The film version of “The Giver” is briskly directed in bright, confident strokes, scripted to emphasize its thought-provoking qualities and acted by players, young and old, who are “all in” on the future they’re portraying.
As adaptations of young adult sci-fi go, it holds its own against the many successes of this “teens save the future” genre.
But coming after “Divergent,” “The Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game” and “The Host,” it underlines the paucity of original ideas in this genre. Seriously, if Hollywood serves up one more spotless jump-suited crypto-fascist future where only a “chosen one” can make us remember the humanity we have lost, I’m screaming “Logan’s Run” and fleeing the theater.
Lois Lowry’s novel is about Jonas, played by Brenton Thwaites (“Maleficent”), a teen who is about to graduate from childhood. The children will be told what they’ll spend their lives doing, what they’re suitable for — from “drone pilot” to “nurturer.”
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The chief elder (Meryl Streep) thanks each “for your childhood” in a big ceremony, and because they’re all medicated at the start of every day, nobody questions this.
But Jonas is different. He’s got the mark on his wrist, and he’s to be a “Receiver.” In a world without strife, struggle, rudeness or even bad grammar, Jonas will be given that gift that few share — memory. He has to be strong enough to handle this collective history of the world before the ruin.
It was a time, the sage “Giver” (Jeff Bridges) intones, “when things were different. When there was more.” More, we learn, can mean everything from races and religions to emotions and sensations (love, pain, music, dance) and even real estate.
Jonas absorbs the history and starts seeing the world in color, as it truly is. He gains a whole new appreciation for his “friend” Fiona (Rush). And he starts to develop morality, independent thinking and rebellious thoughts.
Streep plays the villain of this world, intent on preserving the order of things, the “Sameness.” She reminds us that the best villains don’t see themselves that way.
Phillip Noyce (“Salt,” “Patriot Games”) reminds us of what hiring an accomplished director brings to one of these cookie-cutter movies, creating vivid flashbacks of memory.
But all that said, this drama is flatly undramatic. Lowry’s dystopia is richly allegorical but derivative.
So while “The Giver” scores points for being deeper than “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent”, coming after all those other versions of this plot does neither it, nor us, any favors. “The Giver” has nothing new to offer.