NYCC 2013 – ‘Vampire Academy’: Just Another High School Vampire Flick or More?
Vampires have become vogue for teenagers and young adults, seemingly since the release of the Twilight books. There were other books and films about vampires before that, but never before had young teenage girls been so enraptured with these creatures until Stephanie Meyer instilled a sense of romance in the previously terrifying monsters. Waiting in line for the panel first thing Friday morning at New York Comic Con, that is the impression I had about this film, as well. I had not read the book or even seen any clips from the film, but suddenly I was surrounded by teenage girls, squealing over simple posters and dressed in various styles of Gothic dress (this last piece even more amusing when realizing that the characters do not dress this way, but rather as normal teenagers). This was my first impression of Vampire Academy.
Ms. Wilkenson, editor of the MTV Hollywood Crush blog, was kind enough to offer a brief synopsis of the film for those of us unacquainted with this series: “It’s set in a world where there’s basically three types of vampires. There are the Moroi, who are the good vampires that we like to cheer for. There are Dhampirs, who are sort of these human-vampire hybrids – their job is to essentially protect the Moroi. They’re basically the bodyguards in this world. And then the final group are the Strigoi, and those are the ‘baddies.’ We don’t like them. They’re no good. So set in this world, we meet Rose. She is Dhampir and she is best friends with Lissa, who is a Moroi. She [Lissa] is the last of her royal line of vampires. It’s essentially Rose’s job to protect her best friend Lissa, and obviously they get into all kinds of hijinks. There are a lot of forces working against them and they share a special bond. We get to kind of see that bond grow and manifest throughout the series. And this being a Richelle Mead property, there’s lots of romance and action, and friendship at the heart of the series.”
Zoey Deutch (The Ringer, Beautiful Creatures) plays the part of Rose Hathaway, a novice Dhampir guardian. Lucy Fry (Mako Mermaids, Lightning Point) is the Moroi princess and Rose’s best friend, Lissa Dragomir. Zoey trained for three months to prepare physically for her part, a combination of gym training, fight training, and coordinating stunts. It was clear from the start of the panel that Zoey has taken on that protector role with Lucy, even behind the scenes of their film. The girls shared a story of how after auditioning, Lucy (who was sleeping on a friend’s couch in Los Angeles at the time) was planning on walking or taking the bus home. Zoey took one look at her future co-star’s blonde hair and blue eyes and insisted on driving her instead. “She was my guardian from the beginning,” Lucy responded, grinning. Daniel Waters (Heathers), who wrote the script for the film, said that these two actresses embodied their characters down to their very souls. A good sign for fans of the series, especially if this becomes the next big teen-vampire franchise.
Another plus for the film seems to be the actress Sami Gayle (Blue Bloods), who plays Mia Rinaldi, a rival Moroi within the school. Daniel Waters said they read over 400 girls before finding Sami, and that they loved what she brought to the character. This approach is evident in how Sami talks about the character of Mia. “I needed to find the redeeming qualities in her. What I found is that underneath this barrier of mean behavior, she was really just filled with insecurities—her poor upbringing, her relationship [with Aaron Drozdov, Lissa’s ex-boyfriend, played by Edward Holcroft]—and that’s sort of how I relate to her because I found her heart underneath it all.” Sami believes that this is what makes the character of Mia, while “manipulative” and “bratty,” also very relatable for teens. Mean girls are rarely just “evil,” and it seems that Sami, as well as the author, have really picked up on that underlying motivation.
Friendship, conflict, two great elements to any story, but especially a film geared towards teen girls. And since it is for teen girls, as Ms. Wilkenson said, there is also romance. One of the romantic leads, Christian Ozera, played by Dominic Sherwood (The Cut, Not Fade Away), was able to be at the panel Friday, and spoke a little about what he liked in his character. His darkness appeals to Dominic, but more than that, he was drawn to the dynamic between Christian and Lissa and how his character opens up to her as their friendship grows. It becomes clear that beneath the darkness there is actually a large, kind heart. Similarly, the character of Dimitri Belikov (Danila Kozlovsky), begins as a stoic and proud older man, who develops an attachment to Rose, despite his being a teacher at the school and seven years her senior (don’t worry, parents—Dimitri handles the situation appropriately, at least in the first book). It has always been more appealing to a female audience, it seems, to watch the “bad boy” fall in love and how that can change and alter a man. Perhaps this dates back to the beloved and well-known character of Mr. Darcy (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice), or perhaps it is as simple as that it makes for a more interesting story. As men typically enjoy pursuing a woman, maybe we women like a man who presents us with a level of challenge, as well (often to our detriment in reality, though).
Unfortunately, Danila could not be there for the panel, but Zoey did speak a little about this handsome, Russian actor. “I think Danila is an accomplished and well respected actor,” she said. She goes on to describe him as “fantastic” and “wildly talented,” saying that “his versatility and range is inspiring. His ability to feel out energy is amazing. He clocks the dynamics of the situation and people and relationships so quickly.” Danila is not exactly like his character of Dimitri, however. Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday), the director of the film, said that they had to “squelch” Danila’s more comic personality in order for him to play the part true to the book. He sounds like an intriguing actor and I, for one, am curious to see how he brings Dimitri to life in the film.
They then showed a short trailer for the film which, unfortunately, left much to be wanted. The trailer started with a clip of Lissa feeding off Rose, but in the context of the remainder of the trailer, it seems that this was only included to show that this will be a vampire film. The rest of the trailer seemed like a flashback to Mark’s previous work, Mean Girls, which did not go very far to impress me, having not read the book or seen any of the other photos/clips previously released, though the girls in the audience seemed excited by it. There was not even a hint towards the story arc that the movie will follow, only scenes of catty, high school drama. Later on in the panel, Daniel referred back to the comedic element seen in the trailer, but reassured the audience that there is much more to the film than that. This film will also have drama and romance and action, elements that are key to the book, according to Daniel. Those having read the book will know that there is not a lot of comedy there, so for their sake, I hope the trailer is a poor representation of the upcoming film.
Since attending the panel, I have read the first book (thanks to free copies being given away afterwards) and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I am often reluctant to admit to reading teen fiction, but the author tackles some tough, yet real, issues that teen girls face these days. Rather than glorifying unhealthy behaviors, she uses the story to advise girls on how to handle the hazards of high school more appropriately, hiding those lessons beneath the artful narrative. This unique (I can’t say “new,” since the first book has been out for six years) take on vampires was also very interesting, and an element that will likely keep me reading. Lucy touched on this, as well, when asked who her favorite vampire was. As Lucy said, Richelle Mead takes the old mythology of vampires to a spiritual place, making her stories more about the preciousness of life, than about death.
Richelle Mead has managed to craft a beautiful world that can do much to help this and future generations of teenage girls navigate the treacherous waters of high school, a world that can even appeal to adult readers. For parents who take an interest in what their children are reading (which I encourage), these books could help parents better relate to and understand their daughters and give them a starting place for those tough, adolescent conversations. It was said during the panel that Ms. Mead was very excited with the script, pleasantly surprised by what she was presented with. Encouraged by this, as well as what I heard from the talent at the panel, I hope they are able to do her work justice and look forward for what is to come.
Vampire Academy is currently in post-production, at the start of its preview period, and is scheduled for release on February 14th, 2014.