I read The Giver because I heard that the movie was coming out and it was causing some minor trouble on my Twitter feed. I read the book in an afternoon and I consider it okay for children, the kind of book you would put between the hands of little kids as their first challenge authority story. It was nothing extraordinary but it was cute enough. The only thing that really bugged me about it was the ending, which I found both unclear and seriously anticlimactic.
Now, adaptation is hard. You could try to argue that having the story and characters already defined and written down would make it easier but the truth is that the transition between one medium to the other is always risky. It’s going to seem obvious but books and movies are two totally different experiences. There are things you can do in a book that would just not work in a movie, and vice versa. Any writer could tell you that sometimes, to make a story work in a different medium means tearing the original source material apart. The important thing, in the end, is to keep the essence of the original story, what gives it its identity and what makes it work. That’s how Peter Jackson made the Lord Of The Rings movies work. Were they different from the original source material? Quite. Were the adaptations still faithful? Yes. I often hear complaints about the books being too wordy and detailed but honestly, you could take a brush and paint the landscapes of Middle Earth while reading the book, down to the height of the grass and the shape of the clouds. It also helps that Lord Of The Rings is part of a very well developed universe, maps and descriptions of the characters included. When a book is already that visual, it makes the writer’s work a bit easier.
The Giver is not one of those descriptive literary experiences. First, it’s not a very visual book. It has visual elements, notably what gives the movie its peculiar treatment of colour, but it’s not the kind of book where you can just picture a universe. Mostly because it’s less about the universe and more about the ideas conveyed by the story.
For me, there are two main reasons why The Giver works better as a piece of literature: its focus and the age of the main protagonist. The story is told through the eyes of Jonas, who happens to be a twelve-year old, two choices that give the author a perfectly good excuse to a), dive into a shit ton of introspection, and b), explain how the protagonist sees his world. Twelve years-old is a good age to start questioning authority, after all, since you’re technically not a kid anymore and are, from a general understanding of the thing, able to start seeing beyond things.
Let’s get this straight, guys. That is pretty much where the adaptation started to fail. From the very basic characteristics of the concept. The producers probably wanted to be able to appeal to older teenagers with the promise of actual sexual tension between the lead and his love interest, so they raised the age of the children from 12 to 18 (so, you know, they’re not even technically children anymore). This makes Jonas’ first discovery of the failure of adults less compelling, if not completely absurd. But wait, it gets better: they did not adapt the dialog for older teenagers, so the three main kids look 18 but still talk like tweens.
But wait. It gets better. The black and white isn’t explained until the Giver (played by Jeff This really didn’t turn out the way I expected Bridges) just mentions it in a line of dialogue. Actually, all of this movie’s most important plot points are only explained through dialogue, because EXPOSITION, BITCH.
I mean, I have nothing against exposition but can you at least make it graceful? If you don’t know where to start, watch Guardians of the Galaxy. Or Lord of the Rings.
But wait. It gets better. Because the movie had to somehow fit into the summer blockbuster category, they transformed the whole third act into an action fest. And it. Was. Boring. Why? Because I didn’t care. None of those characters were interesting or developed enough for me to give a shit whether or not they were going to make it and I couldn’t have cared less whether or not Jonas was going to save his people from the blandest black and white aesthetic I’ve ever seen. The big climax is mostly composed of Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep (who were both taking this flick way more seriously than any other person involved in the project) debating about free will in the dullest, broadest, most cliché way possible. An afterschool special would have been subtler than this.
The characters are completely bland and forgettable, the story barely makes any sense in its own universe, the pace is completely rushed and they even managed to make Jeff Bridges play the most annoying set of notes they could think of on a piano. Several times.
People, this movie got me mad. It got me mad not only because it sucked but because I knew that it would suck and it still managed to disappoint me. The Giver may not be the best children’s book out there but it still didn’t deserve this. Who knows? Maybe it would have made a decent movie if the filmmakers had made it into an artsy flick with lots of inner monologues and actual children playing in it.
Not everything is made to be a summer blockbuster. Then again, there’s a reason why they released this in the second half of August.
Boy, I am not looking forward to September.