It was a big day for young-adult novel enthusiasts at Comic-Con International in San Diego, as the packed Hall H was treated to a world-premiere glimpse at the adaptation of author Veronica Roth’s wildly popular Divergent. Roth was present at the Summit Entertainment panel, along with director Neil Burger and stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q, Ansel Elgort, Mekhi Phifer, Ben Lamb, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Christian Madsen.
The dystopian premise, which many have compared to The Hunger Games, focuses on future Chicago, where society is split into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the intelligent) and Amity (the peaceful). Children are given an aptitude test at the age of 16, and, if they qualify for a faction different from the one in which they grew up, they must choose between the two. The story focuses on Tris Prior (played by Woodley), who leaves her family and friends in Abnegation for the terrifying new world of the Dauntless — and soon discovers she has previously unrealized abilities (and enemies).
Fans had been anticipating which key scene would debut in the panel footage. Would it be Tris’ Dauntless tests of leaping from a rooftop or onto a moving train? Or maybe the Choosing Ceremony where she decides to leave all she’s known behind? Or one of the many scenes of palpable chemistry between Tris and her Dauntless teacher Four (played by James).
“We just finished shooting two days ago on Tuesday morning, so it’s all very, very fresh for us right now,” Burger explained. “While we were shooting, we knew we were coming here and we wanted to come and show you guys something,” the director explained before revealing he’d made the teaser reel.
The audience was rewarded with just that — a series of images and scenes set to thrumming rock music. We were given a glimpse at Tris, still swathed in the Abnegation gray clothing, running with her new Dauntless family, and apprehensively looking up at raised train tracks. She’s then forced to run after a moving train and jump into a car, along with Kravitz’s character Christina. Just as suddenly, a Dauntless leader is telling them to prepare for the next task: jumping from the moving elevated train onto a passing rooftop. Tris and Christina band together to take the plunge. And then, we’re treated to one of the fan-anticipated scenes: Tris volunteering as first to jump from the top of a building into the veiled entrance of Dauntless headquarters. We see her fall countless stories into a net and giggle with relief, only to be greeted by Four, who asks, “What, did you get pushed?” When he asks her name, she’s too flustered to answer; their chemistry is apparent from the start. Quick cuts show Dauntless headquarters, in all its steel-embellished, warehouse-like spaciousness, a crowd-surfing scene in a lunchroom, bare-knuckle battles between Dauntless opponents under neon-lit boxing rings, the infamous knife-throwing scene between Tris and Four, and Tris’ eventual graduation to throwing knives on her own. And yes, there’s also an introduction to the Ferris wheel scene, with Tris and Four leaping to scale the relic.
Audience members were clearly thrilled with what they saw, and Roth wasn’t about to let the wave of good will go unrewarded. She admitted that she’d just been given permission to reveal a tidbit of information about the third book in the Divergent series, Allegiant, which arrives Oct. 22: The narrative will be told from both Tris and Four’s perspectives.
James turned out to be quite the charmer, making fans swoon with his English accent and his admiration for his character’s softer side. “He’s quite old-school,” he observed. “And he’s not afraid to demonstrate what he’s afraid of. … I think that makes him tougher.”
Kravitz revealed her favorite scene to be “the dining hall scene.” “We got to crowd surf for about 45 minutes,” she said. Woodley agreed, adding, “There was such a high energy in the room that night. How often do you get to crowd surf for 45 minutes straight in a controlled environment?”
Kicking off the audience Q&A, Roth was asked what she was able to notice during filming that she hadn’t imagined while writing. “When i write, I don’t have the most detailed mind,” she explained. “Seeing them realized in an incredibly detailed way is really wonderful. I remember just freaking out over the syringes they’re sticking people in the neck with … all the set pieces are just so wonderfully crafted by our loving crew … to me it’s really true to the book and it’s also a surprise, which is a wonderful combination.”
Fans of the novel will recognize the moment in filming that Roth admits threw her for a loop. “I remember being really surprised by the water tank,” he said. “Tris faces this fear where she’s drowning in the water tank. … I kind of forgot about it and then I saw the tank being filled with actual water and Shailene swimming in it and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.'”
Burger also discussed the practical stunts of the film, saying, “The daunting stuff was the train — getting on … they run and jump on these moving trains, and while the train’s moving, they jump off onto a seven-story building. I wanted to do all the visual stuff and all the stunts real…they literally climbed up on the tracks in Chicago. We built our own train, we built our own tracks, they really ran along the side of the tracks getting on.”
When asked for her opinion regarding the bond between Woodley and James in their roles, Roth said, “I intentionally kept myself away from set on days when they were doing anything smooch. … I feel like that’s just awkward, like voyeuristic somehow. … But what happened because of that … at first I saw them being very sharp with each other … as i went, I kept seeing the slow development even though I was going very sporadically…I think they did an incredibly good job, and I’m so excited for you guys to see it!”
Divergent hits theaters March 21, 2014.