‘The Giver’: Jeff Bridges’ 18-year dream comes true

Posted at 1:52 PM, Aug 15, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-15 13:52:26-04

(CNN) — Outside of superheroes, young adult adaptations have become one of the few thing studios can count on.

From the “Twilight” series ($3.3 billion earned globally) to “Harry Potter” ($7.7 billion total) to “The Hunger Games” ($1.5 billion worldwide so far), franchises based on popular books made for adolescents have turned into a safer gamble. With the alluring promise of an eager, built-in fanbase, even stand-alone YA adaptations — like “The Fault In Our Stars,” which opened at No. 1 in June — hold the potential to be deliciously lucrative.

Taking stock of the studio landscape, it isn’t too surprising that “The Giver’s” moment at the movies has finally come to pass. Based on Lois Lowry’s best-selling, award-winning 1993 novel, “The Giver” actually struggled to make it into production, being ahead of its time with dystopian themes of an all-controlling government and a young boy who begins to rebel against it.

That sounds de rigueur now, but in the ’90s the book’s popularity was only eclipsed by its reputation among some as too disturbing for the classroom. Lowry’s story follows a 12-year-old named Jonas who is raised in what he believes is a utopia, a place where conformity isn’t an option and being different can cost you your life. The residents’ world is void of color and strong emotion, but they also don’t suffer from war or pain, and have no memories to remind them of what they’re missing.

When Jonas is elected to become the Receiver of Memory, he learns from The Giver — the wizened, silver-haired gentleman seen gazing out from the book cover — all that’s amiss in his world.

Lowry’s tale resonated with actor Jeff Bridges upon its release, and he initially pictured his father, Lloyd Bridges, playing the role of The Giver. But Bridges’ road to getting the movie made turned out to be longer than he thought.

According to Lowry, Bridges and his team first approached her about two years after “The Giver” was published.

“He was passionate about the book,” Lowry said at the movie’s August 11 premiere in New York. “What sold me on it was his passion. I knew he wouldn’t let the themes and ideas of the books be lost.”

But the actor’s passion had to sustain him for 18 years as he lost the movie rights and regained them again.

“Originally I wanted to direct my father in the movie, and he is no longer with us,” Bridges said of his dad, who died in 1998.

“But I was originally inspired by this old grisly guy on the cover of Lowry’s book, and more and more I started to look like this old, grizzled guy,” the now-64-year-old continued. “And I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I can play this part,’ so I’m just thrilled we put together this wonderful team and after 18 years we finally got it up on screen.”

With Bridges installed as The Giver, the movie tapped Australian actor Brenton Thwaites to play Jonas, who in the movie is already a teenager rather than on the cusp of becoming one.

Jonas’ older age is one of the tweaks the movie adaptation made to accommodate the story for the screen. For critics, the movie hasn’t exactly lived up to the book, but for Lowry the movie’s right on time.

“If they had made the movie 20 years ago, or even 18 years ago when they first optioned it, many things couldn’t have happened,” Lowry said. “Jeff Bridges wasn’t old enough to play the title role. Some of the kids in the movie weren’t even born and the technology wasn’t as good. They made a better movie because they waited.”

CNN’s Lorenza Brascia and Joan Yeam contributed to this report.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.