroi and killing Strigoi. Considered a noble yet deadly profession, think of the Guardians as a cross between bodyguards and Samurai. Note: normal reactions to sunscreen, 30+ required.

The actual plot centres on dhampir Rose and her best friend Moroi princess Lissa, both around the 16 to 17-year-old mark. The girls have been living in the human world for the past year after running away from Vampire Academy due to an ambiguous threat to Lissa’s safety. Naturally they’re caught and dragged back kicking and screaming by a handful of Guardians led by the Russian and smokin’ Dimitri.

While Lissa is welcomed back into the fold with open arms – she’s royal and an orphan, so massive guilt points – the rebellious and smart-mouthed Rose is only allowed back on probation if she begins intense bodyguard training with Dimitri (because she’s destined to be Lissa’s Guardian). Yet the girls are more than just friends – they have a supernatural connection where they can share emotions, visions and occasionally thoughts. But as Dimitri begins to take the jailbait in Rose, the danger the BFFs originally fled circles closer and closer. Cue: betrayal, high stakes and a smattering of gore. 

The players

The Waters Brothers (you know, those less significant ‘W’ brothers in Hollywood) are the fellows tasked with launching the franchise. Mark Waters is best known as directing teen classic Mean Girls. His bro Daniel, coincidentally, is known for writing a teen classic: Heathers. Besides those two very well known and very well liked features, neither of the Water Bros have produced anything else of significant merit – which is a worry for this project. While Mark may bring the Mean Girls sheen to it and Daniel the dark wit of Heathers, the question is whether they can combine their powers for a big budget, high concept franchise starter.

The cast

Zoey Deutch

Zoey Deutch has been cast as the saucy, smart-ass Rose – the pivotal character. For the 10 people who watched Sarah Michelle Gellar’s short-lived noir TV series Ringer *raises hand* they will recognise her as Juliet Martin. She showed a decent range and plenty of potential, which was reaffirmed in a small but memorable part as a bitchy Christian fundamentalist in another YA adaptation; Beautiful Creatures. More Buffy than Katniss, Rose could be her breakout performance.

Lucy Fry is Lissa and this is her only major credit besides an amazingly atrocious looking series called Lightning Point which is about ALIEN teenage girls who come to Earth so they can go SURFING. Because of course they would. Watch the series trailer here for added LOLs:www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-w7X2NWa1o

Danila Kozlovskiy is the pivotal love interest, Dimitri. His credits include looking pretty, looking shirtless, demonstrating enviable bone structure, and looking pretty. In a few photos his hair is the same length as the character’s so . . . there’s that. Bonus points for already being Russian. Also, Danila is a name that seems like his parents wanted to call him Vanilla but couldn’t quite commit.

Performance wise the whole film – and following films – comes down to this trio of performers, two who have very little experience and exhibited very little talent. That’s not to say they don’t have any but, come on, did you see that Lightning Beach trailer?!  

Recommendations

There are two other important roles that haven’t been cast yet – Christian and Adrian – both men and both central to the VampireAcademy story. Here are our recommendations:

Kyle Gallner for Christian

Boyfriend can act and, despite being 26, he’s got that Andrew Garfield thing going on where he could comfortably play a teenager and look the part. The role of Christian is almost that of an anti-hero and would call for someone who can balance that mix of danger, darkness and *sigh* vulnerability. For anyone familiar with his breakout turn on Veronica Mars, you know Gallner can bring the heavy. Dye his hair black, throw in a Prodigy t-shirt and you have the fire starter, literally, in Christian.

Dave Franco for Adrian

Although he only has a passing role in the first book/film, Adrian becomes one of the most crucial (and entertaining) characters in subsequent stories, continuing into the spin-off series. Described as a Chuck Bass type, he’s a charming womanizer from a famous royal family. He’s also battling a crippling yet powerful supernatural ability and resisting his destiny to be something ‘more’. Older than the teen characters (around Dimitri’s age, early twenties), Franco has the ideal natural charisma to balance Adrian’s appeal and slightly unhinged nature. Vampire Academy is in desperate need of some star power, which Franco has a touch of. Also, the HAIR.

Vamp Academy pic 3

Why it could work

One word: Rose. The protagonist that ties everything together is easily one of the most interesting YA heroines in recent years. Why? She’s flawed with a capital F. She fucks up royally and often, but it’s how she overcomes and addresses these mistakes that makes her so interesting. Mead writes great female characters and in Rose we have someone with the attitude of Faith and the heart of Buffy. Deutch has been impressive so far and if she can translate Rose’s charisma to the big screen then a lot of the hard work is done.

Also, Mead’s mythology is tits. The hierarchy of the dhamphir and Moroi world is more complex and detailed than many YA competitors. She has drawn heavily on Romanian and Russian ancient history to create a genuinely interesting world that’s already being imitated by other authors.

Why it could fail

The setting of the Academy could be seen as very Hogwarts, which it is, but really it’s only the background for the first book before the saga goes global and epic. The Waters Bros concern me. Mark couldn’t make The Spiderwick Chronicles click: another big budget wannabe franchise based on a popular book. Mainly my fear is related to their past history bringing bitchy teenage girls to the big screen. There is some trivial, catty bullshit in the first book that is a fleeting subplot yet – if they make it the focus – could be seen by the studio as a way to draw in viewers. I can just see the poster quote now: “It’s Mean Girls meets Buffy!” Shudder. Vampire Academy is darker, more Gothic. The inexperienced cast could also be a concern – Fry and Kozlovskiy are pretty faces, but can they bring more to the roles than empty good-lookingness?

Perhaps most worrisome is if they try to tone down the books. Unlike a lot of other YA novels VampireAcademy is more hardcore. The studio won’t want this rated over a PG-13 otherwise it will ostracise their target market. Yet toning down the themes will take out much of the bite and make this just another teen-centric supernatural story.

What we hope they include

Vamp Academy Pic 4

The ink man, the ink! One of the most bad ass elements of the story is the Guardians tradition of tattooing their warriors for every Strigoi they kill in battle. The tatts begin at the top of the neck and travel down the spine – one for each slay – and are displayed openly as a mark of an honourable warrior. It looks like an X symbol made with jagged lines. There’s also a specific symbol for taking down multiple enemies in battle.

Prospects?

The potential is there and hey, if they could turn the beige Beautiful Creatures book into an interesting film then by rights they should be able to turn a considerably better book in to a really good film, right? Right? Erm, in reality this could be The Hunger Games good or The Golden Compass bad. There’s no middle ground. It’s going to soar or crash harder than Lindsay Lohan after a bender. As a fan of Mead and her ability to create engaging characters I hope for the former.

Maria Lewis - follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz

Release date: Valentine’s Day, 2014