First up is the oldest of the books-turned-to-movies that was released in August, the film version of Lois Lowry's The Giver.
The good news about this movie is that I ended up liking it better than I thought I would, based on the trailer I saw beforehand. At the very least, it was a great example of the relative strengths of telling stories via film or via text and how a tale can change in the different media.
Lowry's The Giver was an early entry in the youth future dystopia genre, having won the Newbery Award in 1994. It was more in the vein of 1963 Newbery Winner A Wrinkle in Time than contemporary dystopic literature epitomized by the 2008 publication, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (who may never have won any major writing awards, but whose current net worth is estimated at $60 million). For a book about a dystopic future, The Giver is a relatively gentle and quiet book. It is more parable than thriller, more reflective than action-packed. Thus, it was hard for me to see how it could retain its identity while being marketed to an audience raised on Michael Bay bombastics and Twilight-level dramatics. And, indeed, the ending of the book has been changed significantly to greatly increase the action, stakes, and drama for the conclusion of the movie.
So, as I suspected from the trailer, I didn't like that. But what I hadn't realized from the trailer was the movie would make the beginning and the middle of the story, during which the movie stays pretty faithful to the book, so much more emotionally evocative for me. And that experience helped me to accept what I thought was an inferior ending, which I found ridiculous and overwrought.
The main premise of The Giver is that after some kind of terrible war called "The Ruin," society has been reformed to emphasize equality and "sameness." Jonas, the young protagonist, has been chosen to become "The Receiver of Memories"--one of the few in the society who can recall what life was like before the society. These memories are being transferred to him by "The Giver," an elderly community member who has been the sole protector of these memories for many years.
The book describes the world of "The Community" as being black and white. To me, however, that was more of a metaphor than a literal picture. However, in the movie, the world is actually black and white at the beginning. They also make Jonas and his friends into 18 year olds, rather than 13 year olds, which makes the later actions more believable to me.
But as the movie shows Jonas receiving memories and discovering the worlds of color, beauty, music, and emotion, it is a much more sensory experience than my imagination created when I was reading the book. This gave me a greater appreciation for Jonas' sense of wonder and confusion and horror and loss as he is gradually exposed to the extremes of human life as it used to be. The inclusion of music, which was not part of the book, made it all even more powerful. I also think they did a fantastic job filming the memories, which were basically scenes that conveyed a feeling rather than being stories in themselves.
In short, reading the book made me think about its characters, particular Jonas, and their experience in life, whereas the movie really made me feel Jonas' advances and struggles. So I can appreciate both of them for being an appropriate use of its own particular medium.
However, if you enhance the emotions and drama of the body of the story, I suppose maybe it wouldn't work to keep the original ending. In the book, the major conflict is more of an individual one--Jonas deciding what the right thing to do is and whether he has enough strength to do what he thinks he needs to do. But with the movie, we have fighter pilots, and chase scenes, and trials and punishment, and authority figures arguing policy, and conflict between friendship and duty, and, of course, the requisite YA romance.
Like I said, overwrought.
Rather than the audience wrestling with these philosophical issues themselves, the major characters debate it onscreen. Plus, the movie kind of tips the scale more than is necessary. Also, the end of the book is WAY more ambiguous. By the end of the movie, I was wondering if Jonas wasn't guilty of some of the same accusations he made against the people he opposed (I don't want to say it more clearly for those who haven't read the book or watched the movies).
However, overall, I could swallow the ending because I really enjoyed how they presented the world and the story that came before. Of course, it doesn't hurt that some of the adult actors are legends in their own time, including Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges (who apparently had been trying to make the book into a movie for years), and the young leads are quite good. So I guess I can give a thumbs up to the movie....as long as you promise to go read the book as well.