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Will 'Divergent' Fail Because of 'The Hunger Games'?

By Julia Emmanuele, Hollywood Staff

Divergent fans only have to wait a month longer before the film hits theaters, but the creative team has decided to give them something to help tide them over. A new trailer was unveiled by stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James on Monday's Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and it gives the world a better look at the film's dystopian world and the tests and challenges, both real and simulated that Tris will have to endure to survive. Divergent takes place in a dystopian future where the population has been divided into five different factions based on their personality traits. When citizens turn 16, they are forced to undergo a test that will determine where they belong in society, but Tris discovers she is Divergent - meaning she shows equal aptitude for multiple skills and traits - a secret that could mean death if it were to be discovered. However, it might be the only thing she has to protect herself and the people she loves against an uprising that threatens to destroy the whole society.

Watching the teaser, it's hard not to compare Divergent to the big YA film and novel phenomenon of the moment, The Hunger Games. Both feature a dystopian future where the population has been divided into separate groups, teenagers are forced to endure terrifying, life-threatening tasks in order to survive, and are the first part of a trilogy in which a seemingly-normal girl becomes aware that she is different from everyone else, and becomes part of a revolution to overthrow a corrupt and oppressive government and restore peace to a damaged society. Of course, as any dedicated fan of either series will tell you. there are several crucial differences in the character development and world building that make each franchise unique, but the trailers for Divergent seem to be focusing less on what separates it from The Hunger Games, and more on the elements that the two have in common.

The Hunger Games is currently the biggest teen-targeted film franchise, and being the primary YA dystopian series out at the moment could make things difficult for Divergent to establish itself as a film worth seeing. Currently, films that have been adapted from popular YA novels and series have been having a difficult time at the box office, with The Mortal Instruments doing poorly enough to delay a sequel green light, and Beautiful Creatures and The Host both failing to drum up any critical or commercial success, despite the popularity of their source material and the previous success of supernatural teen films. Part of their failures could be attributed to the end of the Twilight phenomenon, which ushered in a wave of YA novels and films involving supernatural characters and romances, and with The Hunger Games officially the premiere series, Divergent couldn't have picked a better release date. However, with two major dystopian franchises hitting theaters within months of each other, there's a good chance that the Hunger Games shadow could be Divergent's downfall.

For moviegoers who haven't read the novels, the plot of The Hunger Games is easier to latch onto than that of Divergent, which involves multiple factions of society, tests, initiations and conspiracies on top of conspiracies. Obviously, its difficult to express all of the nuances of the film's premise in the trailer, especially since the filmmakers want to avoid giving away any major spoilers, but even with the latest trailer detailing the factions and the threats that Tris faces because of her Divergence there's still a great deal that remains unclear and confusing to people who might not be familiar with the story. This confusion can either entice moviegoers who are curious about the story and want to know ore, or it can turn them off, as they may find it to be too difficult to connect with or grasp even the most basic elements of the plot. Even when they're actually watching the film, the story has so many elements and characters that a casual audience might find it difficult to follow along, which makes for a less-enjoyable experience, and could hurt the series in the long run, since that would mean those people are less likely to check out Divergent's two sequels when they arrive.

Then, there's the issue of the protagonists: both Katniss and Tris are normal girls, who discover some innate characteristic or ability that makes the government wary of them, and results in them leading a revolution. Since the novel was released, Tris has been compared to Katniss over and over again, and the trailer doesn't do much to discourage that idea. They're both brave and highly skilled, able to intimidate their fellow tributes or faction initiates as well as the government officials who wish to control them. The problem is that there's nothing revealed in the trailer to set Tris apart form Katniss, and highlighting only the things that make them alike could give audiences the impression that Divergent isn't offering anything new. Protagonists are such a key part of the success of any series that the entire film can live or die on their performance, and if Tris just comes across as Katniss 2.0, then there's nothing to help hook moviegoers and entice them to come see Divergent.

However, all of these similarities might not turn out to be a bad thing; in fact, they could help boost the film's profile and help it become a hit. The Hunger Games have proven that dystopian literature and films are having a moment right now, and so that popularity may benefit Divergent, by enticing moviegoers who are looking for more apocalypses and corrupt societies onscreen. With the first installment of Mockingjay not hitting theaters until November, fans who are looking for something to fill the void may flock to Divergent in the meantime. Similarly, causal moviegoers who enjoyed the Hunger Games might be won over by Divergent, and may only become interested in the film because of the ways Tris' world is reminiscent of Katniss'. The constant comparisons between the two franchises might just be what Divergent needs to stand out.

The other thing that will help Divergent differentiate itself from The Hunger Games and all of the other YA films? Tris' romance with Four. Hunger Games fans have long endured debates about whether Katniss should choose Peeta or Gale, and how important her love life is to the overall story, but Divergent cuts through all of that by establishing the relationship between Tris and Four early in the series, avoiding adding another possible suitor for her, and allowing romance to be an important part of the story, which will help the film not only establish itself as unique, but will help entice moviegoers who want their dystopian futures to have love stories in them. The lack of a love triangle will also likely appeal to fans of YA literature or films who are sick of romantic entanglements stealing attention away from the actual plot. In Divergent, the romance is part of the revolution, rather than a subplot added on for additional drama, which makes Divergent unique from all of the other sci-fi and fantasy teen films that have been released recently.

There's no doubt that Divergent's hardcore fanbase will help draw a great deal of attention to the film, and its possible that their devotion could work in much the same way as Twilight and the Hunger Games fandoms' did and earn the series attention from people who haven't yet read the books or even heard of the series before now. But since we know that the fans will be there on opening night, the film's true success will come from its ability to entice a new audience, one who is not familiar with the books, but is interested in seeing the film anyway, and the constant Hunger Games comparisons could either turn moviegoers off by giving them the impression that it's something they've already seen, or it could entice fans of that franchise to come check it out, only to win them over with all of the ways the two are different.

Divergent arrives in theaters on March 21.

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