Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Gut Reaction: The Giver First Trailer

The beloved novel, The Giver, is getting the silver-screen treatment and today, the first brief trailer was released.

My memories of the novel are rather murky, existing as a collection of vague impressions and images. I do remember being very moved by it, particularly the ending, and can recall a distinct tone - a dark, mournful and decidedly serious examination of adolescent behavior.

I also remember that the world in which the characters lived was literally without color - though one of the powers of The Giver was the ability to see color. I also don't remember the world being a Hunger Games/1984 knock-off that looked and sounded like a television show on the CW Network.

But perhaps I just didn't read too closely. The impression I got was that the dystopian future depicted was more akin the society shown in the Star Trek TNG episode The Inner Light - humble and rustic (it's been over a decade so I might be wrong).

Regardless, this movie, based on this trailer, is yet another in a long line of films that looks like television - bad television - and shows the future as a gray, boring, sterile yet simultaneously flashy, blue-tinted city with assembly lines, council meetings, and flying cars...and a chosen one meant to save everyone. For the life of me I cannot comprehend why modern filmmakers don't seem to want (or know how) to make their movie look like a movie.

The novel wasn't my favorite growing up, but it did leave a positive, lasting impression on me, so when I heard there was going to be a film starring Jeff Bridges and Merryl Streep, I got excited.

To see this, that the film has been shaped into something clearly marketed at tweens who love The Hunger Games (something hollow, commercial, and filmed without style or substance), is incredibly discouraging.

The Giver should look like it was shot by Roger Deakins. And it should be in black and white - save what The Giver sees. Going the more honest, accurate-to-the-source-material route is clearly dangerous from a marketing standpoint, likely to alienate all those easy tween-bucks. And so we are left with this, something that appears to be weak, safe, non-committal, and something that should alienate the built-in audience, but appeals to all those that know nothing about The Giver (though I'd be surprised if this trailer managed to interest even them).

The tone of this cover should translate into the tone of the film.
It's odd to have actors like Streep and Bridges in a film that isn't meant for anyone who's interested in the kind of film those actors are typically in. It's as though (again, based on this trailer) the film suffers from an identity crisis. It bills these two talented performers as Oscar winners in an attempt to appeal to "serious" moviegoers, and then it flashes shots of pretty, young people who appear to be more model than actor.

I'm falling prey to a gut reaction, and may have to eat my words in the future. I hope I do. I want to be positive about things. But when I see this...sameness (something The Giver very purposefully criticizes), I can't help but be discouraged. There have been far too many safe movies of late. Movies that all look the same, sound the same, and feel the same. And many of them are making a billion dollars.

Film is an art with the potential to change lives, not merely a fun summer and a thoughtful winter. We've turned this art and this pastime into a predictable joke. Recent trends have reduced it to a mere business where the most cost-effective and simultaneously grandiose means of focus-grouped production and distribution are celebrated, while independent film is bought and sold by massive corporations.

Hopefully, as a new generation rises, a generation with instant access to entire libraries of artists' work like Kubrick, Bergman, Coppola and Scorsese, more honest, sincere films will find their way to our silver screens.

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