There are many reasons why the film companion to Lois Lowry’s The Giver has taken several years to get off of the ground. First of all, much like Watchmen, Ender’s Game, and The Godfather, Lowry’s dystopian future novel has gained a reputation of being distinctly “unfilmable.”
Fans of the book can understand this trepidation, as the pages of the book do a great job of keeping the secrets that eventually work their way into the film’s main conflict.
However, Hollywood loves a challenge, and when actor Jeff Bridges approached Lowry about converting the book into a film, it didn’t require a Walt Disney/P.L. Travers/Mary Poppins-esque courtship process.
“I have always, even before he was the mega star that he is now, been a fan of Jeff Bridges,” said Lowry in our exclusive interview with her.
“I’m sure it’s not a surprise that he’s a very nice man, a genuinely nice man, so I wasn’t really worried about it. I was impressed by the fact that he loved the book and wanted to make the movie.”
This comes as a relief to fans worried that the spirit of the book would be unrecognizable from its silver screen cousin.
“He didn’t want to make a movie having nothing to do with the original material. They were, from the start, very devoted to the book. So no, there was no coercion, and very little courting involved.”
In fact, Bridges and Lowry talked at length about the changes that would inevitably have to be made in order for the film to work.
“There are some changes for obvious reasons,” said Lowry. “The book is very introspective, there’s not a lot of action, and a movie has to have visual stuff, so there’s been action added that is not in the book.”
Fans of any book-to-film adaptations should be used to this sort of thing by now. Whether it’s the choice to throw in a burning Burrow in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, or the decision to axe the giant squid monster from the final act of Watchmen, sometimes sacrifices must be made in order to fit a story into the film medium. Lowry understands this better than most, and even included a foreward regarding the film in reprints of The Giver.
The important thing is that a film doesn’t obliterate a book. The movie is here now. But the book hasn’t gone away. It has simply grown up, grown larger, and begun to glisten in a new way.
True fans know that the book will never “go away.” In fact, all many of them really care about is whether or not the film will actually remain true to the original intent of the novel.
Luckily, we have the prognosis straight from the author’s mouth: “It’s well done,” said Lowry. “Very suspenseful. I had two grandchildren here this weekend, teenagers, and I showed it to them. I have it on my computer, and they were on the edge of their seat for the last 5-10 minutes, and that’s how it should be in a movie.”
There was, however, one element from her original novel that Lowry fought to preserve.
“I wanted to maintain the ambiguous ending, which has happened,” said Lowry, implicating that the famously untied ending is integral to the story’s message. “There was a discussion about the importance of the book, and how important it was to make the movie well.”
Obviously, to fans, there is a huge pressure to make the movie well. This was perhaps best demonstrated when the first trailer premiered and fans of the book immediately stormed the gates because the footage was presented in color.
It’s worth mentioning to non-readers that the universe presented in The Giver is subtly colorless, a fact that’s strategically kept a secret for a good portion of the book.
We asked Lowry how she felt when the first trailer premiered in color, and she thought the whole thing was quite funny because she already knew that the film was filmed in black and white.
“Why they decided to release that first trailer, I don’t know. I don’t think it was a conscious decision to try to trick people, but they certainly did cause a great uproar, and it certainly brought home the fact that people feel passionately about the book. And so then a second trailer was released that placated them. I found the whole thing kind of amusing.”
In bringing her hit novel to the screen, they had to do more than just take the color out of the shots. They had to inject her imagined landscape with actors, which was a difficult task given that Lowry wasn’t imagining any big names when she originally created the characters.
“Visually, I always see the characters in my mind, but I don’t see them in the faces, under the guise of real actors or well-known faces. I see imaginary faces,” said Lowry. Although she didn’t imagine the words of The Giver coming from Jeff Bridges’ mouth when she originally wrote the book, she is confident in the casting decisions made by the production team.
“It’s all fallen into place and they look exactly as they should,” assures Lowry. “I think Jeff, without a question, is the right person in the role and he does a fantastic job.”
When it came to filling out the rest of the roles, Lowry admits that she was pleasantly surprised by a number of casting decisions.
“I had not a hint that they were wooing Meryl Streep into doing it,” said Lowry, referring to Streep’s role as the Chief Elder. “She’s amazing in the role, and not surprisingly, her role, which is a very minor one in the book, becomes larger in the movie, and she plays it with just chilling perfection. Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgård are amazing as well as the parents. Taylor Swift had already come and gone when I was there, so I did not get to see her play her relatively small, but important role. Every one of them was carefully selected, and it’s funny because in the book the term ‘selection’ is used for the boy. ‘You’ve been selected.’ These actors were selected and they were absolutely the right choices.”
From the very beginning, Bridges actually championed his father, Lloyd Bridges, to play the title role of The Giver. Sadly, Lloyd passed away before the film was even officially greenlit, but we were surprised to find out that a version of The Giver exists with Lloyd in the main role.
“Jeff told me that they filmed a whole movie inside his garage with his father playing the role, and others gathered so they could play out the whole thing in their living room,” revealed Lowry.
It’s never easy to take a well-known and much-beloved book, especially one that means many things to many people, and turn it into a major motion picture. According to Lowry, she has seen it twice now, in different stages of production, and although there’s still plenty of work to be done before it hits theaters next month, she feels as though she’s made the right move by trusting Bridges with her baby.
“Despite the fact that there have been some changes along the way, I never felt that it was in sleazy hands,” said Lowry. “It’s always been in the right hands.”
The Giver hits theaters on August 15, 2014.