Will It Make A Good Film?:  A New Regular Feature

For this new feature, I’ll be reading the books that are being made into films, and predicting whether they will translate well to the big screen, taking into account factors like the director and cast, if that information is available. These short features will show up a couple weeks before the release date, allowing you plenty of time to read the book and form your own opinion, if you would rather not trust mine. If you find you disagree with my verdict, or have anything to add to my prediction, please do so in the comments!

WIMAGF: The Giver

The Giver

Expected Release Date: August 15, 2014

Director: Phillip Noyce

Based on: The Giver by Lois Lowry, published 1993

Overview: In the future, a group of humans has created an orderly society in which everyone has a role based on their aptitude, and citizens are protected from the history of the human experience – all citizens except two, that is: the Giver and the Receiver. An adolescent boy, Jonas, begins to question the wisdom of this arrangement.

Here we have another YA fantasy/speculative fiction novel (following such powerhouse franchises as The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games).  This book, however, is a little more thoughtful, and involves no romance whatsoever but instead relies upon a shared idea of what it is to be human to drive the story. This being the case – lacking vampires, archery, and young love – will it make a good film?

Working in its favor: The story and the writing are both strong – stronger, indeed, than most YA fantasy prose – and there is much that could be done cinematically to enhance the story’s impact. For instance, Jonas’s world, at the start, has no color in it – only occasional disturbances that hint at the memory of color. There is potential for some beautiful effects when portraying those disturbances.

As this book deals with memory, there is also the potential for some fun flashbacks to add some thrill to a plot otherwise short on action sequences. And then, of course, there’s the euphemistic “releasing” of individuals who are too old, or too weak, or who are not developing properly, which, if handled well, will be as gut-wrenching on film as it was in the book.

Potential issues: Of course, these things, if not handled well, could take the film from “thoughtful and affecting” to “tasteless and heavy-handed.” We don’t want the colorification to turn into a scene from Pleasantville – nor would it be right to turn the Elders of this town into morally bankrupt villains with sinister intent. One of this book’s strengths is that the view of morality is not black and white. If the film relies on a “good” versus “evil” dichotomy, it will lose a lot of the subtlety that makes the book worth reading. Likewise, the use of color versus black and white will have to be done with finesse, so that what is already heavily symbolic will not become silly when shown on screen.

Wild card: The cast. I can’t decide if the casting choices for this movie are ludicrous or a stroke of genius. Only time will tell… At this point, we have The Dude cast as The Giver of all human memory, Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder, Taylor Swift (!?) as Rosemary (the first Receiver), Katie Holmes as Jonas’s mother, and Alexander Skarsgard as Jonas’s father. Jeff Bridges could play the Giver as avuncular and flawed, and pull it off brilliantly. Meryl Streep could play the Chief Elder as well-intentioned and strict, while Katie Holmes could be appropriately wholesome as Jonas’s mother. If Rosemary’s role in the film is as small as it was in the book, it’s unlikely Taylor Swift will ruin the film by being too much “Taylor Swift, pop singer,” and not enough “Rosemary, first Receiver.” Of course, she also has the potential to surprise us with heretofore undemonstrated acting ability. Then there’s Alexander Skarsgard as Jonas’s father, a character who is complex and full of contradiction. As I only know Mr. Skarsgard from True Blood, a show that is, in my experience, as subtle as a blunt axe, I am skeptical that he’ll be able to pull off the role. Of course, it may be that quality writing is all it takes for him to shine, and with a good script he’ll do wonderfully. It seems to me, however, that with this cast, there’s the potential for it all to go horribly, horribly wrong.

Verdict – WIMAGF?: Probably “good,” but likely not “great.”