It was clear early on that the CW’s version of The Vampire Diaries was going to deviate quite a bit from the books. I can understand this to an extent since they wanted to add a few new things and make changes to show some sort of vision of their own. I can deal with most of these changes although some might prove to be a problem in the long run. Some of the representation and symbolism won’t be quite as strong. The one thing that is absolutely vital that they get right is the evil vampire brother, Damon. The story is very compelling and exciting, but Damon is what really makes it stand out. He adds the thrill, the suspense, and so many fundamental elements of the classic, lustful vampire that lives for the hunt. If Damon’s character wasn’t done right than the rest of the series would quickly fall apart with it. In the premiere of the series, Damon doesn’t appear until towards the end and there is really only one scene that he is in. Still, this one scene and the charmingly dark sense of humor and supremacy that Damon shows makes some of the more mediocre material worth sitting through to get to the true excitement.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story I’ll give some quick background. Stefan and Damon Salvatore are vampires who were changed centuries ago by the girl they both loved. She then killed herself when she thought the two of them had died. Since then they have become enemies and blamed each other for her death. Stefan fights against what he is and only takes as much blood as he needs, but never kills to survive. Damon on the other hand believes humans are only there for his benefit; he lives for the kill. Stefan is trying to live a better life and feels the need to go back to his home town of Mystic Falls. There he sees Elena, the spitting image of the girl he loved all those years ago. Damon shows up and eyes Elena as well, deciding that obtaining her will be his next victory. Stefan tries to protect Elena and get Damon to stay away. Although Elena wants to be with Stefan, she can’t help but be tempted by his darkly delightful brother.
First of all, I have to acknowledge some of the changes. I was very disappointed that they completely took out the character or Meredith, one of Elena’s best friends who is with her in all of the evil that lies ahead of her. She does play a significant role especially towards the last few books. Instead of Elena having an 8-year old sister, she has a teenage brother who is a drug addict and troubled youth. So far he doesn’t seem like a very strong character. Actually the scenes with Elena and him are the worst as they are very played out and clichéd. He has an infatuation with Vicki, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is perhaps even more troubled. I think this crush will work well enough in to the story as she becomes involuntary involved with the supernatural world that Elena is about to merge in to as well.
The changes to Bonnie, Elena’s psychic best friend were a little unsettling. She was originally a short, red-headed girl with Celtic ties. Here she is a tall, beautiful, and suave African-American girl. Bonnie was a strong character, but this version is much more confident while Bonnie was a bit more unsure of herself and confused by her visions and the power that it constantly drained out of her. Also, the main troubling thing about the physical change is that the reason Bonnie has this psychic capabilities are because of the druid practices that were passed down in her family’s Celtic background. Taking away that part of her physicality takes away all of the reason and culture that her magical abilities came from. Sure, she can just be psychic, but the foundation and interest isn’t quite as strong.
The hardest character change is of our leading lady, Elena. Nina Dobrev was a very odd choice as she in no way resembles the Elena of the books. Elena was a tall, blonde who was essentially the queen of the school. I really think the creators were trying to cast another Bella Swan rather than Elena Gilbert. I actually think Dobrev is a very capable actress, but the role of Elena was completely changed by the writers. Casting a brunette instead of a blonde might not sound like a big deal, but it is significant for anyone who has read the books. She is meant to cast an angelic image. Her light features against her vampire admirers’ dark features, enforces that representation of good vs. evil. This just becomes more important as the books go along, particularly the newest one released this past year.
Besides the symbolism, Elena could have had dark hair and still have been the same character. The writers made her in to a much more timid, somewhat uneasy girl that reminds me more of Bella than the extremely confident and strong, Elena. Part of the reason the Salvatore brothers are so fascinated by Elena is that she looks like a pretty face they once knew on the outside, but she is a fierce fighter on the inside. The Elena we get is perhaps more likeable than the Elena from the books from the beginning, but she doesn’t quite show that same tough exterior that enables the character to survive the havoc that is coming to her small town. Since the turmoil is inevitable, I’m hoping they strengthen the character as they come to these disasters.
Luckily there aren’t too many drastic changes to the story. About the only differentiation is that Stefan doesn’t ignore Elena while she is going after him. In fact, he’s the one that sparks the relationship with her. It was kind of interesting with the parallel that this created in the book. Elena had always been able to get any guy she ever wanted and wasn’t interested in them for long. Stefan was the only guy that ever gave her a real challenge so at times you wonder if Stefan and her are really right for each other or if she just wanted what she couldn’t have.
This challenge aspect is part of the intriguing part of Damon trying to get Elena as well. He barely has to crack a smile and he has instantly lured in any given girl he ever desired. Damon loves to get under Stefan’s skin so stealing his girl adds a little fun for him. When Elena manages to resist his irresistible lure this creates a challenge he never thought he could have in his immortal state. In the books, he claims he wants to spend eternity with Elena as his queen of darkness. Again we have to question whether he wants to prove he has the power to have Elena or if he actually has found the one woman he believes worthy to be by his side forever. Although, we don’t have this parallel, it seems like they will still push this questioning of the power hungry Damon vs. the slightly more compassionate side that is reserved for only one person, if it exists at all. Also, if they went through all the steps of Stefan and Elena before they let their guards down it would have slowed things down a lot. I’m glad things were sped up a bit and we got to see some bloodshed and vampire rivalry on the first episode.
Paul Wesley does decent as Stefan, but so far his performance lacks a bit of personality. I would like to see a lot more from him as the show continues. Nina Dobrev actually does well with the character that is written for her. She’s likable while being somewhat on edge, but still having enough charisma for us to care about her character. Ian Somerhalder is by far the best performance though, which is a blessing since Damon isn’t the easiest character to capture. He’s a very dynamic character and it seems like Somerhalder has a good grasp on the sinister, comedic, and lustful sides of the character as well as that small, but existent additional layer of him that might be something other than pure evil. He really hits on the dark comedy that just adds to Damon’s threatening and exhilarating element. He’s frighteningly funny with every smirk and malicious look, which says something about his idea of fun.
Candice Accola was one of the performances aside from the main 3 that stood out to me. She portrayed Caroline Forbes perfectly even though she’s Elena’s friend rather than her rival in this version of The Vampire Diaries. The same components of her character are in place; she’s proud, aggressive, and jealous. Actually at times she reminded me of how the original Elena was in the beginning of the book series, which is a valid reason for them to clash the way they do. A small part of me almost liked her character. She’s self-absorbed and shallow, but Accola projected a balance in a certain righteousness that made her a bit stronger than the typical cruel, popular high school girl.
One change that worked out really well was splitting the diary narration between Elena and Stefan. In the books Elena was the only who kept a diary, although we were brought in to Stefan’s head and informed on his background through his thoughts. Rather than leaving that out, I think they made a good choice by having Stefan narrate through the diary along with Elena. This might actually add a connection between the two. Some of the dialogue in the show is a little cheesy and over dramatized, but this is mostly between Elena and her brother, Jeremy. Perhaps since his character doesn’t have any origins in the source material as it’s a new character, the created relationship ended up coming off as a little forced. There are certain changes made for the show that I think could take away some of the strength in the story and symbolism, but overall there aren’t many fundamental problems with The Vampire Diaries. We’re set up with thrilling action, interesting characters, and the promise of much more bloodshed and horror to come. As long as they follow through on that and keep Damon a prevalent character, bringing out the alluring, dangerous, and darkly humorous vampire that he is than the series will definitely be worth watching.