September 1, 2014

Movie Review: The Giver

I admit that the current trend of YA novel adaptations has done little to capture my imagination. I think the Hunger Games has done a fine job at adapting the ideas and stories into the visual medium of the movies. This is not something that translates across the board. Frankly, many of the movies all look like the same thing to me. Anyway, I did go out and see The Giver, against my better judgment, and I was surprised to discover a movie with some interesting ideas. However, I was not surprised to find a boring and bland film. It is not something I can easily explain, but I will give it a little bit of a shot.

Based on Lois Lowry's novel of the same name (and first in a trilogy), the movie is set in an undisclosed future utopia that is actually a veneer over a dystopia. The adaptation was written by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide (Mother Night) and directed by Philip Noyce (Salt, Catch a Fire). The movie is surprisingly not built on action sequences, although it would have benefited of some sort of life injection, rather it is built on ideas, which are sadly not well translated.

The world of The Giver is one of order, bland and colorless order. Literally. This future takes place after some big catastrophe or war, or something. Anyway, the society has been reformed in a highly structured fashion with babies being assigned to family units, teens graduate high school and are assigned their jobs, plus they are all drugged on a daily basis to keep them flat and emotionless.

At the center of the story is Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Oculus, The Signal). At the job assigning ceremony the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) gives him the honor of being the Receiver of Memory. This means the memories of the past will be passed on to him and they can be used whenever the Elders need guidance. This leads Jonas to the former Receiver, now the Giver (Jeff Bridges). We watch him go through sessions of transference. Jonas' eyes are opened and the color begins to return to his life and he needs to find a way to restore the memories to the people.

Well, The Giver is very bland. It is a very internal tale, but it does not translate well. Everything just feels downplayed to the point of not mattering. I kind of see the movie as an allegory for puberty. Things are changing, ideas become become bigger, you rebel against authority, you know the drill. I do believe there is more to it than is presented here, but please don't tell me “the book was better.” That is an excuse allowing for bad film making. If the movie doesn't work, it is a bad movie. This movie does not work.

Perhaps it is an issue with the source material being somewhat incompatible with the moving image. I believe that is a possibility. Still, this movie is just not very good. There is no life to it, and yes, I understand the sequences where the emotions are being suppressed should be bland, and we are more or less trapped in the perspective of Jonas, but even as the truth is revealed, life never creeps into the equation. Then we have Streep's malevolent Chief Elder, for an emotionally suppressed society, she seems to have a dark charisma around her, belying the suppressed state they should be in. Of course, perhaps there is more to the Chief than meets the eye. If so, it is not explained very well.

While there are good ideas about control, sameness, learning from the past, being allowed to make mistakes, and feel, it suffers from an inability to accurately define and build this world. The result is a drama-less mash that goes nowhere fast. It seems to fast forward over important relationships and at times feels rather awkward. The best I can say is avoid this and try something else. Almost anything else. I do respect the way it tries to not be like all the other YA adaptations, but it does not quite do enough and it left me completely flat and uninterested.

Not Recommended.

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