From the acclaimed book – that I had never heard of until now. Though apparently it came out in my junior year of high school and was praised by fans and reviewers alike. I suppose one of the little joys in my life is what I did read isn’t often adapted. When it is, I know it will be done badly. There’s a meme that goes around “don’t judge a book by its movie.” This may be true. Actually it is very true. The same, however, can be said about the movies too. They deserve the same independent thought and treatment and criticality as any book. The important word there is, of course, independent. Judge each piece of art on it’s own merits.
So where does The Giver land?
Lets start with the story. Dystopian Utopia where we have reached an Orwellian nightmare of Harrison Bergeron and 1984. Everyone has their role in society. Everyone is equal. Everyone but a single role – The Receiver of Memory. See in order to create harmony the leaders of this new society rising from the ‘Ruin” erased all memory, all emotion, all individuality. See with that we can have peace.
Have you seen this movie before? Perhaps read it? Yes. Honestly, the movie does absolutely nothing original with the story. It contains all the same tropes we’ve seen since Vonnegut and Orwell wrote about them in their respective works. The loss of all that makes us human will deliver us unto a state of surviving without living. A near automaton like society of living, breathing, non-thinking, non-feeling entities. Sadly, I have not even reached spoiler territory as all of this is shown in the trailers.
First time writer, MIchael MItnick, is one of the two parties responsible for the script. Aiding him is another relative newcomer to the silver screen. Robert B. Weide. Weide, unlike MItnick, has some published writing work, mostly in the documentary field. Including one on Vonnegut, which explains much of what I see in this work I cannot speak for Lois Lowry’s original material, but what I do see is: Equilibrium, Bergeron, Divergent, and 1984 put into a blender for a nice puree with this as a result. I don’t want to say it is bad, but it does nothing for me as a story. It does nothing new. It does nothing I haven’t really seen or experienced a dozen times before over the past decade of Dystopian futures. It doesn’t do anything I haven’t read in far better, far more controversial satires of society from Vonnegut and Orwell.
Some of my ambivalence must be laid on the feet, hands, and eyes of director Phillip Noyce. This director who has given us Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and Salt probably gives his most mediocre attempt. The passion, the angles, the emotion is as missing from this as it is from the characters in the film. With the three films he gave us previously there were successful tones of a society of acceptance and rebelliousness against certain governmental entities. This movie lacks all of that. I mean they rear their head, but they don’t MEAN anything. I hate to use the Caps like that but its hollow. I don’t know if its just that he doesn’t know how to do the same thing for teens and tweens as he does for adults or that the studio had too much of a say in what to do with this to try to make it another Hunger Games. I’d like to think it was the studio, but I really do not know. I just know this is is not his best work and I have come to expect more from some people.
I am reasonably sure now Jeff Bridges takes every wise mentor role that comes along. Some more sane than others, this one lands on the more sane side of things with an ever increasing lack of audible understanding of what he is saying. Meryl Streep is the physical manifestation of authority in this one and may have lost a bet or had a child who loved the book. One of Bon Temp’s favorite vampires, Alexander Skarsgard, is completely forgettable in this and proof that while a good actor (and good looking) a mediocre script and boring character still cannot be saved. Katie Holmes is just as bland. I suppose that’s intentional, but why use real talent when you don’t want them to actually do anything requiring range? Unless their talents are required for minimalism – in which case, ok?
The three young characters are played by Odeya Rush (We Are What We Are), Cameron Monaghan (Vampire Academy), and Brenton Thwaites. Thwaites seems to be having an interesting year with important roles in Oculus, Maleficent, and The Signal. Having seen two of the three films I can say the boy is actually able to show some range and has a bit of unrefined talent. If he is given a shot, especially after what was expected of him in this – there could be something there. The other two are, much like the other actors given so little to work with that their performances are as flat as the rest of the film. Rush shows a little, but again it is so little and so simplistic I can’t say how well she did.
The camera work and colour options elected in the film were overall pretty good from a technical standpoint. The pacing is pretty decent and kept me interested and not nodding off. So where does that leave us?
The movie is a solid meh. If the books are great as they say fantastic. The movie does absolutely nothing good or fascinating. There’s a dozen other films out in the past few years that hit all of these issues in a much more interesting and deep manner. It wants to be something but it ultimately fails.
A pair of teenage girls who were in the movie said they really liked it so that’s something I suppose.
I cannot recommend this film. If you want a dystopian teen movie go watch Divergent or Hunger Games (again)