It was almost 20 years ago that the actor Jeff Bridges was searching for a movie project that would be a family affair – where he could direct his father, Lloyd, in a film that his children would want to see.
An entry in a children’s book catalogue caught his eye. “It had a picture of this old grizzled guy on the cover,” he says. “And I said: ‘Oh, Dad could do that!’ ”
That book was The Giver by Lois Lowry, which won the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1994 and has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. Bridges read it, then mentioned it to his children. "They said: 'Oh, we know that, we read it in school.' It turned out there were whole curriculums based on it," says Bridges.
In fact, there's hardly a middle-schooler in America who hasn't been assigned The Giver at some point. So the film version, opening this week, isn't exactly riding the coattails of book-to-film franchises such as The Hunger Games and Divergent. In a way, it started the whole craze. But why did it take so long to reach the screen?
“I thought: ‘It’s gonna be a cinch,’” Bridges says with a smile. “And that was 18 years ago.”
There were problems. The book, which depicts euthanasia for one, was banned in some places. And because so much of the action took place inside the mind of its main character, it was hard to adapt into a screenplay. At least five or six versions were written. Financing also proved elusive.
Years went by and Bridges and Lowry watched as young-adult dystopian fiction became the next big thing in Hollywood. The Hunger Games debuted in 2012 and Divergent earlier this year.
“It was kind of unnerving,” says Lowry. But she and Bridges agree that maybe it was a good thing that it took so long to make the film in which Bridges ended up taking the title role.
“At first I was saying, ‘Oh darn, we missed the boat’,” says Bridges. “But really, our movie wouldn’t have gotten made without those movies leading the way.”
Lowry hopes the other films will increase the audience for The Giver.
“And as for fans of the book,” she adds, “we all so hope they won’t be outraged by the changes that were necessary. I’ve been trying to reassure them.”
Lowry thinks that if she published her book today, it wouldn’t cause nearly the same stir it did two decades ago.
"Now, we've been exposed to something like The Hunger Games, where children are killing other children," she says. "So The Giver sounds like mild fare compared to that."