In my recent column about the transfer of Harry Potter from page to screen, I used Lois Lowry’s The Giver as an example of a book that could never be made into a film because of its nature.
It was then revealed to me that The Giver is headed to the big screen.
I’m not a naysayer. Fans of my regular column know that I prefer to look on the bright side of life, but as soon as this news reached my ears I had an immediate allergic reaction.
The Giver? Is nothing sacred? How could a film adaptation possibly do justice to the original novel? How would it be possible to capture the magic of the book on screen? Like I talked about at length in my column, the conversion from book to film is never an easy one.
A book is a mental medium while a film is a visual medium and fans of The Giver will immediately understand why this is a problem.
Those of you that have not read The Giver should probably skip this piece since I’m about to reveal something huge about the plot that would infinitely complicate the movie adaptation.
The power of The Giver isn’t in what is talked about, it’s in what is not talked about. One of the very first huge reveals of the novel is the reveal that color does not exist anymore.
Sure, it seems simple enough. Film it in black and white, dust off your hands and call it a day.
The problem with this, of course, is that a savvy audience will be looking for a reason. In a novel, all you have to do is omit any reference to color. I went back and checked. Where before I could have sworn that they made mention of a red bicycle, there was just mention of a bicycle. Sure enough, I had colored in their world myself without being instructed to.
Since 99.9% of films nowadays are produced in color (because why not?) if a film is presented in black and white the audience will wonder why. When the big reveal comes to light, depending on how it is handled, it can either come off as brilliant, or just plain stupid.
Imagine the scene when our protagonist witnesses a flash of color on the ball in his schoolyard.
In the book, it’s noted that he sees a “shift” in the ball. Because we haven’t been told yet that color doesn’t exist anymore in this world, we’re left wondering what he could have possibly meant. In a film, because we’re basically forced to see what he’s talking about, we might understand right off the bat that it’s color that he’s talking about.
If we have a million-dollar, slow-motion, computer-animated, super-detailed reveal of “OH EM GEE the ball is turning red! ITS COLOR! IT’S BLACK AND WHITE IN THEIR WORLD TOO!!!” then the film adaptation may have taken a step in the wrong direction.
We’re here for The Giver to give us this information, not a team of thirty special effects artists.
The moment I heard that it was being adapted, I imagined that the heavily nuanced scenes would be handled like this and I turned against it immediately. It wasn’t until I talked to a friend of mine that I realized that it might actually be possible to bring The Giver to the big screen and still retain the magic of the book.
Imagine if instead of the million dollar treatment of the ball, we just saw the look on the protagonist’s face as he noticed the shift? We don’t need to see the ball, we don’t need to see the color. Until the Giver reveals the world’s lack of color, we don’t need to notice that anything is out of the ordinary.
Fans of the book know what other things are absent in this world. Snow, pain, family, music, love are just a few of them, but each reveal is almost as important as the last. It would be a tight-rope walk, ensuring that all of these surprises wait until they are revealed without the audience noticing them, but if they are handled carefully, The Giver film could very well end up being a masterpiece.
The Giver novel takes advantage of what is not mentioned, and in doing so it takes advantage of one the basic aspects of literature itself. It walks a very fine line between honest storytelling and self awareness. If the movie version does the same by using the trickery of the medium to hide things instead of showing them, then the film adaptation will be staying closer to the spirit of the novel itself.
Right now, Jeff Bridges is slated to play the all-important Giver and the wheels are in motion to get the film into production. Harry Potter director David Yates is rumored to direct.
Personally, I would prefer to see Marc Webb at the helm since his 500 Days of Summer has me convinced that he has no problem cranking out an unconventional film that takes advantage of the medium of film itself, but if Yates ends up stepping up to the plate (after Deathly Hallows- Part 2, studios have been clamoring to get their hands on him), I would want him to spend more time with it instead of cranking it out Harry Potter style.
In the months to come, we’ll find out more about the production, including who is slated to play Jonas, who has been tied down to direct, and who will adapt the screenplay. Who knows, The Giver to film might be the smartest book-to-film adaptation since The Godfather (which, by the way, is another book no one thought could be adapted to film).
They just better not try to make a sequel.
This column post was written by Hypable Movies Editor Jimmy Bean. Follow him on Twitter @ThisIsJimmyBean