Welcome to the YA Movie Countdown, our resident expert’s biweekly guide to young-adult book-to-film adaptations.
A little over a week ago, the very first trailer for Phillip Noyce’s adaptation of The Giver arrived. We’re talking about a Newbery Medal-winning book beloved by many and included in countless school curriculums across the country, and for good reason, too; Lois Lowry’s book is engaging, entertaining and boasts numerous themes and ideas well worth exploring.
The book focuses on an 11-year-old boy named Jonas. He lives in a community of “Sameness,” a place devoid of individuality. In an effort to maintain order, every citizen follows a strict set of rules, one of which is that, at the age of 12, every child is assigned the job that he or she will hold for the rest of his or her life. Whereas most kids wind up working in law, the fish hatchery or perhaps studying to become a doctor, Jonas gets the most unlikely duty of all. He is to be the Receiver of Memory, which requires he train with The Giver, the only person in the community who has access to memories and, in turn, the truth.
With any adaptation, there’s really no avoiding having to let go of certain elements for the sake of telling a more compact story in a feature film. But based on this first trailer for The Giver, did they actually strip too much of the story away?
Warning: The rest of this article contains plot spoilers for the book, The Giver.
Where’s the Black and White?
To put it bluntly, why would you ever bring The Giver to screen if you’re not going to make use of the transition from black and white to color? When we first meet Jonas, he’s seeing a world entirely in black and white. Then, from that point on, the increase of color directly reflects Jonas’ growth during his training with The Giver. The more color he sees, the closer he gets to the truth and, in turn, to the beauty we get to experience every day.
Of course we can’t forget that in addition to the fun stuff like sledding down a snow-covered hill, knowing the truth also requires one to know hardships like war. Whether the material is in black and white or color, watching Jonas come to accept the pleasure and pain of the world will have weight, but a color change would undoubtedly enhance the effect. A strong character arc is one thing, but a strong character arc that runs parallel to a visual arc of sorts could only bolster the impact, and that’s a luxury the large majority of narratives don’t have.
Note: It’s still possible the black and white from the book will be a part of the movie, but based on this trailer it just doesn’t appear that way.
Too Much Like Divergent?
Just as alarming is the fact that Noyce and writer Michael Mitnick clearly caught the YA craze bug, leading them to turn this exceptionally grounded, touching narrative into hi-tech, super sleek dystopian nonsense. This isn’t a trailer about an especially thoughtful boy coming to realize there’s so much more to the world beyond his isolated and extremely rigid existence. It comes across much more so as a total Divergent knockoff. “From great suffering, great pain came a solution – communities, where disorder became harmony.” Take out the word “communities” and throw in “factions,” and you know what you’ve got? Divergent.
Why Are There Spaceships Again?
The disappointments in the tail end of the trailer have nothing to do with the color choice, but rather because they suggest this adaptation is a bit of a sellout. Lowry’s narrative doesn’t need futuristic spaceships, so why are they in the movie? You know why? Because they’re cool looking and have the potential to appeal to folks who dug The Hunger Games’ hovercrafts and other out-of-this-world components from more sci-fi or magic-heavy YA to film adaptations.
But that’s not what The Giver is and absolutely not what it needs to be. It’s never easy bringing beloved source material to screen because often sacrifices must be made, but you just don’t sacrifice what makes the book cinematic to begin with or otherwise, what’s the point?
On the bright side, at least the score works.
The YA Movie Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday.