THE GIVER Comic-Con Panel Recap: Jeff Bridges and Lois Lowry Discuss the 20-Year Journey of Bringing the Sci-Fi Adaptation to Life

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I had never read The Giver until a few days ago even though I was the target audience when the book came out in 1993; it had just fallen through the cracks for me.  Feeling that I had to read the novel as due diligence, I blew through the book in a matter of hours (I read at a 1st grade level!) I was intrigued by the dystopian story, but it also made me aware that the trailers for the film adaptation were trying to squeeze it into the mold of The Hunger Games.  A sensible marketing decision, but one that may shortchange a solemn story about a young man who realizes his sterile world has wiped away memories of not only pain but also love.  I hoped that the panel would make it clear if the Hunger Games angle was more of a marketing approach or if the book had undergone some dramatic changes.

Hit the jump for my The Giver Comic-Con panel recap.  The film opens in theaters on August 15th.

the-giver-brenton-thwaites-jeff-bridgesWe began with a a video message from director Philip Noyce, who told us he was in New York finishing up post-production on the movie.  In his statement, he said “Long before The Hunger Games and Divergent…”, and that made me a bit uneasy because it means that The Giver is being defined by those books rather than vice-versa.  Again, I understand it’s a selling point, but it says the celebrated, award-winning novel isn’t strong enough to stand on its own without mentioning recent YA successes.  That may be true, but it’s still disheartening.

We were then treated to an extended trailer that felt like a condensed version of the movie.  That may not seem like a big deal if you’ve read the book, but judging by the trailer, they’ve made some big changes, and I now know how those changes play out.  As for its overall tone, it’s like the other trailers.  It’s trying to push a young person rebelling against a futuristic, high-tech, authoritarian government.  Based on the trailer, I don’t know how this movie would appeal to anyone who hadn’t read the book, and even fans of the book may be in for a disappointment.

Then they brought on the panel: Lois Lowry, Brenton Thwaites (Jonas), Jeff Bridges (The Giver), Odeya Rush (Fiona), and producer Nikki Silver.

Notes from the Panel

  • the-giver-brenton-thwaitesReactions Lowry has gotten over the years: The most surprising is people who think Jonas and the baby die at the end of the book (noting they haven’t read the sequels), and this movie clearly shows that they live.  She goes on to say that she set out to write an adventure story, and it turned out to be a story that raises questions.  “And that’s why teachers like it so much.  It raises questions for students.”
  • Bridges originally says he wanted to direct his father Lloyd Bridges, who would’ve played The Giver.  Jeff Bridges wanted to make a movie his kids could see (they’re in their 30s now), and picked up the book because of the memorable cover and the Newberry Award stamp.  He said it was a good children’s book, but the adult themes still resonated.  “So I thought this would be an easy one to make, but that was a mistake.”  He discovered that the book was controversial because it was taught in some schools and banned in others, which many have scared away some financiers.
  • Lowry is confused why people would ban the movie to begin with.  The only two scenes she can pinpoint is when the father kills the infant, and when Jonas, who’s twelve in the novel, bathes an elderly woman.  “I know you were disappointed when that scene was cut because you wanted to play the old woman!” jokes Bridges.
  • There are scenes near the end where The Giver and the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) go head-to-head.
  • Lowry wanted to rewrite the book because after the movie, she wanted to go back and expand the role of the Chief Elder like it’s been done for the film.
  • Rush says that the book is a reminder to cherish things we take for granted right down to colors and sensations.  Thwaites said he connected with Jonas, although he read the screenplay before reading the book.  “He trusts his instincts and follows his heart,” says the actor.
  • Bridges adds that it’s also about the price of comfort, and that what’s worth most comes from the price of struggle.  Lowry notes that there’s no art, music, etc. in the world of The Giver because that stuff comes from pain.  Silver then adds that at some point everyone considers at some point if a tightly-controlled world could just be easier, and that’s the thematic conflict in the story.

Q&A Highlights

  • the-giver-taylor-swift-jeff-bridgesAre there plans for a sequel based on the other books?  Lowry says it will depend on how the first one is received.
  • Lowry doesn’t think in terms of “dystopian” when she writes a book.  She thinks more in terms of character and story, and it wasn’t until she was halfway through that she realized it would have to be set in the future.  At first, she thought Jonas’ world was almost kind of neat.  But as the story developed, she discovered it to be dystopian.  But the genre wasn’t on her mind when working on the book.
  • Lowry says it wasn’t difficult to get The Giver published because she had published twenty books before and had the same editor and publisher.
  • Part of the challenge fro the movie was trying to distill and convey the themes and the breadth of humanity.
  • Lowry says after every book there are things she wished she could have done better.  But the role of the Chief Elder was the particular aspect she would like to change about this novel.  However, she’s fine that the kids are pre-teens in the book but teenagers in the movie.  She also notes that it’s not a problem because Jonas in the movie still conveys the same qualities in terms of his intelligence, curiosity, etc.
  • For his performance, Bridges’ would always go back to the book “because you can really get inside the character.”  Before shooting a scene, he would go back and read the scene from the book.
  • the-giver-brenton-thwaites-odeya-rushWhen Bridges first wanted to get his father involved, he did a reading where Lloyd Bridges played the Giver, Bridges’ nephew played Jonas, and Bud Cort narrated.  That’s right: There was a Bud Cort name-drop on the stage of Hall H.  That’s wonderful.
  • Lowry said she didn’t provide any guidance, but did provide details when asked, specifically by Noyce.  So for example, she got an e-mail about “What would Jonas’ bedroom look like?”
  • Bridges at first was adamant that the characters should be pre-teens, and he even reached the point where he thought about walking away because of all the changes that were suggested.  But he imagined what it would be like in the future if he had turned it down, so he jumped on board with the changes and went with them.  And he was convinced about aging the characters up when he saw Thwaites and Rush’s performances.

Closing Thoughts

You can tell this panel appealed more to fans of the book because even though Jeff Bridges was on stage, most of the questions were directed at Lowry.  She was even trying to deflect some of the questions to bring the other panel members into the Q&A.  And while it’s nice that her fans were able to talk to her, I remain unconvinced when it comes to the adaptation.  Hopefully the movie is good, but the best thing to come out of this panel is someone brought up Bud Cort, which is perhaps the most random name drop I’ve ever seen at Comic-Con.

Click here to catch up on all of our Comic-Con 2014 coverage thus far.

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