One of the promises I made my wife for Valentine's Day weekend was that we would see Vampire Academy, a movie based on the book series by Richelle Mead. Mrs. Idiot is a fan of the books, as well as Mead, so she's been looking forward to the movie for some time. At least until she saw the first trailer. Despite her acknowledgement that the trailer looked terrible and that the movie would most likely be bad, she still wanted to see it.
Having opened on February 7, just last week, we had a difficult time finding a time to go. That's because showtimes had dwindled to twice a day. I worked in a movie theater for three years back in high school so I have first had knowledge that it's never a good sign for a movie to get cut to two showings a day after its first week. The wife was hesitant at first about paying to see it in the theater but we decided that it would be worth the trip if for the popcorn alone. And besides, I still owed her for the I, Frankenstein fiasco from last month.
The film takes place at St. Vladimir's Academy (get it? "Vladimir"? As in "Vlad Tepes" the man that would become the mythical Dracula? It's SYMBOLIC!), the titular Vampire academy, where a race of vampire like creatures, the Moroi, learn how to control their magic powers. Yes, the vampires have magic powers, like the ability to control the elements. The school also houses the Dhampir, the sworn protectors of the Moroi. The Dhampir are pretty much human except stronger and more agile. Now, the bad guys come in the form of the Strigoi, evil, blood-thirsty creatures that prey on humans, Moroi and Dhampir alike. I'm not giving anything away; all of this is laid out within the first ten minutes of the movie.
Rose Hathaway, played by Zoey Deutch, is a Dhampir, psychically tied to Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), a Moroi princess so as such, Rose's mission is to protect Lissa at all costs. Rose is a mouthy, brash and downright annoying person, constantly quipping with anyone who speaks to her. This is clearly something within the character as it's commented on onscreen. This attitude is basically what defines Rose yet it seems to work against her as your audience shouldn't want to punch your main character in the face. But I did. Want to punch her. So, so many times. Lissa, on the other hand, is another kind of annoying. She's timid and unsure yet refuses the help of her friends. She is used less as a character and more like a MacGuffin, coming into play whenever she's necessary.
It's easy to see why Vampire Academy didn't do well; it treats its audience like morons. I give Richelle Mead credit for creating a world, characters, and story that spanned six books as well as a graphic novel spin-off. Even if the content doesn't appeal to me, she must have done something right. Meanwhile, the movie that the books are based on tries to cram as much of that world into it as possible. Unfortunately, it's done so clumsily that it is eye-roll inducing. The entire film is narrated by Rose, clarifying scenes as they're happening. When there is no narration, Rose still manages to clarify things. When it's not coming from Rose, someone else clarifies things. If at any point there is a question about what's happening, you can bet that within a few seconds, someone will provide the answer, mostly through some sort of meaningless info-dump.
If I was a newspaper writer, I would probably include some sort of bad-joke-wrap-up that I thought was terribly clever like "Vampire Academy sucks", but in all honesty, it's not even worth that kind of effort. Clearly the filmmakers had intended to translate the book series to film, given the cliff-hanger ending. But at the end of the day, a lack of strong characterization and a mess of a script, from the details down to the dialogue, just made that impossible. They should have spent less time trying to emulate the success of similar movies, like Twilight or The Mortal Instruments and concentrated on a coherent film with likable characters that could be followed without having everything explained in minute detail. I think that would have been a formula for a decent movie.