The New York Times

A Surprise “Giver”

Can the movie adaptation of a young adult novel that's more "1984" than "Harry Potter" make it in 2014?

Lois Lowry's haunting 1993 young adult novel, "The Giver," takes place in a supposedly Utopian society where "sameness" is valued above all.

More than two decades after its publication, "The Giver" hits theaters Aug. 15, becoming the latest in a growing library of Y.A. fantasy books to get a big screen berth. But as easy as it might be to lump in Lowry's award-winning novel with others in the genre, there’s no "sameness" about "The Giver."

"The Giver" arrives bearing perhaps the toughest question of the summer movie season: Can the film adaptation of a young adult novel that's more "1984" than "Harry Potter" make it in 2014?

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Like book-to-film series from "Potter" to "The Hunger Games," "The Giver" is built around a young protagonist with a burden and a challenge. In Lowry’s dystopian creation, Jonas lives in a bland world where – thanks to some secret, totalitarian-style social engineering – everyone is basically the same, with little deviation on the emotions meter. But when Jonas is chosen as the successor to the Receiver of Memory, the holder of the pains and joys of history, the boy’s gray eyes open to his bleak reality.

While the movie version of “The Giver” has the opportunity to present contrasting, visually stunning landscapes, and build plenty of suspense, much of Jonas’ struggle is internal – especially compared to the outsized, special effects-propelled battles movie audience have come to expect from Y.A. fantasyland.

The biggest battle for “The Giver” might be to avoid the cinematic quicksand of mushy “Twilight” terrain. Lowry recently told The New York Times Magazine the filmmakers listened to her when she balked at some “too sexy” costumes. “I asked them: ‘Please don’t turn this into a teenage romance,’” she said.

The quality cast, which includes Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges in the title role as the elder who passes on hidden collective memories to Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), bodes well for the film. So does the involvement of The Weinstein Company, which has produced character-driven gems ranging from “The Kings’ Speech” to “Butter,” and of versatile director Phillip Noyce, whose repertoire runs from “Patriot Games” to “Rabbit-Proof Fence.”

 As “The Giver” vies to make memories all its own, check out a preview

Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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