Friday, August 15, 2014

The Giver Review

Throughout my years in grade school, there were plenty of books that I was assigned to read. Not all of these turned out to my enjoyment, but there's one that has always stood out. The Giver. My reading of it goes all the way back to the sixth grade, which for me is about 14 years ago. I've not read it since, but it's one of those books that instantly became a favorite of mine and thus I still remember it quite well even after so many years. Thus when the movie was announced I was immediately excited because it's the type of book that would make an excellent movie. Then the trailers were released. Suddenly I went from excitement to dread as it appeared that they weren't going to do the book justice. But yet, I decided to keep an open mind. After seeing it, I walked out of the theater frustrated. Not because it was a complete mess, but because they almost nailed it. They got so close. But alas, the magic from the book has been taken away. What a shame.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, the premise of the story focuses around this dystopian society where emotion has been completely removed. No love. No fear. No pain. No disappointment. No feeling at all. There's not even any color as everything is black and white. This has been done for "the greater good." People live in family units that they are assigned to, perform careers that they are assigned to, and follow the strict rules of the town to a t. Jonas is our main character and when it is time for him and his friends to be assigned careers, he is given the unique assignment as the receiver of memories. He is to learn from the one person in the town that possesses all the memories and emotion from the past. This person is known as the giver. As Jonas learns about the past, his perspective on everything slowly changes.

The book itself is slow-moving with lots of build-up and not a whole lot of action or drama. But the way in which it is done is completely mesmerizing and beautifully written. I would truly call it a masterpiece. Early on in the movie, though, there are quite a bit of red flags that made me really worried. The biggest one is the age. Jonas and his friends are 12 years old in the book. In the movie I think they are supposed to be 16, although Jonas himself is played by Brenton Thwaits who is 25. The ages of the characters lead to a love story that was completely fabricated by the movie. But before we get to that, the pacing is off. Instead of having a lot of build-up with the characters, we jump right in and before you know it Jonas has been assigned and is with the giver receiving his training. That and there's a lot more rule breaking than there should be.

But do you know what, I made the decision early on that I wasn't going to be that type of viewer. It often bothers me when a fan of a book made into movie complains at all the tiny little details in the movie that were wrong. So I accepted the things that were happening. Sure, they were different, but they weren't awful. The age of Jonas didn't even bother me. Thus for most of the movie I was actually able to enjoy what was going on. And to be honest, there was a whole lot of things that the movie did right. Despite jumping into things a bit fast, the tone of the movie was done right. As it should be, it was very emotional especially for Jonas as he is gaining new feelings and emotions that he has previously not experienced. Visually the movie was done very well and I especially liked how they transitioned back and forth from black and white to color depending on who the movie was focused. Also, all the acting was top notch. Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep give excellent performances, but I especially loved Bridges. He was perfect as the giver. I also did enjoy the performance of Brenton Thwaits as Jonas. Despite being older than he should be, he pulled off the emotional roller-coaster that is Jonas quite perfectly.

So yes, this movie was a good movie for most of it and thus I was finding myself quite pleased in what they had put together. Then the final act of the movie happened. And obviously I won't give away the ending. But let me say that in the book the style of how the story ends is fairly unique, at least to me, and thus quite genius. It's like a big puzzle where not all of the pieces are put in place, but there are enough of them to allow you to envision the rest on your own. This style makes the story very thought-provoking and the more you reflect on it, the more you realize how perfect everything is. And if you've read the book, you'll know exactly what I am talking about. It's quite magical. And unfortunately, this is where the movie crosses the line. There's a lot of things in the movie that I was able to forgive. Their approach on the ending was unforgivable. They didn't make any drastic changes, but what they did was essentially turn The Giver into what could've been titled The Giver for Dummies. They leave no room for questions. They leave no room for thought-provoking discussions. They just completely spell everything out. Now if one were to watch the movie without having read the book, I think one might be able to enjoy how it ended. But because I read the book I saw the potential in the movie and I knew that the movie could've been a whole lot more and thus I was frustrated with the overall result.

In analyzing everything, I've decided that the big problem with the movie is that the makers of the movie tried so hard to be the next big young adult dystopian movie. Instead of trusting in the brilliance of the source-material, the motivation seemed to be financially motivated. They wanted this to be the next Hunger Games or the next Divergent. They wanted it so much that they altered the source material enough to make sure it felt like that style of movie. And in doing so, they took away all the magic of the book and left me disappointed. Had they trusted in the source material for the whole ride instead of just part of it, this could've been an epic movie. But it's not. Instead of going the way of The Hunger Games, this is more along the lines of Eragon. Failed potential. No, this isn't nearly as disastrous as Eragon was, but you get the point. My grade for The Giver is a 6/10.

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