Sameness, the conformist plague that afflicts the futuristic citizens of Lois Lowry’s celebrated and scorned YA novel, “The Giver,” might also be the name given to what ails the movie adaptation — the latest in a seemingly endless line of teen-centric dystopian fantasies that have become all but indistinguishable from one another.A longtime passion project for producer/star Jeff Bridges, “The Giver” reaches the screen in a version that captures the essence of Lowry’s affecting allegory but little of its mythic pull — a recipe likely to disappoint fans while leaving others to wonder what all the fuss was about. and Walden Media that they might have the next “Hunger Games” (or even “Divergent”) on their hands look to be dashed by lackluster late-summer box office.And with only partial success, Noyce, who’s long been one of the best action directors around (“Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger,” “Salt”), tries to turn Lowry’s elegant, open-ended climax into a large-scale setpiece involving speeding motorbikes, drone aircraft and storm-trooper thugs rounding up dissidents into a Guantanamo-like prison.The movie begins well enough, with our introduction to the community and its functional “dwellings” where Jonas lives with his dutiful but distant parents (Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes) and younger sister, Lily (Emma Tremblay).Weide have stayed reasonably faithful to the plot and characters while jettisoning much of the philosophical weight and making other, perhaps inevitable concessions to commerce.
Originally published in 1993 (six years before “The Matrix”), Lowry’s novel was itself a patchwork of ideas borrowed from Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Jack Finney and Ray Bradbury in its depiction of totalitarian groupthink masquerading as peaceable utopia.
The setting was an unnamed anywhere known only as “the community,” whose residents had achieved a post-Platonic, post-Marxist ideal of a classless, conflict-free (and, though not explicitly stated, seemingly race-free) society through the chemical suppression of emotion and the erasure of all suspect stimuli (including books, colors, weather, and sex) from the historical record.
Exempt from this rigorous burning of the past was one man: the Receiver of Memory, a grizzled community elder charged with keeping all human experience from time immemorial catalogued inside his own understandably addled brain.
If Lowry’s ideas weren’t anything new to genre buffs or sociology majors, what made her book so compulsively readable was the lucid simplicity of its prose and the surprising complexity of its arguments (especially for a novel aimed at children).
Working on a modest budget, production designer Ed Verreaux and costume designer Diana Cilliers have given the film the spare, modular look of mid-century modernism — a feeling further enhanced by Noyce’s decision to shoot almost the entire first 30 minutes of the movie in low-contrast black-and-white, with color only gradually seeping into the frames as Jonas learns to “see beyond” (a variation on the technique employed by the 1998 “Pleasantville,” which itself may have been influenced by Lowry).From there, “The Giver” goes on to chart the developing bond between the Receiver (Bridges) and Jonas, who has been selected to inherit the great storehouse of memory and carry on the older man’s legacy.