I remember reading Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” back in the fourth grade. I remember enjoying it so much that I read the slim young adult dystopian novel in a single evening.
I remember distinctly thinking that I had read something special; something unlike I had ever read before. I have since forgotten many of the plot details, but the idea and much of the rich imagery still stays with me nearly 20 years later. So I was excited and apprehensive about seeing Philip Noyce’s film version.
A refresher for those who skipped elementary school: “The Giver” takes place in a utopian community where all instances of pain, starvation and war have been eliminated, and everyone lives in a black and white (literally) world where all is good and no one asks questions.
The elders get together each year and choose what jobs the town’s children will adopt. At the tender age of 11, a boy named Jonas is chosen to be “The Receiver” and will learn from a man called The Giver (played by Jeff Bridges) memories of humanity that not even the elders are aware of.
The movie has one important change: Jonas is played by a 24-year-old actor (Brenton Thwaites). Hollywood wouldn’t be able to fit a love interest in with a preteen.
Jonas begins to learn about humanity. He learns of music, art, literature, war and famine. He learns the awful truths about his perfect community and why it runs so smoothly.
The world around him comes alive. He begins to see color, and much to the dismay of the chief elder (Meryl Streep), he begins to ask questions.
The cinematography is truly worth noting, as the opening 30 minutes are filmed in black and white before switching to muted color and finally transforming into bright Technicolor.
The story follows suit: The first half of the movie is as dull as the visual palette, but that is the nature of the movie. The characters are uninteresting because they have been programmed to be uninteresting. Jonas and The Giver are fascinating characters, but two characters aren’t enough to rescue an entire movie.
The shortcomings of “The Giver” remind me of “Pleasantville,” a film about another perfect black-and-white town that learns simple human truths and begins to come alive. The difference was that that film is filled with a dozen engaging characters.
The movie doesn’t desecrate a beloved book of my childhood; it just doesn’t advance the story in a way that only a movie could. The short version of this review: It’s time to revisit the book.