PG-13 Dir: Jennifer Yuh Nelson | Twentieth Century Fox | 1h 44min
Plot: What’s it about?
Ah, the YA genre. It’s so untapped, isn’t it? Oh wait. It’s everywhere. As sad as I was to see the Harry Potter movie franchise come to a close, the downside is that it opened the door for a slew of new young adult dystopian films. Flipping back a few years we were immediately graced with the Twilight series (another that’s run its course), The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and the Divergent series, one that fell so flat it was going to be finished out on cable television. Oh and then there was The 5th Wave which was supposed to be another trilogy/quadrilogy but that too failed. Sensing a pattern? Nevertheless we now have The Darkest Minds, a movie based on the novels of Alexandra Bracken. And it stars Amandla Sternberg who is no stranger to YA films, she played the ill-fated Rue in The Hunger Games. Your YA film history has concluded. Let’s get this party started.
Set in the not too distant future, the movie’s plot is spelled out to us before the opening credits roll. A mysterious virus has killed nearly 90% of the children on the planet. Those that are spared develop super powers. The Government, not knowing what to do (and feeling threatened), scoops them all up and puts them in camps. There are a variety of powers that the kids have and they’re classified by colors. The greens are the most prevalent, possessing super smarts. The blues can move objects with their minds, the yellows can control electricity. The truly dangerous ones are the oranges who have the power to read and control minds and the reds that are essentially human dragons (they can create and control fire). The last two are summarily supposed to be killed on sight. Years pass and our heroine, Ruby (Amandla Sternberg), an orange, passes herself off as a green and is helped by a friendly doctor (Mandy Moore). She falls in with a ragtag group of “escapees” who conveniently represent every color on the chart (except red). They look for a mythical safe place where they will be free from the Government that’s trying to kill them.
There’s a little more to it than that, of course, but truthfully this is one of those films you can figure out in the first few minutes. And the filmmakers knew that. Truthfully, it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be, but kids with superpowers are everywhere these days (in films, of course) and I was left scratching my head saying “what’s so good about this?” Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson has her roots in animation and helmed the last two Kung-Fu Panda films. Those were fun. But she’s out of her comfort zone here and it shows. And I believe this, like some of the aforementioned titles, will die with just one film. The $35 million budget only managed to make $12 million at the box office. We won’t see The Darkest Minds 2 is what I’m saying. Sternberg does manage to carry the film, but I really just couldn’t invest myself in this film. Evidently neither could anyone else.
Video: How’s it look?
For all intents and purposes, The Darkest Minds looks exactly as we’d expect it to look. I watched the movie on Blu-ray which is where the features reside and then watched the 4K disc. As we might expect, there’s really nothing wrong with the 2.40:1 HEVC image. It does look amazing. Some of the CGI is a bit corny (will they ever figure out how to get someone to move something with their mind and have it not look fake)? The detail is amazing and I found a nice balance between contrast and black levels. All the boxes are checked here, detail level, colors, HDR and an overall strong-looking picture.
Audio: How’s it sound?
A next generation Dolby Atmos track is included on the 4K disc while the Blu-ray gets a DTS HD Master Audio mix. While the movie doesn’t sound bad by any means, there’s a surprising lack of real action in the film. Yes, there are gunshots fired and I guess a few things do blow up. The included DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack does a fine job for the most part, but that extra element (the “wow” factor, if you will) just seemed to be absent. Vocals are pure and crisp, and the surrounds provided some much needed ambiance, but I can’t help but being a bit let down here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Remember – A Look Beyond Ruby and Liam’s Last Kiss – A crudely-animated 4 minute piece, set to music, that chronicles exactly what it says it will. This is available with or without commentary from director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Dan Devine and Dan Cohen.
- Deleted Scene – Available with or without commentary from the above-mentioned trio, this is entitled “Chubs confronts Ruby” in which Chubs basically says to Rudy – “I know there’s something different about you.”
- Gag Reel – Oh yeah, you know what time it is…shenanigans on the set!
- Jennifer Yuh Nelson: Heroine at the Helm – An interview with the director as she tells us about how her movies take shape, her background in art and how it all translated to this film.
- Character Profiles – Each of the five main characters are profiled. I don’t feel the need to dissect what most will already know.
- Ruby: Harnessing Hope
- Liam: A Complicated Relationship
- Chubs: Found Family
- Zu: Awakened Abilities
- Clancy: Crafting a Possible Future
- Storyboard to Screen Comparison – We see some more of Nelson’s drawings (crude at that) and their final vision on screen.
- Audio Commentary – Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Dan Levine and Dan Cohen are a talkative trio and the track is actually fairly interesting. Lots of information about the shoot, the scope of the project and casting is learned.
- The Power of Georgia – This and the next segment are basically a “come visit Georgia” advertisement. I have to give that state credit, whatever they’re doing, it’s working.
- Behind the Scenes in Georgia – Nearly the same as above.
- Gallery – Like all Fox titles, this can be played automatically or manually-advanced.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
There are other, better young adult films out there. This one seems to be in the “me too” line of films. Yes, I realize (and have not read) that this came from a series of novels that were evidently popular enough to be made into a film. But I just couldn’t quite feel the connection with the characters. We know what will happen ten minutes in. For true fans of the book, I’m afraid this movie is the only adaptation we’ll see. For others, go watch The Hunger Games instead.