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Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: The Giver vs. The Maze Runner: two young adult novel adaptations with male leads, played by relative newcomers, that battle oppressive, futuristic societies with alarming stakes.
PremiseYoung adult novels crafted out of dystopian fantasy are a dime in a dozen these days. Films like The Hunger Games and Divergent have established the role of the apocalyptic heroine as one of the most popular, and bankable, female characters in Hollwood. Apparently male actors weren’t feeling the love, because now adaptations of The Giver and The Maze Runner are also slated for big-screen releases within a month of each other, later this year. The premises are as follows: The Giver, Lois Lowry’s classic YA novel, follows a boy named Jonas (played by newcomer Brenton Thwaites) who lives in a utopian society, where everyone has a specific role and no one ever feels any discomfort. At age 12, he’s selected to become the society’s next “Receiver of Memories,” under apprenticeship of The Giver. His new role imparts on him all the wisdom and misery of reality, and it’s up to Jonas to live with this new awareness or face the deception of his community head on. The Maze Runner was written by James Dashner over a decade later, much like its equally techie contemporaries Divergent and The Hunger Games. It takes place inside a strange maze (no surprise there) inhabited by adolescent boys with no memories of their prior lives. When Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is transported there, he makes it his mission to find an escape. The Maze Runner is lesser-known, mainly because it was only published in 2009, but Lowry’s Giver is a classic tale of individuality.Advantage: The GiverDirectorThese films have many similarities, but when it comes to their respective directors, The Giver and The Maze Runner actually diverge significantly. The Giver‘s Phillip Noyce made a name directing action thrillers and fast paced crime dramas such as Patriot Games, Salt, and a few episodes of Luck and Revenge. Wes Ball of The Maze Runner has worked mainly in visual effects and art direction up until now. He’s directed two shorts (Jacob: The Movie and A Work in Progress), but Runner will be his first feature. Aside from the experience deficit between Noyce and Ball, there will likely also be vast differences in tonality between the films. The Maze Runner has an extremely technical premise. The shifting maze and dangerous surrounding forest-thing filled with beasts present production hurdles that Ball is probably well suited for (the movie’s polished trailer attests to this). Noyce’s directing style and experience points to speed and stunts, but The Giver is more psychological than action-based. Noyce should be the obvious choice (it even rhymes!) here, but we’re interested to see how Ball applies his art and effects background to The Maze Runner‘s hyper-realized dystopia.Advantage: The Maze Runner
CastThe Giver has Thwaites (best known for his role in the Aussie soap Home and Away) as Jonas, and Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood, Melancholia) and Katie Holmes (Batman Begins) as his parents, Meryl Streep (no parentheses necessary) as the eerie Head Elder, and Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart, True Grit) as The Giver. Cameron Monaghan (Shameless) and Odeya Rush appear as Asher and Fiona, Jonas’s best friends. And Taylor Swift plays Rosemary, the failed Receiver before Jonas. The Maze Runner‘s cast isn’t quite as stacked, but it does boast quite a bit of burgeoning talent. In particular, Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones), Will Poulter (We’re the Millers), and Kayla Scodelario (Moon, The Truth About Emmanuel, Skins). Dylan O’Brien, who plays the protagonist, hasn’t done much outside of MTV’s Teen Wolf reboot and a part in The Internship, but the studios have put plenty of money behind The Maze Runner—no doubt hoping it lives up to Hunger Games-esque profits—so chances are there’s something there. The Giver, on the other hand, isn’t lacking in established actors, but there’s something ultimately more promising about a cast of newcomers than a ticket to go see Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift.Advantage: The Maze RunnerHeroIf we had to choose just one glaring similarity between Thwaites and O’Brien, it’s the fact that these two young actors have just been handed an immense opportunity, and that the brains and wallets behind The Giver and The Maze Runner are putting a ballsy amount of faith in them. We could talk about which one’s easier on the eyes (arbitrarily at best), or whose minimal experience is more promising, but what it really comes down to is which one will live up to expectations best. O’Brien has an undeniable on-screen magnetism to him (just watch the trailer), but with that said, there seems to be something subtle about Thwaites’s acting that indicates a talent deeper than the action blockbuster role. Advantage: The GiverVillainsThe Giver‘s villainess, if you will, is an ice-cold, Miranda Priestly-channeling Meryl Streep, as the community’s Chief Elder. As the executive and controller of Jonas’s insulated utopia, she represents all the stagnancy and control to which Jonas is finally opening his eyes. In the trailer Meryl rocks long gray hair and a perpetual stink eye. Color us intrigued. The Maze Runner‘s villain in the long run is unclear from the trailer, because none of the boys know how they got there or why, but in the short term, it’s clearly the beast-like animals that plague the surrounding maze. Along with the maze’s constantly shifting walls, the beasts are the only thing preventing the group from escaping to the world outside and revealing what’s imprisoned them. So in comparison this bizarre, we’ve got Meryl Streep versus some seriously scary animated creatures. But really, what competition doesn’t Meryl win?Advantage: The GiverThe VerdictThe Giver and The Maze Runner are the types of ridiculously similar upcoming movies that make this job actually matter, because just watching the trailers, it’s not abundantly clear which film should earn your $10 (or $14). As enticing as the relatively novel premise, young cast, and experimental new director of The Maze Runner are, there’s a reason The Giver has been required reading in most middle schools in America for the last 15 or so years. It’s about time someone takes on its big-screen adaptation.Winner: The Giver