Vampire Academy (A Tale of Two Adaptations)

Vampire Academy is an interesting beast. It’s been adapted for film and television as of last year, as well. Unfortunately, both failed to make it past the very first entry, despite the latter attempt taking several liberties, which, admittedly, made it an interesting world to see. The film, released in 2014, more or less adapted the source material rather closely.

Like most adaptations from page to screen, certain elements needed to be pared down – such as the cutting of characters and subplots, the melding of characters and plotlines, and the expansion of certain characters and plotlines. As a visual medium, film can tell a story in a vastly different manner than a book. After all, what can take up a few lines of text can be turned into a sprawling montage.

Based on the works of Richelle Mead, Vampire Academy weaves an astonishingly complex world of romance and politics, gilded in a secret world of vampires. Here, there are three kinds of Vampiric beings. First, there are the Moroi (Royal and Non), who are blessed with magical powers beyond those of a typical vampire, including control over one of the four basic elements. They are the leaders of this society, though not all of them are destined to be so. Next, are the Dhampirs, half-vampires who are the protectors of the Royal Moroi – they are trained to be living, lethal weapons, despite lacking the magical prowess of their protectees. The final, and most vicious, mindless ones (as far as the early portions of the series were concerned) are the Strigoi. They were the traditional Vampire of old – immortal, feral, and bloodthirsty. So naturally, you get a crash course on all of them.

Vampire Academy follows two young women, Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch), a Dhampir who is training to be a full-time protector of her best friend, Vasilisa “Lissa” Dragomir (Lucy Fry), a Royal Moroi Princess, and the last of her family line and favored to be the heir to the current Queen, Tatiana Ivashkov (played by Joely Richardson). Their story opens on the night that Lissa’s entire family dies, which is used to establish the psychic bond between the girls. This bond is critical – in the book, it was used to show more of the world and the story from Lissa’s perspective without actually dropping the first-person perspective from which the books are told (Rose’s). Both girls are shrewd about this bond, as they know it is not the norm, even in their supernatural world. But this is also how the story establishes that they have fled from St. Vladimir’s Academy in order to live a normal life away from the pressures of their structured lives. But, as is typical in action-oriented stories, their freedom doesn’t last.

Dimitri Belikov (Danila Kozlovsky), a full-fledged Dhampir protector, leads a team to return the Princess to the academy and bring Rose back to be disciplined for violating countless rules and laws pertaining to their society. Obviously, their love story was bound to be a central plot point. The relationship between Rose and Dimitri is not a slow burn in the typical sense. Their passion and chemistry are clear from the beginning. They take time to develop into a proper romantic relationship (of course, it is cut short by the adaptation being incomplete) because of their duty as Dhampir. Every time they seem to be able to move past it, something comes along to remind them of their duty.

Upon their return to St. Vladimir’s, we are introduced to a slew of important characters, and it becomes increasingly clear that, despite her apparent political power, Lissa is not as beloved as she could be. In their absence, Mia (Sami Gayle), who was the fiancé of Lissa’s older brother Andre (briefly played by Rory Fleck-Byrne). How they made a girl (fairly certain her character was 13) one of the most unlikeable characters is beyond me.

That naiveté is incredibly poignant when Rose discovers Mia’s relationship with Andre, whom even Rose is unafraid to describe as a notorious womanizer who went through women like tissues. Her portrayal in the television show was far more grounded, developed, and complex, yet Sami Gayle, best known for Blue Bloods, is reduced to being a Regina George copy who is less effective and more annoying. When the time comes for Rose to confront and expose her “villainy,” Rose quickly realizes that she’s little more than a girl in “desperate need of attention.” She then promptly punches her after all but goading her into baring her fangs. Perhaps I’m being too harsh.

On the other hand, Christian Ozera (Dominic Sherwood of Shadowhunters fame) is introduced as an outcast, despite his Royal Moroi status and his powerful Fire Magic, because his parents willingly turned into Strigoi. That his character arc was played sympathetically, especially next to Mia’s, makes it even more glaring that Mia is portrayed in the least likable light possible at any given moment. Yet, once again, the television show managed to handle both characters exceedingly better. Whereas Mia is Lissa’s rival, if she can even qualify, Christian is her love interest, and the time they spend together is critical to bringing their world into the future.

Mason Ashford (Cameron Monaghan) is another Dhampir and a friend of Rose. Since her departure, he has become the novice to watch, the position once held by Rose, though this is quickly undone when she begins training under the direction of Dimitri. Jesse Zeklos (Ashley Charles), Ray Sarcozy (Chris Mason), and Aaron Drozdov (Edward Holcroft, one year before Kingsman would come out) are three Royal Moroi who pal around with Mia, with the latter dating Mia after having previously dated Lissa. The three are little more than misogynistic young boys content with tormenting Lissa because they feel they can. Of course, it helps that Ellen Kirova (Olga Kurylenko), the headmistress of St. Vladimir’s, seems loathed to do anything that might resemble assisting Lissa in dealing with the issue of bullying, save for handing out sedatives like they were penny candy. The last student of merit is Natalie Dashkov (played by Sarah Hyland), who quickly befriends Rose and Lissa upon their return to the academy and often aids Rose in her schemes to figure out what is happening in their cloistered world.

Victor Dashkov (Gabriel Byrne), Natalie’s father and a close family friend of Lissa’s, is concerned for her safety and security, especially now that his potential claim to becoming the successor to the current Queen has laid it all at Lissa’s feet. His paternal attitude towards Lissa compels him to intercede from time to time, building a rapport between himself and Rose and Lissa. Sonya Karp, played by Claire Foy before The Crown skyrocketed her to fame and international recognition, is the kooky, compassionate teacher who has recently disappeared almost as soon as Rose and Lissa have returned.

For all its flaws in reducing some of the supporting characters to mere caricatures to carry a typical high school storyline, the subterfuge that is woven into the varying relationships makes the mystery of Vampire Academy incredibly compelling. The questions that are raised are thoroughly investigated and tied to the deeper mystery of their secret world. Despite its failure at the box office, the story and the world of Vampire Academy is a captivating one. While the second adaptation made by Peacock changed several critical elements and rearranged plotlines to suit a new story and narrative, the impact of Vampire Academy is very much present in both of its adaptations.

Regarding the television adaptation, Rose (played here by Sisi Stringer) and Lissa (played by Daniela Nieves), their relationship is given more time to breathe, and the conflicts within them are allowed to be highlighted. The differences in their worlds, which the Dragomir family sheltered them from due to their high status, not to mention Andre (Jason Diaz) being the declared heir to the current Queen, Marina (Pik-Sen Lim). In this version, the unusual friendship between Rose and Lissa is more of a political problem than the movie ever got around to laying out. Mia (Mia McKenna-Bruce) is now the adopted daughter of Victor Dashkov (J. August Richards), and Sonya (Jonetta Kaiser) is her adoptive sister, with both of them splitting their book roles with their original counterparts while at the same time replacing Natalie.

This world is vividly different. The Moroi can walk in the sunlight, though they must diffuse it, and they are longer lived – not immortal, but the Queen has been alive for over 200 years since the show began. It also takes a more cosmopolitan take on the characters, with the predominantly white film cast being played by men and women of all colors. Christian Ozer (Andrew Dae Kim), and his relationship with his parents, and what their change to Strigoi means, is far more prominent in this show than the movie had time to delve into, and he and Mia form a friendship that allows them to deal with the trauma that they have been exposed to throughout their lives.

There is no question that Rose and Lissa have a psychic bond, the explanation for which is intimately connected to this story’s secrets and mystery. It is understood that Rose, Dimitri, Lissa, and Christian will eventually become entangled in romantic relationships. But where each shines is, ironically, in how they were adapted. The film is a close adaptation of the book, with changes made to streamline the story for a (less than) two-hour runtime. The television show is a wildly different interpretation of the source material and builds upon it in new and exciting ways – such as the far more vibrant world beneath our own. Both are great stories, and neither of them truly diminishes the book series.

It’s simply to their detriment that neither was able to tell more than one entry.

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