Watch the first trailer for The Giver below, then check out our YA expert's list of the potential pros and cons of adapting the popular novel.
When you’re adapting a book that’s been showered in recognition and is in just about every single grade school curriculum across the country, you’re going to have your work cut out for you. However, if you do it right, the source material’s renowned status could bolster the film’s impact, and hopefully that will be the case with The Weinstein Company’s adaptation of The Giver.
What It’s About
In case you’re like me and managed to avoid reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver in middle school and high school, the story takes place in a society of “sameness.” As children get older, they get different items and/or privileges depending on their age. Each December, those turning seven get a front-button jacket, the eights are allowed to begin volunteer hours, the nines get bicycles, the tens get haircuts, and the elevens receive more mature garments. But it’s the final ceremony, the Ceremony of Twelve, that’s the big one because that’s the age at which a child must swap his or her volunteer hours, and essentially their youth, for a job assignment.
Jonas is an eleven heading towards his own Ceremony of Twelve. Even though the society is structured to ease worry and hardship by upholding a familiar daily schedule, only permitting two children per family and assigning jobs based on a person’s skills, right now, Jonas is quite nervous. Or, better yet, he’s apprehensive. Come the Ceremony of Twelve, the Committee of Elders will assign Jonas a job that will define the rest of his life. He could end up a fish hatchery attendant, an instructor for a particular age group, a laborer, a caretaker of the old, or even a doctor. But no. Jonas doesn’t wind up getting assigned; he’s selected to become the next Receiver of Memory.
Everyone insists that being selected is a huge honor. Unlike the other jobs, there are only two Receivers of Memory – the current Receiver and the Receiver in training. But even though the job does designate Jonas as an exceptional young man, it also means he’ll have to carry a troubling burden because it’s up to the Receiver of Memory to hold all memories should the Community need to reference them, and that includes both pleasurable and painful ones.
Pro: Groundbreaking Visuals (WARNING: This section contains plot spoilers.)
If director Phillip Noyce pulls off the transition from sameness to colorful reality, the results could be overwhelmingly powerful. One particularly remarkable element of the book is the timing of the realization that Jonas lives in a colorless world. You spend all this time with him picturing his surroundings relative to what you know to be true, but when it comes to light that the “change” Jonas experiences is a flash of color and that he’s been living a life in black and white, it intensifies the devastation of sameness and creates this mirrored effect. Jonas is shocked to realize color exists and we’re shocked to realize that it doesn’t.
Even though this chain of events is impossible to achieve in a feature film, if Michael Mitnick manages to incorporate that sensation in his script in a new form, the progression of the visuals could and should result in an innovative union of imagery and text.
Con: Heavy-handed Visuals (WARNING: This section contains plot spoilers.)
Unfortunately, the opposite could also be true. This is a delicate scenario and will likely go one way or the other. The introduction of color will have to line up with Jonas’ realization that color exists and considering we, the viewers, are already well aware that color exists, it’s going to be tough to nail the transition. If the “change” Jonas experiences isn’t handled with the precise degree of subtlety, it could feel like a gimmick.
Pro: Strong Cast
The Giver’s got Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges; you don’t get much better than that. Not only are both guaranteed to draw a crowd, but they’re both guaranteed to lose themselves in the roles, too.
There’s no doubt Bridges will fall right in line with Lowry’s representation of the Giver, as he should be capable of conveying the severity of the situation while also functioning as source of warmth and reassurance. On the other hand, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the direction Streep will take with the role of the Chief Elder. In the book, we only really get to see the Chief Elder in action during Jonas’ Ceremony of Twelve and there’s just no way Noyce and Mitnick will reduce Streep to a single scene. The role will likely get a significant expansion and considering Taylor Swift snagged the role of Rosemary, that will likely include the conversation between the Chief Elder and Rosemary in full.
Con: Distractingly Familiar Faces
Obviously actors become famous for a reason, but sometimes star power can take you out of a movie. Alexander Skarsgård and Katie Holmes should be able to avoid that as Jonas’ parents, but the cause for concern is Swift. Yes, she’s an incredibly talented singer, but does that make her a good actress? Absolutely not, and we got a taste of that in Valentine’s Day.
In an effort to give Swift the benefit of the doubt, Valentine’s Day and The Giver are two entirely different projects, but considering this is a business, it’s tough to shake the fact that she could have locked the role via fame more so that ability, and that could be detrimental to the aforementioned scene between Rosemary and the Chief Elder, which would be extremely unfortunate.
Pro: The Book’s Fame
From a business standpoint, The Giver is a winner. If you make a film version of The Giver, people are going to notice. Considering almost every kid under the sun has come across this book at one point in his or her education, it’s got a particularly widespread readership. The Giver was first published in 1993 and is still in circulation in school curriculums today, so the audience spans generations.
The Giver could even go beyond the designation of being a four-quadrant film. It’s for men, women, those under 25 and those over 25, but then it also has the extensive awareness surrounding the source material as a backup of sorts.
Con: The Book’s Fame
Even though the popularity of the book is bound to draw a crowd, it’ll also result in very high standards. This is a piece of literature that moved countless youths. Noyce is going to have to appease that in order to avoid a backlash.
On top of that, there’s the difficulty of letting go of what you’ve envisioned for years. This isn’t a piece of literature that the large majority picks up for fun. It’s examined in an academic environment and that intense scrutiny may make changes from script to screen even tougher to accept, and those changes are inevitable.
Pro: The Release Date
At the moment, The Giver is in good shape. Additional projects will definitely move in, but right now, The Giver is only going up against The Expendables 3 at the box office. The Expendables 3 is bound to follow in the footsteps of the first two installments and pull in somewhere between $20 and $30 million, but there’s so little audience crossover that The Giver should still retain the large majority of its target viewership.
In fact, there’s a good chance The Giver could follow in the footsteps of highly profitable August releases like The Butler and The Help, both of which kicked off their theatrical runs with numbers in the mid-20s.
Con: The Release Date
Even though the month of August has delivered some serious moneymakers, this particular time of the year tends to be a toss-up. The lack of tacky CGI and supernatural creatures should keep The Giver from becoming next year’s Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters or The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, but look at what happened to Jobs. Despite a great deal of anticipation and the vast amount of Apple diehards, Jobs only managed to begin its run with $2,820 per theater. It’s unlikely The Giver will find itself in that position, but given the time of year, the adaptation just can’t be considered a sure thing.
What do you think? Come August 15, 2014, will the film version of The Giver do its distinguished source material justice?
The YA Movie Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday. This particular column was originally published on 10/21/13.
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