From Page to Screen Review: The Giver (2014)

Book Review

In 1993, Lois Lowry wrote and published The Giver, a book that has sold over 10 million copies and received critical acclaim, winning several awards including the Newbery Medal the year following its publication. Over the next twenty years, Lowry penned three books within the same era. The Giver isn’t beloved by all its readers, and certainly not all of its critics, but regardless, it is considered successful based off its sales alone.

Most of the people I have asked about The Giver told me they read it in middle school or high school. The rock I must have been hiding under was huge, because I hadn’t heard of the The Giver until I saw the first teaser for the film adaptation. In June, I read The Giver, along with its three counterpart sequels. Personally, I would consider The Giver the strongest read out of the quartet, although I enjoyed all four books.

What I appreciated most when reading The Giver is how simple the plot is. Jonas is about to turn twelve years old, reaching the age where his childhood is complete and his life job is assigned to him. Pills are administered to each inhabitant of the area, where people speak with limited vocabulary, live in a colorless world, and are void of emotion. The Giver‘s universe strives for utopia, but the book’s setting is dystopian in nature as the plot builds and Jonas comes to terms with his assigned life position, Receiver of Memories. The Giver transmits memories of the world’s history to Jonas, who discovers color, experiences feelings, and understands that more exists beyond the borders of his small, limited world.

Comic by Brian Warmoth

Unity is what Jonas’s world consists of. Uniqueness, self-identity, and love are all new concepts he learns from the Giver’s memories. Lowry was onto something as many other future authors, including Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), Veronica Roth (Divergent), and James Dashner (The Maze Runner) have all been informed and inspired by her work to pen their well-received dystopian book-turned-film series.

I would give the book The Giver 

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Have you read The Giver? If so, what did you think of it? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!

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Film Review

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) brushes his teeth with a certain number of strokes. He walks a precise number of steps to the bus each morning. He combs his hair, dresses himself, and carries his life in a predictable nature not because he is a creature of habit, but because habit conclusively defines his life. His existence is based upon following his strict code of patterns that he has fully succumbed to.

 

Harold Crick would fit well within the The Giver‘s universe, but unfortunately his character exists only in the lovely 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction. It is not until Crick hears his life narrated by the author, horrified to find that she is killing him off, that Harold chooses to stray from his pattern-formed life. Unfortunately for the movie The Giver (2014), the characters stray far from their built-in nature, and not for any reason that would make sense within their universe.

I have learned that when I see a movie based off a book, I have to accept that certain licenses will be taken, whether it’s to fit into a film narrative better, or perhaps certain dialogue or actions would be communicated better on screen. In the case of The Giver, I think all of the wrong liberties were taken with the source material. Given its star-studded cast, led by Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges, it’s certainly a disappointment that The Giver went off the rails almost immediately, failing to get back on the rest of the film’s short runtime.

Other than a very short explanation opening the film, the universe of The Giver was never well-established. From the get-go, we don’t care about rooting for Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), even with all the charisma the young actor put into the role. The film pushes on, forcing viewers on a ride that fails to pause on important moments, defining dialogue, or pressing exchanges between characters. Even when the Giver (Jeff Bridges) is transmitting his memories to Jonas, the memories lack the warmth, terror, or joy in which they are described very earnestly in the book. Chicago film critic Richard Roeper described the memories as “something you’d find in an Apple commercial,” appearing to look more like stock photos or video footage you could find anywhere on the Internet.

The screenplay stumbled over itself, and no matter what came out of the Giver’s or the Chief Elder’s (Meryl Streep) mouths, the words felt forced to move along with the screenplay, because that is what they were written for. I found myself asking constant questions throughout the movie, like the following:

Why did Fiona (Odeya Rush) stop taking her pill if she was programmed never to question the idea of taking a pill?

Why did Asher (Cameron Monaghan) suddenly choose to trust Jonas and not kill him when he had never experienced an emotion?

Why would the Chief Elder select Asher to hunt down and kill Jonas if he was only a first-year recruit?

How could the Chief Elder be able to use words that didn’t exist within their world to converse with the Giver?

How did Taylor Swift weasel her way into the movie in the first place?

The answer to all of these questions deals with the poor screenplay of the film. In a fictional universe, there is an established set of rules. Once you start breaking the rules, the writing falls flat, and the story implodes. This was the fate of The Giver and the reason it performed so poorly with both critics and fans alike. The point of The Giver is lost on viewers, because the movie wanted to be something it wasn’t, losing both its focus and viewers’ attention.

I feel generous in giving The Giver 

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It’s your turn. Did you see The Giver? If not, do you plan to? If so, what did you think of it? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!

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Compare/Contrast THE GIVER’s Book and Film

Which did you hear of first, the book or the film? I actually heard about the film first, but I read the book before seeing the movie.

What was your favorite and least favorite parts of the book? I loved the simple plot, and I liked how the Giver introducing Jonas to history changed Jonas – and made him want to change the way things are too. I didn’t really have a “least favorite” part. I didn’t think it was a perfect book, but I thought it was very well-written. It was definitely a page-turner.

Do you think it was inspired by any other books? Definitely – I kept thinking of Fahrenheit 451 the entire time I was reading it.

What was your favorite and least favorite parts of the movie? One thing I appreciated about the movie was the B&W in the beginning. I think they could have done more with it, like drawing out the color of the apple in the book when Asher and Jonas were tossing it. The screenplay was certainly my least favorite part. It really destroyed what could have made a great movie.

Do you think the movie was inspired by any other movies? I thought it had a similar universe to Equilibrium (2002). Very devoid of emotions.

Will the book, movie, or both forms, stand the test of time? Definitely the book. The movie fell short, and it’s sad, because Jeff Bridges had wanted to make the film for years. If he had had the chance earlier, perhaps more time could have been spent on the screenplay.

I answered fewer questions for the compare/contrast section, considering how short both the book and film were. Which form will stand the test of time to you – the book, the movie, or both? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!

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Week of Favorites: Actresses

Thinking about who my favorite actresses are as opposed to who my favorite actors are was a very different process. Since I’m more established with which actors’ performances I value and enjoy the most, as well as the films that star said actors (more so than actresses in general), I have a VERY different list of actresses on my list. By no means am I claiming these are the best actresses, but for me personally, they happen to be favorites of mine.

6. Queen Latifah

This list was actually so hard for me to compile, that I had to include a sixth entry. It was impossible for me to leave Queen Latifah off this list. She’s put in some hilarious and enjoyable supporting performances in Stranger Than FictionWhat Happens in VegasThe Dilemma, Valentine’s Day, and Mad Money, while lending her voice to film-adapted musicals like Hairspray and Chicago, and occasionally starring in her own films, such as Just Wright and The Last Holiday. Although I don’t care for some of the films she’s been in, I typically appreciate Latifah’s role because she’s very good at playing character and supporting roles. Queen Latifah exudes confidence, and I’m always impressed with the depth and capacity she has to be either humorous, dramatic, or serious.

5. Kirsten Dunst

Kirsten Dunst was a tough one to put on the list because I’ve seen only some of her work. I’ve yet to see her talked-about performance in Melancholia, but I can say that I grew up watching her in Interview with the Vampire, JumanjiLittle WomenBring It On, The Virgin Suicides, and Tower of Terror. I think she has a very different look and air about her that seems to separate her from the masses. I didn’t much care for her portrayal of Mary-Jane Watson in the Spiderman series although I think a lot of it has to do with how her role was written. She’s played several parts that have shown off her range, from her role in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Marie Antoinette. My personal favorite role of hers is in Elizabethtown.

4. Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts is one of those actresses who played iconic roles in her time and really established herself. My like for her really goes back to my like of almost all the actors I put on my favorites list in my previous post. I think she’s this timeless actress, almost elevated above many who have tried to do what she has. Roberts really had a way of defining a leading lady in the romcoms of the 90s. For me, she makes this list because I’ve seen several of her films, and I’ve really enjoyed watching her on screen. I think some actresses are easier to enjoy watching than others. My favorite film of hers is somewhere between My Best Friend’s Wedding and Notting Hill, although Pretty Woman comes in at a close third.

3. Reese Witherspoon

The first film I saw Reese Witherspoon in was Legally Blonde, and I knew from there on out that I was going to like her. Although she’s dabbled in some flimsier films from time to time, she’s quite strong in both comedy and drama, and I think she’s excellent at showing vulnerability on screen. Her portrayal of June Carter in Walk the Line is one of her best performances, and she has an Academy Award to show off for it. I will admit that I haven’t seen several of her films, but from the ones I have seen, I typically enjoy watching her in, although How Do You Know is a gross exception. I’m excited to see her take on some new projects and hope she continues to make smart choices.

2. Drew Barrymore

Saturday Night Live has accurately made fun of Drew Barrymore, and it’s almost understandable given Barrymore’s unusual voice or accent. One of the movies I watched over and over again as a kid was Ever After, a loose take on Cinderella. Barrymore certainly isn’t the prettiest girl who could play a Cinderella-like character, but she was every bit believable as a Danielle who fell in love with a prince. I much enjoyed her 90s through early 2000s films, especially The Wedding Singer and Never Been Kissed. What I enjoy most about her is that she’s comes across very human and relatable in her performances, at least the films in which I’ve seen her in. I definitely think she has a different look (and obviously sound) to her, but at the end of the day she’s really just this funny person who enjoys acting.

1. Emma Stone

I almost want to smack myself for choosing Emma Stone because she’s only 24 years old with what now appears to be a long career ahead of her. I’ve seen almost all of her movies and I will readily admit that if she’s in a movie, I would probably go just for the sake of seeing her. It really wasn’t Easy A that made me totally dig Emma Stone, even though I thought she was pretty awesome in that (also, that’s the kind of teen comedy I can deal with today). I think she’s absolutely hilarious and not afraid to do some silly things on screen, even if she might look stupid. Stone is easily my favorite character in The House Bunny, a rather pointless fluff movie, but entertaining nonetheless with Stone trying to “attract” guys by spraying herself with a hose. She played the “it” girl in Zombieland and the annoying, weird girl in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (you caught her in that, right?). The year 2011 really skyrocketed Stone’s career (and name) when she starred in two big hitting films, Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Help. I can imagine Emma Stone becoming the Julia Roberts or maybe more so, the Sandra Bullock, of her time as she ages and takes on more roles.

OK, it’s your turn. Who are your favorite actresses? Does my list sound as crazy to you as it does in my head? Don’t answer that.