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Divergent Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Divergent (2014) movie poster Divergent

Theatrical Release: March 21, 2014 / Running Time: 140 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Neil Burger / Writers: Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor (screenplay); Veronica Roth (novel)

Cast: Shailene Woodley (Beatrice "Tris" Prior), Theo James (Tobias "Four" Eaton), Ashley Judd (Natalie Prior), Jai Courtney (Eric), Ray Stevenson (Marcus Eaton), Zoë Kravitz (Christina), Miles Teller (Peter), Tony Goldwyn (Andrew Prior), Ansel Elgort (Caleb Prior), Maggie Q (Tori), Mekhi Phifer (Max), Kate Winslet (Jeanine Matthews), Ben Lloyd-Hughes (Will), Christian Madsen (Al), Amy Newbold (Molly Atwood), Ben Lamb (Edward)

Buy Divergent from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo • DVD • Instant Video

Two years since The Hunger Games opened in theaters, we've gotten one sequel with two more to follow and two essentially direct-to-video spoofs with parody titles.
We get the first unmistakable Hunger Games copycat in Divergent. Divergent hails from Summit Entertainment, which was bought by Hunger Games distributor Lionsgate in early 2012. The use of a late March theatrical opening and August home video release virtually identical to the original Hunger Games are no coincidence, for Lionsgate/Summit would love to have two blockbusters a year, this one keeping its distance from the pre-Thanksgiving debuts the remaining Hunger Games sequels have claimed.

Before it arrived, Hunger Games was foreseen as "the next Twilight", which itself was considered a successor to the Harry Potter franchise it overlapped. The similarities between Divergent and Hunger Games go beyond a common source (a trilogy of recent young adult novels) and audience (teenagers, especially girls). The two franchises center on a teenaged female protagonist who must prove herself against deadly odds in a dystopian, totalitarian future.

Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) faces her fears in "Divergent."

In Divergent's future, the people of Chicago are divided into five "factions" by which they live and dress. Children are raised in the faction of their parents, but when they turn 16, they take an aptitude test to discover which group they're best suited for, before making their own decision. Though she's born into an Abnegation home, selflessness doesn't come naturally for Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley). Her aptitude test reveals that Abnegation and the other four factions all incorporate aspects of her personality. Beatrice is the rare outlier for whom the test is inconclusive, an outcome that is feared by all and often leads to a mysterious end. Knowing the dangers of such a result, Beatrice's proctor (Maggie Q) fudges her result and warns her to keep it secret.

Beatrice decides to shun the tradition of her parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) and the faked result of her aptitude test and follow her heart. She chooses Dauntless, the brave, adventurous warriors assigned to protect the city. This black-clad group's way of life is a far cry from the peaceful norms of her gray-toned upbringing. Renaming herself "Tris", Beatrice has to climb up to elevated train tracks, jump on a moving train, leap off it to a rooftop several feet away, and then plunge blindly into an unseen net within the wreckage of a building many stories tall. And that's just to get to the Dauntless headquarters, a place of communal co-ed dorms and stall-free toilets.

Tris and her new friends, including brutally honest Candor child Christina (Zoë Kravitz), are immediately put to the test by their instructors, the cold "Four" (Theo James) and the even colder Eric (Jai Courtney). The initiates fight each other until surrender and are thrown into a virtual reality scenario pitting them against their fears. The lowest-ranked initiates will be cut from the program, unable to return home and left to join the homeless, factionless derelict population.

Meanwhile, the intelligent faction Erudite (led by Kate Winslet's Jeanine Matthews) is looking to assume governing power from Abnegation, creating some rivalry and hostility between the two factions and their dissimilar inhabitants.

Four (Theo James) administers multiple challenges to understand Tris' unique gifts. Pierced instructor Eric (Jai Courtney) pushes Dauntless initiates to their limits.

Narratively, visually, and thematically,
Divergent closely resembles The Hunger Games, but it's not nearly as rich and rewarding as that survival franchise. In execution, Divergent lands around the original Twilight, inviting similar ridicule but to a lesser degree, its sci-fi framework not striking one as outlandish as Stephenie Meyer's vampire-werewolf-girl love triangle.

Divergent feels highly derivative. The first book was published 2½ years after Suzanne Collins' initial Hunger Games novel. While I can't speak to the similarities on page, they are obvious onscreen. Divergent always feels like a second- or third-rate Hunger Games knockoff.

The talent that Divergent assembles on both sides of the camera is no match for Hunger's riches. Director Neil Burger is best known for a pair of overrated mystery thrillers, The Illusionist and Limitless. His two screenwriters have even less proven track records; Vanessa Taylor comes primarily from television (most recently, "Game of Thrones"), while Evan Daugherty's few film credits include Snow White and the Huntsman and last year's scarcely-seen John Travolta vs. Robert De Niro mano a mano woods flick Killing Season. Divergent seems like a big opportunity for all three of these individuals to advance their careers and make names for themselves. But it's not to be, as the movie's long-winded establishing act gives way to mushy romance and shockingly unremarkable, unimaginative action.

A sturdy foundation and compelling universe are essential to us caring about Katniss Everdeen. Though ample time goes into establishing characters and rules here, they don't ultimately lead anywhere stimulating or exciting. Woodley probably narrowly missed out on a supporting actress Oscar nomination for The Descendants and earned good marks for The Spectacular Now, but she hasn't come nearly as far from her breakout gig (ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager") as Jennifer Lawrence has evidently come from her own cable TV series ("The Bill Engvall Show"). At times, Divergent feels like it could be the most expensive ABC Family production to date. The movie's visual effects and production design make for interesting locales and images. But they can't elevate the foreground material, which is just plain corny most of the time.

Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) isn't as tolerant as she pretends to be. Tris (Shailene Woodley) volunteers... to be the first Dauntless initiate to make a big jump on blind faith.

While Divergent failed to reach the lofty heights of Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter, it still proved a success at the box office, easily avoiding classification among the plentiful YA flops of recent years. Grossing $151 million domestically and another $124 M from foreign territories, the film is well on its way to profitability and thus the sequels scheduled for the next three Marches (including the questionable but now standard two-film finale) seem like a solid, if not quite surefire, game plan for Lionsgate/Summit as they map out a future beyond the conclusion of North America's biggest active single-series franchise.

Burger is moving on, to be replaced at least on 2015's The Divergent Series: Insurgent by Robert Schwenke (Flightplan, Red, The Time Traveler's Wife, and R.I.P.D.), while the cast would be foolish to pull a Rachelle Lefevre and not stay put for healthy paydays

Four and a half months after starting its theatrical run, Divergent hit stores yesterday -- Lionsgate forgoing the midnight fanfare of their Saturday Twilight and Hunger Games debuts -- in a DVD + Digital edition and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

Divergent Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: August 5, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.95 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Divergent looks very sharp on Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 picture is as detailed and immaculate as it should be on a new film this big. While the visual effects can sometimes be lacking, the images holding them remain strong throughout.

Even better is the 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack. This terrific, enveloping mix sees effects consistently emanating from all directions. Dialogue doesn't have to fight to be heard over score and ambient noises. The Blu-ray kindly even supplies an alternate Dolby 2.0 Surround track that is "optimized for late night viewing."

Theo James endures his physical training in a gray hooded sweatshirt. "Bringing 'Divergent' to Life" extends all the way to the film's LA premiere, whose red carpet Kate Winslet and author Veronica Roth walk together.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Divergent's Blu-ray bonus features begin with two audio commentaries. The first is a solo track from director Neil Burger. He explains the considerable thought into bringing the post-apocalyptic world of Veronica Roth's novels to life. He speaks without lull in reference to filming locations, actors, visual effects,
sets, stunts, and changes from the book.

The second commentary is supplied by producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher. Their less passionate, narrower screen-specific remarks on topics like craft services and air conditioning are separated by long gaps of quiet. This may strictly be for the diehard Divergent fans.

On the video side, where everything on the Blu-ray is encoded in HD, we begin with "Bringing Divergent to Life" (47:17), a thorough making-of documentary. It covers all the bases in a complete and logical fashion in the following four parts. "A Bold Beginning" (6:54) tackles the project's origins in print and casting. "Becoming Divergent" (6:26) looks at the cast's physical training boot camp and filming in Chicago. "The Epic Experience" (25:20) documents the fights and stunts, from the building jump to train hop. "A Fearless Finish" (8:36) touches on locations and digital effects all the way through the recording of the score and the film's premiere. All films should be so lucky to receive such a comprehensive companion.

"Faction Before Blood" (14:51) delves more deeply into the book and film's premises and ideas, with author Veronica Roth and a host of cast and crew contemplating this future and considering what faction they'd be best suited for.

Four (Theo James) stands up to Peter (Miles Teller) in this deleted target practice scene. Ellie Goulding sports Tris' bird tattoo in her foggy "Beating Heart" music video.

Four deleted scenes (4:27) preserve short cut bits, involving target practice, encouragement, and a nighttime scare. Nothing game-changing is encountered here.

A music video for Ellie Goulding's "Beating Heart" (3:48) boasts high production values. It makes use of some film clips, but relies more heavily on original footage of the blonde British synthpop singer exploring the foggy woods of a fear landscape.

A viewer-navigated marketing gallery preserves Divergent character posters. Tris does a little crowd surfing on the Divergent DVD's main menu.

A marketing section kindly includes two Divergent theatrical trailers (2:33 & 2:31) plus a quickly-navigated poster gallery displaying 11 designs across seven pages.

"Also from Lionsgate" simply repeats all the promotions with which the disc opened: a teaser for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, followed by full trailers for The Spectacular Now, Fox's The Fault in Our Stars (a move sure to be reciprocated),
and the certain to fail Step Up: All In plus a promo for the official Divergent iPad app.

The combo pack's second disc, the same DVD sold on its own, includes most of the same bonus features: the two audio commentaries, the deleted scenes, the music video, and the marketing. It omits the documentary and featurette, losing arguably the most interesting hour of extras. Its previews include one for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

The busy menu impresses with its many layers of clips and faction icons. The Blu-ray lets you set bookmarks and also allows you the opportunity to resume playback.

A final treat is found inside the slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase: a sheet of six temporary tattoos (seven if you include the title logo) allows you to adorn your skin with Tris' birds and the faction icons. A second insert supplies directions and a redemption code for the Digital HD UltraViolet included with your purchase while advertising the book series on back.

Ordinarily restricted by Abnegation's vanity limitations, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) takes a good long look at herself in an infinite mirror as part of her aptitude test.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Divergent bears too much resemblance too soon to be judged without comparison to The Hunger Games. This post-apocalyptic franchise-launcher pales to the Jennifer Lawrence series in seemingly every way, its more preposterous totalitarian setting used for unengaging action and mushy romance. There's more to appreciate here than in a number of lesser YA adaptations, but not enough to justify the long runtime or to hold much promise for the series' future.

Summit's Blu-ray combo pack offers a high quality feature presentation and a good collection of extras highlighted by the nearly hour-long making-of documentary. Should you like the film and not be compelled to scout out retailer exclusives, you're likely to find this release perfectly satisfactory.

Buy Divergent from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Shailene Woodley: The Descendants | Theo James: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Kate Winslet: Labor Day • Contagion | Ashley Judd: Dolphin Tale • Olympus Has Fallen
Jai Courtney: A Good Day to Die Hard • Jack Reacher • Spartacus: Blood and Sand | Zoe Kravitz: X-Men: First Class • After Earth
The Hunger Games • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire • The Twilight Saga: Eclipse • Beautiful Creatures
Written by Evan Daugherty: Killing Season

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Reviewed August 7, 2014.



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