Dystopian fiction is all the rage these days as young adult books like The Hunger Games and Divergent have massive fan bases and just beg to be adapted to the big screen. So why has Lois Lowry’s 1993 immensely popular book taken so long to make it to theaters? The quick and easy answer is that some stories just aren’t meant to exist out of their original medium and I’d say The Giver is a perfect example of this, now I’m not saying The Giver is an impossible book to adapt but much of its charm and power derives from the written word and its connection to the reader. Much of this is lost in a visual medium.
Jeff Bridges spent twenty years trying to get this book made into a film, with his father Lloyd Bridges to play the title character, but he had a hard time getting studio backing. My guess is wiser heads saw the difficulties of translating this particular book to the screen, but now with films like The Hunger Games making huge box office bucks I’m guessing the risk seemed worth it. Sadly the lacklustre reviews and box office results prove they probably should have kept the book on the shelf a bit longer, and director Philip Noyce could have found something else better to do with his time.
One of the bigger changes from the book is the ramping up the ages of the kids, in the book the three main children are twelve years old while in the movie they shift that up to sixteen, and like in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief I’m betting part of the reasoning here is for the ease of shooting with older actors as the restrictions when shooting with minors can be very costly to a production. This I completely understand, and was ready to let slide, but then they also completely changed the characters of the kids. Hell, I can’t even recognize anybody from the book in this movie.
The hardest thing in creating a futuristic society is getting your audience to understand how this particular world works; you have to do it in as fast and economical way as possible so as to get on with the main plot of your story. In a book an author has multiple ways of getting that information across but in a movie you can easily run the danger of the infodump on the audience, which could cause them to just give up, but if you don’t give them enough you could be leaving them completely confused.
In this “Community” there are no emotions, colors or anything but a nice bland engineered sameness, it’s when Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) starts seeing colors that he realises he may be different from everyone else and which is what leads him to be selected as “The Receiver of Memories.” An important job with grave responsibilities. Being as the movie spends so little time showing us how this society functions we don’t know how grave or how important this job is.
The Giver was not an action/mystery book but that is exactly what we get here. In the movie Jonas must fight the system, expose it to his friends and escape to the outside world, while in the book his growth through the acquisition of memories is subtle and profound and does not lead him to punching out is best friend. His best friend Asher (Cameron Monaghan) becomes a Drone Pilot and ends up chosen to hunt down Jonas; this is so far from the book Asher that it almost had me abandoning the film at that point to go and make a nice cocoa and calm myself down. Fiona (Odeya Rush) plays the girlfriend that Jonas tries to expose the conspiracies to; he also gets her to stopping taking her medication so she can fall in love with him.
His parents are played, and completely wasted in this movie, by Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård who both provide almost nothing to the story. In the book the relationship between Jonas’ father and the baby Gabriel is crucial to understanding how this society functions. In the movie he is just bland euthanasia guy, while Katie Holmes is given the sole job of just staring worriedly at things. Also Taylor Swift is in this movie for some reason.
Jeff Bridges isn’t terrible so much as looking incredibly bored most of the time and really isn’t given much to do anyway; he’s just a plot expository device and does almost nothing to motivate Jonas. The movie also has this ridiculous idea that the baby Gabriel, who Jonas finds out will be euthanized, has same birthmark that he and The Giver have as if they are somehow genetically marked to be memory receptacles. I think not wanting a baby to die is enough motivation we didn’t need any more reason than that.
The design of The Community in the movie is fine, that until we see it is on some lost plateau above the clouds where below it and beyond the desert are huge energy pylons of some kind that keep memories from getting into The Community. That is some seriously unnecessary bullshit here and only added so we can get ridiculous scenes of Jonas escaping and running from drones.
I just recently read the book, on recommendation of a friend, so I’m really curious as to how long time fans of this book who read it and loved it as children take to this Hollywood version. My advice to those that have not read the book, please avoid this movie and head to your local library or book store and pick up Lois Lowry’s amazing novel.
The Giver (2014)
Movie Rank - 4/10
A wonderful book is stripped of all meaning by a group of Hollywood artists who seemed to completely miss the point of it all. If some one gives you this movie, give it right back.