Most authors understand that when a book is made into a movie, there will be changes. Characters will be reshaped, plot points expanded, and some elements will be omitted altogether.
"The Giver," based on the famous 1993 young adult novel by Lois Lowry, is no exception. But Lowry says that she's fine with the film's changes.
In fact, she says she wishes she could go back and rewrite some portions of her book to better reflect some of the ideas in the movie.
"The Giver" is a story about a dystopian future in which the human race has eliminated all emotions and painful memories from the population in order to eliminate suffering. Only the Giver possesses the cumulative memories of humanity until Jonas is chosen to be the next Reciever of memories. Jonas gradually learns that the society he grew up in is not the ideal place he thought it was.
Nearly 20 years ago, Jeff Bridges (who plays the Giver in the film) was inspired to make the book into a film. According to the Associated Press, Jeff Bridges saw the book cover in a book catalog, which immediately captured his imagination.
"It had a picture of this old grizzled guy on the cover. And I said, 'Oh, Dad [actor Lloyd Bridges] could do that!'" said Bridges.
Bridges read the book and optioned the rights for a movie adaptation in 1996. Unfortunately, there were many obstacles to getting "The Giver" onto the big screen. Several scripts were written and rejected, struggling with bringing Jonas's largely internal conflict to a visual medium. There was also the question of what a movie could show; controversial scenes of euthanasia got the novel banned in some places. And in the 1990s, young adult dystopia movies were not the financial sure bet they are now, and getting money for production was hard. To make matters even worse, Lloyd Bridges died in 1998, leaving the movie without a lead actor. (Jeff Bridges now co-produces and plays the role himself).
But with the recent success of movies like "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent," money finally started coming in, and the project finally came together 18 years after Bridges first set out to make the movie.
According to USA Today, Lowry is pleased with the results. "Scenes look different, characters take on a new significance," she says. "If I could, I'd go back and rewrite some things into the book I saw in the movie."
This is high praise to hear about a film adaptation of an author's own work. Film adaptations are often heavily criticized by the authors that provided the source material for such movies. J.D. Salinger hated "My Foolish Heart" (1949) so much that he forbade any future film adaptations of his work. Even Stanley Kubrick's take on Stephen King's "The Shining," which has become a classic film, was heavily disliked by the author, according to USA Today.
Lowry, however, likes the film. She especially approves the expanded role of the Chief Elder, who is a relatively minor character in the book.
“The movie made much more complex the character of the Chief Elder,” Lowry said, according to The Washington Post. “And then once they cast Meryl Streep – who never would have taken the role the way I wrote it in the book – the quality of her acting, just the turn of her eyes or the way her mouth curves, it was astounding to watch her. Now I wish I could go back and write the book the way she performed it.”
Lowry originally had reservations about the aging up of the characters in the book, particularly Jonas, 12 years old in the book (in the film, he's supposed to be 16). When she saw footage of 25-year-old Brenton Thwaites acting in the role, however, she felt relieved, according to io9.
"I thought, oh yeah, it works. Right away you see that he's the same as the 12 year-old, he's young, he vulnerable, and it doesn't matter that he's a few years older."
Bridges was also initially opposed to the older actors, but told io9 that he eventually decided to go with the change.
According to USA Today, Lowry largely left control of the movie in the hands of the director, Philip Noyce. She did say, however, that she appreciated that Noyce called her for advice on how to film certain scenes, even though he was under no obligation to do so.
"He was so meticulous. He kept the book in front of him during the whole process. That was my biggest relief, that they were dedicated to preserving the intent of the book."
"The Giver" hits theaters August 15th.
Weston Williams is a Monitor contributor.