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Review: 'Allegiant' truly diverges from the book

Posted Tuesday, July 12, 2016 at 3:52 PM Central

by John Couture

It's no secret that I was rather disappointed with Insurgent when it first came out. I was left scratching my head trying to figure out what went wrong. I mean, I loved the books upon which the Divergent series is based on, but for some reason, I couldn't connect with that film.

In order to prepare for the third film in the series, Allegiant, I went back and re-watched Insurgent to freshen my memory more than anything since there were a few major differences between the book and the film. A funny thing happened during that re-watch, I actually enjoyed Insurgent more than I remembered and I was sort of looking forward to Allegiant.

Now, to be fair, I must say this at the top, I was not a fan of the Allegiant book. I think that it watered down what was an interesting science fiction dystopian story and lost all of the edge that the previous books in the series possessed. And before you jump down my throat, it has nothing to do with the divisive ending - which I actually thought was the biggest redeeming quality of the book.

With all of that out of the way, I sat down to watch Allegiant with an open mind and renewed sense of hope that they could do the characters justice in this series that is seemingly going nowhere fast. When the credits rolled, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised.

Two Roads Diverged

It's not often that I get to steal words from Robert Frost in this job, so today is already a good day. Much like Frost's famous poem, the book series and the film series started to take different paths in Insurgent and by the time that the film for Allegiant came out, we can no longer see the other road.

The question is, will the less traveled path make all the difference? In a single word, yes. This is the part where I stop worrying that the film series is going out on its own and enjoy it for what it is, a new story. Sure the films and books share the same characters and there is some overlap, but there is so much different between the two properties that I have no clue where they are going to take the story in Ascendant - which is a good thing.

When I heard they were going to chop the Allegiant book into two films, I groaned. It sounded like just another cash grab from a studio desperate to suck as much life as it possibly can out of a franchise before it disposes of its rind. Let's be honest, the book would barely make one film that is watchable, let alone two.

Thankfully, the filmmakers got creative. How creative? Well, this article points out at least 26 differences between the book and the movie. I should caution you though that there may be spoilers to Ascendant in that piece if the filmmakers decide to use parts they seemingly left out of Allegiant in the final movie. The result is a film that sets out on its own path and tells an interesting story of deep-seeded corruption that trumps the merely pedantic Orwellian overtures in the book.

Let's be honest, most of this is the result of excellent casting. Jeff Daniels personifies the vacuous madman who reigns high above his seemingly utopian little mirage. His David takes the character from the book and injects a bit of Darth Vader in him with a dash of every Bond villain. He was made for this role and it is very likely that we will see him play a bigger part in Ascendant than he originally did in the later half of the book.

A Bigger Canvas

As I watched this film and the countless features included in the combo pack (no really, there are like 10 little features that add a lot of detail to the filmmaking process), I was struck by something that I hadn't really thought of until that moment. What I liked about the book series was the emotional fragility of Tris set against the technological wasteland then technological nirvana of the later books. It was a very human story told within a science fiction backdrop.

Veronica Roth is good at many things, but I doubt that she spent as much time thinking about the technological aspects of her creative world as the filmmakers did. You see, Veronica had an advantage over the filmmakers, she could rely on the readers' imagination to fill in the gaps. The filmmakers had to actually show every little thing. So, from the plasma sacks to the drone discs (which were way cool), they had to visualize everything that Veronica sort of just left for the reader to imagine as they saw fit.

For the most part, this bigger canvas has allowed the filmmakers to tell a much grander story, but we do lose a bit of the novelty from the book. They try to keep some of it in there, like when Caleb asks "what's an airport?" But these moments lose their power when you realize that he's asking that after having been transported there in a plasma bubble on the outside of an aircraft.

There were several sweet moments when those liberated from Chicago experienced little things like taking a ride in an airplane for the first time. I doubt they will be impressed with a flight in a 747 when they arrived at O'Hare in such spectacular fashion. While I will miss these "aw shucks" moments, I think they are ultimately best left in the books.

At this point, I should probably mention that my review copy was a 4K UHD Blu-ray combo pack that includes a 4K UHD Blu-ray version of the film as well as a regular Blu-ray version of the film and a smorgasbord of extra goodies. If you have any question about the differences between UHD and regular Blu-ray, play chapter three on both discs from Allegiant.

It's the scene that starts with their escape from the city and ends with Edgar's oddly out of place Mad Max sequence. After watching and comparing about a dozen films on UHD to their Blu-ray counterpart, it's this scene that truly shows what all the fuzz is about.

The Wider Color Gamut and HDR are on display and it is quite literally like night and day between the two versions. That's not to say that regular Blu-ray version is bad, quite the opposite, the upconvert process on the machine makes it look great. It's just that the UHD Blu-ray is far superior and presents you with a darker scene that is almost assuredly more in line with how the filmmakers want you to experience this scene.

On the regular Blu-ray, the colors are overexposed and cartoonish which takes you out of the film a bit, but on the UHD, the scene comes across with more grit and really makes you feel the peril that the characters are experiencing. In short, this is a film where it really does make a difference to spend a little more on the 4K UHD version.

Yeah, But Is It Any Good?

How do I answer that question? If you're going to see the film, you're either a fan of the movies or the books. I doubt anyone will pick up Allegiant and start the series in media res. If you're a stickler for the printed word and were upset with the liberties they took in Insurgent, then no you will hate this movie and will demand to get your two hours back.

If you liked the films and were interested to see where they would take this franchise, then I think you will be as pleasantly surprised as I was when I watched it. It's not the book, but in many ways, it is superior to the book. The filmmakers do a spectacular job in crafting a visually compelling world and a plot that keeps you intrigued.

For the first time since I started this series of films, I'm actually excited for what's to come. As long as the filmmakers continue to tell their own story, I think Ascendant is poised to be the best of the bunch.