Ever since its publication in 1993, Lois Lowry’s dystopian young adult novel “The Giver” has been a staple in grade school literature classrooms. Now, almost a quarter of a century later, slackers all over the country are finally able to skip the text in lieu of a ninety minute adaptation that sticks mostly to the source material. The only problem: with so many other recently released YA dystopian adaptions racking up plenty of cash at the box office, yet another addition to the genre really doesn’t seem all that necessary. Seriously, apart from said underachievers looking to watch the movie instead of read the book, this film from Phillip Noyce (Salt) and starring newcomer Brenton Thwaites (Oculus) is nothing more than another run of the mill futuristic teen melodrama. With “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” series clogging the market, this addition to the canon will certainly be quickly forgotten.
For anyone that hasn’t had the pleasure of reading the novel in middle school, “The Giver” tells the story of 12-year-old Jonas (Thwaites). Unlike the much more liberal world we live in, Jonas is part of a future utopian society where there is no such thing as color, emotion, or feelings. Just like Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz”, the community Jonas was born into is completely black and white.
Everything changes for the teen during the annual age ceremony conducted by the president of the community, Chief Elder (Meryl Streep). As the teenager waits alongside his best friends, Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan), to see what their roles in life will be, he is specially selected to become the new holder of memories. In short, Jonas is next in line to consume all the secrets of the entire history of the world, while the rest of his community will continue living in complete ignorance.
The current possessor of this power, The Giver (Jeff Bridges), is assigned to transmit these memories over to Jonas, meaning the teen will experience wonderful and horrible things that he was never previously aware of.
Considering the success of "The Hunger Games" and the like, it's no surprise that Lowry’s text is finally getting the Hollywood treatment. Unfortunately, the filmmakers responsible for bringing the pages to life do so without any worthwhile spark. Newbies Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, along with director Phillip Noyce flounder when it comes to creating an exciting story to watch on screen.
problems start with the decision to change the age of Jonas from a 12 year old boy to a much more mature 17 year old teenager—actually played by the 25-year-old Brenton Thwaites. Not only does Thwaites look way too old for the part, but the entire concept of kids sacrificing their childhoods to act like adults is all but lost when dealing with a character that is already bordering on adulthood. As far as Thwaites acting is concerned, the fresh-faced star doesn’t shine as bright as he needs to be. In the community Jonas is a part of, all residents are required to take a shot every day that dampens any and all emotion. Thwaites appears to have been taking this type of medication the entire time the film was in production.
As far as the major icons on display are concerned, Jeff Bridges, in the tile role of The Giver, is just OK in the part. Sure, the book and movie never really flesh his character out, but the actor doesn’t do much in giving his vision of the Giver any discernable characteristics. The Giver does have the annoying habit of talking as if his mouth was full of marbles, though.
Along the same lines, Meryl Streep seems to be putting just as much effort into playing the community leader. Typically acting in the form of hologram messages to Jonas or one of his friends, Streep certainly isn’t as dynamic in the role as we normally always see her. Taylor Swift is equally disappointing in her small role as Jonas' predecessor and even Katie Holmes doesn’t take advantage of some much needed screen time.
Slowly flowing from scene to scene without any real conflict, Mitnick and Weide’s script certainly lacks the on edge uncertainty of Lowry’s original novel. When the time does come to lead the film toward major conflict, the script manages to unhinge even further. I won’t spoil anything for you, but there is forced romance, a completely unnecessary chase scene through the desert, and more than a few instances of B-grade special effects.
Noyce gets a lot out of “The Giver’s” early use of black and white, but as Jonas learns to see more colors than a rainbow, he zaps “The Giver” of its visual gravitas. As the boy receives memories in the form of slow motion montages of people laughing and smiling from all corners of the Earth, “The Giver” starts to look more like the latest Discover channel special rather than a big budget summer release.
In the end, with back to school right around the corner, I’d wait to read the book in the classroom instead of wasting your time with this dud. Just like the citizens in “The Giver” talk and act the same, this film is way too similar to some much better YA dystopian adaptations already in theaters and on DVD.
By David Morris
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence