The Giver

(PG-13) Sadly, Lois Lowry’s modern classic The Giver being turned into a movie after Divergent will probably leave many unaware moviegoers calling it derivative, even if it is the prototype for the popular YA dystopias that litter the bestseller and box office lists. Director Phillip Noyce—a veteran director of both television and film best known for the two Harrison Ford entries in the Jack Ryan franchise, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger—and his crew fantastically visualize Lowry’s communities. The world opens in beautiful black and white, while young Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Oculus) awaits assignment to his adult profession. Jonas is surprised when he is selected to be the next Receiver of Memory and commences training with the Giver (Jeff Bridges). But learning every single one of humankind’s memories proves too much and changes Jonas, much to the displeasure of the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) and Jonas’ mother (Katie Holmes). Though visually strapping from beginning to end, the film only truly succeeds when it sets out on its own in the final act. Lowry’s climax is vague and open-ended; the script by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide must necessarily fill in Lowry’s blanks. The world-building accomplished by the crew is exceptional, though some of the gadgets (e.g. the bikes) seem left over from Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, both directed by Joseph Kosinski, who would have been a good choice for this film. Lowry purists might be disappointed by some of the changes—almost everyone’s job is different—and additions—Jonas and Gabriel’s final states of being are more clearly defined—but they play better on the big screen. Most of the aspects that fail to translate come from Lowry’s novel. The memory-transfer process reads strangely and looks no different when realized, though the inclusion of the memories is smartly handled. Bridges also gives one of his less accessible performances, which is always a risk with this great, unpredictable actor. It’s as if he chose to play William Hurt playing the Giver. Sadly, The Giver’s ideas are bigger than its most popular imitator. Veronica Roth stole Lowry’s setup, not her philosophy, for Divergent, and the result is a more easily consumable product on both page and screen.