04 April 2014

'Vampire Academy' First Impressions


I need a orange Fanta and Spanish sangria cocktail. STAT.

Zombies are all the craze lately. The Walking Dead is apparently the best thing since sliced bread. Like the Attack on Titan phenomenon, I don't get it. Cliches have rained perpetually on the zombie apocalypse genre. I don't see any fun in the stories, films, and games that featured this theme of survival over and over again with no resolution in sight. Not to mention I never cared about the drama between so many morons and assholes.

Ok. This is one of the few exceptions.
Before anyone starts throwing razorblades at me, let me say that even vampire fiction is just as ridden with stupidity, cliches, and cheese. Nowadays vampires are Byronic brooders who hate their existence and want to bang hot chicks because they're "special" for some reason that smells of plot convenience. Some fiction is outright sexist to female readers; some stories are sleazy and pointless. Others contain enough angst to make Linkin Park's "Crawling" sound like Katy Perry's "California Gurls" or make Sasuke Uchiha look like Princess Unikitty. Yet, for some reason, I love vampires in the same way someone loves werewolves or zombies. Coolness is a major factor, what they represent is another.

I can let some interpretations of vampires slide. If they spontaneously combust in the sun, that's fine. They are creatures of the night who fell from grace and gave up their humanity to the extent they cannot redeem themselves. If they can walk in the sun no problem, vampires become a predator that may be harder to detect. Anyone can be an undead if they can blend into society well enough. If vampires have super powers, that's fine. They are superior to us in many respects - at the cost of what makes them truly human. I can go on with this for a while.

Despite my willingness to be laid back, something comes around to test my patience. I kinda outgrew my interest in the young adult genre of books due to this problem. But going on too long about that would be a whole other post. To put it simply, I found many of the stories immensely anticlimactic, drawn-out, and shallow. Twilight is an example all to itself. Kelley Armstrong's The Darkest Powers series was another. With two disappointments, I was hesitant to read the Vampire Academy due to my PTSD. Thankfully, I enjoyed the books throughout high school with few complaints.

Don't get me wrong, the series is pretty unimpressive objectively next to other vampire fiction, but I appreciated the effort and content Richelle Mead put into the world. A good chunk of the first three books have high school crap ensuing, but politics and conflict still stir in the background.

The illusion of peace the moroi - aka the "soulful" vampires for the sake of simplicity - cling to is failing. Despite having their own powers to defend themselves, they rely so much on dhampirs - half-human and half-moroi, or half-dhampir and half-moroi - as bodyguards to the point that the dhampir population is on a sharp decline. The wealthier vampires see no issue of changing their ways - mainly because they have enough influence that they can afford protection. Some of the students at St. Vladmir's Academy have seen the world beyond their secure bubble and realized how dangerous and cunning the strigoi - aka the "soulless" vampires - are. That motivates dhampir Rose Hathaway and her moroi friends to improve on self-defense and help their society before the system collapses.

The descriptions of the social dynamics between dhampirs and moroi in a way remind me of the world building of Mass Effect. You learn of the general expectations of individuals from each group to have cultural context for the conflicts that arise. At the same time you find outliers and outcasts painted in a respectful light. Most dhampir guardians are males; many females tend to get taken advantage of by moroi men or are single mothers raising their dhampir sons. In the story Rose meets a male dhampir who prefers working at a spa and be with his moroi mistress than fight. And some dhampir mothers, used as one night stands by moroi men, are just as tough and honorable as a guardian, despite their disgraced reputations. Even the moroi, while most prefer to hide from strigoi, have some individuals who'd rather fight alongside their guardians to protect themselves.

Unfortunately, as this is YA, it does take three or four books to get the non-high school nonsense done and over with. But along the way some social prejudice arises and some students question the effectiveness of the material they learn in school. Book five really gets deep into this meat and it's easily one of my favorites in the series. Overall, the books did not always highlight on needless drama and high school slut-shaming. Plus the romance between Rose and Dimitri actually has a better foundation of mutual attraction than I ever expected in a YA novel.

Sadly, the commercials don't want to capitalize the strengths of the story. Because Hollywood loves missing the point, all in the name of making a profit.

It's still a first impression, judge-a-book-by-its-cover opinion, but this movie does not bring me joy. I'm not sure if I'm happy or disappointed that I missed the showings. Its limited time in theaters and the overwhelmingly negative reviews tell me I should be grateful. On the other hand, I was one of the few people who begged for an adaptation. What I should have done was ask for a TV series, not a film. The Vampire Diaries had this treatment and it's doing well, so why couldn't Vampire Academy? At least the story could play out reasonably without cherry-picking what to keep in and what to replace with popcorn filler for the bored average movie-goers.

This is missing a night-time filter and the CW's cheese.
The director behind this film adaptation also did Mean Girls. I'm worried. I did enjoy Mean Girls for showing teenage girls at their worst while still maintaining and providing bits of decent comedy. It did work well. But this was never Vampire Academy's goal, despite the trailers hinting otherwise. Sure, Rose was snarky, but that's not her main character trait. It doesn't help that the actors look like plastic mannequins. Lissa in particular.

In the books Lissa is a thin, blonde beauty who was popular but genuine and kind. She loves animals and has a strong desire to heal the injured, which happens to be her ability. She's charismatic and loved by many, but her kindness allows her to pacify Rose's snarkiness and short temper. At the same time she's insecure, having to live to accept responsibilities she does not feel ready to handle. With a character description like this, I almost expected her to have somewhat soft or cute features. Or looking more like Daenerys in Game of Thrones, not a popular girl who got plastic surgery.

I know I sound petty about this, but if a male actor was picked for the sake of looks and did nothing for the character, I'd lash out too. Nothing against Lucy Fry as an actress, but the make-up crew made her look like the poster example of a prom queen. She's "stunning" in an uncanny, bizarre way like a porcelain doll of a supermodel. But considering how awful and hilariously cheap the fangs look on every vampire, I'll just say the production of this movie is at fault, not so much the actors and actresses.

M-Mia? Oh, superior being(s), what did they do to you?!
This movie looks cheap. Cheaper than Twilight. Cheaper than The Host. It's bad enough that Hollywood wants to milk the YA genre dry, but it looks like no one seems to care. The peak of Vampire Academy's popularity has moved on by this point and this does not look like something the fans can look fondly upon. The actors look like adults rather than teenagers, the costumes look like flimsy Target-branded clothes, and the sets look campy. I can't question too much of the script, though my hopes are gone, given the marketing angle. And I don't want to think how they handled Dimitri. Some people have said Danila Kozlovsky's Russian accent is too strong and his performance is just awful. Next you'll tell me Christian fits the description of emo kid like bread on butter.

I have a feeling my problems with this movie will focus far more on its script and focus rather than the vampire lore Richelle Mead created. I really, really doubt this will justly stay in the spirit of the books. That depresses me tremendously. By this point I shouldn't be disappointed. Nothing can light a candle to the care and love in making the Harry Potter films. Look at how Narnia and the Percy Jackson films turned out when they banked on its popularity. Having any hope for a decent film adaptation is a joke by this point, especially if the creators picked this up for the sake of milking the questionable quality of the YA genre. And especially if the project lost its appeal a long time ago.

I don't want to know what could be the next target of this late-to-the-show trend in adapting to the film medium. Look, it'll be a video game or -


Damn it. Hit me some krogan liquor.


Voltech said...

I'm not a hundred percent sure what this "Princess Unikitty" is supposed to be, but I've already imagined a unicorn crossed with a cat vis a vis some unholy union via the black arts, so let's go with that for expediency's sake.

In a perfect world, I'd like to think that creators all across the board would look around collectively say "Yeah...vampires? Maybe we should take a break from them for a little while, guys." I know that's not going to happen -- it hasn't with zombies yet -- but it'd at least be a good chance for everyone to come back to it with some fresh ideas. Or if not that, then do the smart thing and make them like Castlevania's version(s) of Dracula. Anyone who gives their bloodsuckers a triple fireball deserves ALL OF THE MONEY.

But back on topic. I guess that's kind of a pratfall when it comes to adaptions, isn't it? You might have interpreted the characters' looks one way -- viably, no doubt -- but someone else might have a different opinion in mind. Or, like you said, it's all about missing the point; the bigwigs put out what they think people like (or better yet, what they think people think they like) and risk hurting the name as a result. I can only wonder how much creative input Mead had in the proceedings; my guess is that some suggestions got vetoed. Hopefully not the ones that mattered most.

Also? I should NOT have clicked on that "popular girl" link. Lion freakazoid face? Maximum NOPE.

In any case, I'm hoping that the Vampire Academy movie isn't too painful. Maybe it'll actually be good, even if there were some creative liberties taken. Or maybe it'll just prove that it was just willing to take an innocent and airtight product in the first place and bank on name recognition to build a franchise, only to build a proverbial war chest for a second movie when they would know that people would actually show up for real and they could actually start putting in effort. Or...less effort.

I'm leaning toward the former possibility. I am an optimist, after all.

Melanie~Light said...

GASP! Y-You haven't seen the Lego Movie? Aw, darn. Princess Unikitty is so adorable and funny. A bit wonky in the head sometimes ala beating the crap out of the villains at the final confrontation, but she's so... precious. I hate characters that are pure high energy and unreasonably high positivity, but she was fun. That being said, the Lego Movie practically made fun of a ton of cliches and tropes in fiction while still being a good story.

Anyway. Lego Movie. Go see. NOW.

Your reaction to the popular girl link made me laugh way harder than I expected. Kinda like the "glorified Bella Swan with a penis" comment a while back. lol

But yeah, I kinda put myself in a position where anyone can easily call me "that one reader who just can't enjoy an okay movie without referencing the book!" So I guess Vampire Academy will disappoint me no matter what, especially having watched the trailers.

Still, I'll bite the bullet and watch the movie someday. I owe it to myself, especially since I followed a few groups on Facebook that demanded a film adaptation. Another instance of overhype harmed me, but that's why I keep expectations low. It's the best way for me to stay positive.

I truly envy optimists sometimes. But only if they have a realistic streak to them. Down to earth sometimes. Sane, y'know?

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