Author Lois Lowry wrote The Giver in 1993, though you would be forgiven for presuming that the book – a Newbery Award-winner and frequent required reading for middle-schoolers – is yet another young adult sci-fi/dystopian knockoff inspired by The Hunger Games, based on the first trailer (see above) for the upcoming film adaptation.
Jeff Bridges (who long ago secured the screen rights to Lowry’s source material) costars in the movie as the “Receiver of Memory” – a.k.a. “The Giver” – the member of a utopian community who is responsible for retaining memories of what life was like before the peace. The protagonist of the story is young Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who is chosen to become the successor to Bridges’ character by the leaders of his world, headed by the seasoned Chief Elder (Meryl Streep).
Written for the screen by relative newcomer Michael Mitnick and directed by Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger, Salt), The Giver film adaptation is clearly cut from the same cloth – in terms of world design and art direction – as recent YA post-apocalyptic movies, be they the Hunger Games or this week’s Divergent (which, no doubt, will screen in theaters with the Giver teaser attached).
However, while all three of those properties share certain themes and ideas that appeal heavily to the YA crowd (coming of age, questioning authority, and so forth), the futuristic society depicted in Lowry’s The Giver novel isn’t so much under the control of a fascist, totalitarian government (a la Hunger Games).
Instead, Lowry’s imagined future (one that’s also depicted in three other novels – Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son) is one where depth of emotion – be it the ability to truly appreciate color or the feeling of love – has been removed from the population. It’s a more abstract dilemma than the one presented by oppressive governments in Hunger Games and Divergent, which probably explains why The Giver movie appears to have refashioned the setup as more of a black and white conflict.
Divergent is on track to perform well enough at the box office to justify bringing the additional books in the series to the big screen. By comparison, it’s difficult to gauge right now how The Giver will do financially; it’s a book that millions of people have read over the last twenty-one years, but the film is arriving at a point where moviegoers are surely beginning to feel burnt-out on this kind of genre narrative.
Fellow YA sci-fi adaptation The Maze Runner will arrive in theaters nearly a month after The Giver, but that one has the advantage of an intriguing premise that lies a greater distance away from the dystopia tree. Maybe subsequent marketing for Bridges’ project will be more successful at distinguishing the movie from the rest of the pack than the teaser manages to do.
The Giver opens in U.S. theaters on August 15th, 2014.