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Bad title and horrible timing: Movie review of ‘Vampire Academy’

Film Poster
Film PosterWeinstein Company

Based on Richelle Mead’s 2007 novel of the same name Vampire Academy was a decent movie…or at least was better than it was given credit for in the mainstream press. If it had been marketed better it would have had the potential to at least break even at the box office. Alas, several years ago I wrote an article how Mead’s bloodsucker series would be a good novel-to-film successor to Twilight. Despite evidence to the contrary, I feel the same. I just wish the producers of VA had fought harder for the film.

First, let’s address the brightly colored breakdancing elephant in the room; the title of both the novel and subsequent film is horrible. It would have been better to call both film and book St. Vladimir Academy (the actual name of the “academy” in question). Calling anything “Vampire Academy” seems so pedestrian and sets the project to be perceived as a D minus knockoff of everything from Twilight to Harry Potter. The title of Vampire Academy probably scares off potential viewers more than garlic does…you know.

Beyond all else the protagonist, Rose Hathaway, is a fun character. She is sarcastic, smart, sexy, and can kick the nether regions of all sorts of villainy types. In the novels she came across as the antidote of “mean girl” sociology due to her willingness to challenge those with bullying natures without much concern to what such actions will do to her in the course of school interactions. Fearless in both body and soul Rose is compelling to read about and fun to watch. One of the problems of the movie is that although it gives Rose (Zoey Deutch) sass, it also gives her too many off-handed jokes and divisionary lines to utter about Twilight. I do not know if film companies, let alone writers of which Richelle Mead is listed as one of the screenwriters, have set rules about acknowledging current pop culture but I am declaring a truism; naming a similar franchise does not help in establishing yours. All it does is reminds the audience that your vampire universe is different from THAT vampire universe which takes viewers out of YOUR storyline – it also badly dates a film or book in years to come. You risk insulting your core audience who have most likely read both novel series and are probably fans of the Twilight movies.

Lastly the marketing for Vampire Academy was horrible. The main poster says, “They Suck at School,” another says, “Friendship is Forever,” which feels as if those in charge of promotions had only a cursory knowledge of the storyline. The studios that put out this film are all lesser known entities (ergo may not have had the bucks for marketing) but the distributor was The Weinstein Company which on paper sounds great, but the last few years have convinced me they have a difficult time marketing films to women (see their promotions for I Don’t Know How She Does It). The biggest push VA got may have been when it was featured as a fashion challenge on Under the Gunn – a show produced by the Weinstein brothers.

Despite my defense of Vampire Academy as a film that could have set forth a franchise, it is a C level film, but the rest of the source material could have made for a great film series. Since VA made about half (over 15 million worldwide) of its production cost back smart money dictates a sequel will not be happening any time soon.

Despite having Mead working on the project, the script needed a rewrite that concentrated on taking the plot more seriously. Rose could have still been a smart a__ but cut half the jokes – she is a warrior not a Catskills comic. The romance chemistry between Deutch and Danila Kozlovsky (Dimitri) was not great, but they might have been ill served by the script. Gabriel Byrne’s appearance in the film gave it a bit of class, but I am sure he was slumming. Overall I reiterate, my main disappointment is because Vampire Academy was seen as a flop which means that the juicer and more inventive storylines of the novel series will not be committed to celluloid. Also its failure may be used as reasoning not to invest in films based on novels aimed for female audiences.

I recommend Vampire Academy with trepidation. If you enjoy the vampire/romance genre you will probably like this film. However if you do not you will want to sharpen a stake and stab yourself in your own heart to avoid it – kind of like those family films of another era that offered no adult based jokes that kids wouldn’t get. It came out on DVD May 20th.

Happy viewing!