The Giver is a perfectly acceptable sci-fi suspense/thriller but outside of being passable, it doesn’t really offer much else, although Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep both help keep it afloat from a story that falls a bit short in terms of weight.
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Fantasy, Drama
Anchor Bay | PG13 – 97 min. – $39.99 | November 25, 2014
THE MOVIE – 3.0/5
And the Young Adult adaptation trend continues, one that began with Twilight and went into high gear with the box office successes of the Hunger Game franchise. The latest, from The Weinstein Company, is The Giver a lackluster sci-fi/drama with ambition but still has a molecule of entertainment value, though the comparison with Divergent is prevalent.
That being said – and I have to acknowledge – this is a project that had been in the works for the better of 15 years so it took a vampire movie and dystopian action-adventure for it to get the big screen.
Our story opens in 2048, a utopian future (better than a dystopian one, I suppose) where residents live in a small community above the clouds due to… something weather related. The residents are at peace living in a society with no violence and civility all around, though this includes no personal relationships either. They also don’t have memories of the past and one person, The Receiver of Memory, an individual in society chosen to receive the memories of the past and is charged with advising the Chief Elder (MERYL STREEP).
The main focus is 16-year-old Jonas (BRENTON THWAITES) who is nervous about what job he is given – as all young people are assigned a job within the community, not unlike that in Divergent – and after seeing his two best friends in Asher (CAMERON MONGHAN) and Fiona (ODEYA RUSH) take positions, he is the last one remaining on stage where finally the Chief Elder gives him the most precious of assignments: he has been chosen to be the next Receiver of Memories and with that position gets special privileges not granted by others including being able to lie, amongst others.
The task, however, isn’t going to be easy. Jonas is to be taught by the current Receiver, now known as The Giver (JEFF BRIDGES), as he teaches everything he knows and providing, through some sort of telepathy, the history of civilization, everything from tenderness of love and innocence to the brutality of war and killing, the latter of which Jonas has difficulty of handling. Over the course of their lessons, Jonas does gain one advantage with the ability of seeing color as previously residents only see in black and white (courtesy of daily injections) as color can represent so many emotions. Thinking about it now, this is a society of Vulcans…
The more Jonas learns about society’s history, both good and bad, and the more he finds out about the supposedly perfect utopia which has a very dark underbelly, and indeed takes the film into dark places, he realizes he needs to do something to change things and with the guidance of The Giver, who has his own tragic history involving the previous Receiver (played by TAYLOR SWIFT).
The Giver, based on the best-selling book which apparently was required reading for many in middle school back when (not in my school, however), the film took a long time to find the big screen but thanks to Jeff Bridges’ tenacity, it finally got made in part due to the rise of the YA adaptations and for the most part, this isn’t a bad movie, but it’s far from great. The first problem is it feels half baked with the story while the second issue is it just doesn’t have the gravity or weight that I’m sure the book had, though I’m sure this movie tries to hit the right notes, it just doesn’t add to much and by the end, one can only shrug and move on to the next film.
Although the film has its problems, one of them is not the performances. Jeff Bridges really helps give the film any sort of credibility while Brenton Thwaites is serviceable as the young male lead and Meryl Streep, for her limited role, is great as the film’s primary antagonist; without her or Bridges, The Giver would’ve been utterly forgettable.
The Giver was directed, effectively enough I suppose, by Phillip Noyce and although he has a good background that includes the fun action-thriller Salt, gritty-crime-thriller The Bone Collector as well as Patriot Games and its follow-up, Clear and Present Danger, he at least moves the film along at a brisk pace and with the help of his DP Ross Emery (The Wolverine), makes it look good and attempts to put the audience in the main character’s shoes where the first 20-minutes is in black and white.
As someone who never read the book, I can’t comment on how strictly it adheres to the source material, but as a feature film, The Giver is fine entertainment but doesn’t get close to the potential and the comparisons with Divergent is, at times anyway, pretty clear. Either way, it’s OK and passable entertainment but nothing more…
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.5/5
This release comes with a title embossed slip cover. Inside are a DVD Copy and a Digital Copy redemption code.
Highlights from the Original Script (39:47; SD) – Lloyd Bridges, and other members of the Bridges’ family, from 18 years ago, reading from portions of the script. It shows what kind of a passion project this was for Jeff Bridges.
Making The Giver: From Page to Screen (21:39; HD) is a nice, if not standard, behind-the-scenes featurette with interviews by members of the cast and crew talking about characters and the plot.
Jonas’ Harrowing Journey (9:23; HD) is an extended scene featuring the main character dealing with the elements of his third act journey.
Press Conference with Filmmakers & Cast (35:31; HD) – From August 2014, cast and crew sit on a panel answering various questions from the media.
“Ordinary Human” Featurette (2:43; HD) looks at the main song from the movie by One Republic.
Author Lois Lowry on The Giver (3:35) – In this interview with the author, she recounts her inspiration for the novel and the effort to bring it to the big screen.
Study Guide a collection of clips from the movie preceded by text for students and how it corresponds to pages in the novel.
Previews – Vampire Academy, The Maze Runner
VIDEO – 4.5/5
Arriving on Blu-ray with an AVC codec and 1080p high-definition transfer, The Giver is presented in its original 2.39 widescreen aspect ratio. The first 25-minutes (or so) is in black and white so you get a good sense of dark shades and shadows but once the color comes in, there’s a nice splash in places, though for certain scenes, the DP keeps it more drab than bright or cheerful in keeping with the story. Still, it’s a good transfer with sharp details throughout.
AUDIO – 4.0/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track offers up clear dialogue levels and all, and the music/soundtrack is effective enough, but the action elements are a bit more low key and not quite as dynamic as I expected from a modern film, especially a sci-fi suspense/thriller. Even so, it’s a solid lossless track, just nothing extraordinary.
OVERALL – 3.25/5
Overall, The Giver is a perfectly acceptable sci-fi suspense/thriller but outside of being passable, it doesn’t really offer much else, although Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep both help keep it afloat from a story that falls a bit short in terms of weight. The Blu-ray released by Anchor Bay has an OK selection of bonus material.