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Giver, The (Blu-ray Review)

30 Nov, 2014 By: John Latchem

Anchor Bay
Box Office $45.07 million
DVD $29.98, Blu-ray $39.99
Rated ‘PG-13’ for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.
Stars Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Cameron Monaghan, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift.

It’s hard to criticize The Giver for seeming derivative amid the current wave of young-adult dystopian fiction. That’s because Lois Lowry’s source book first came out in 1993, more than a decade before the crop of books that led to the formulaic and easily emulated sub-genre of sci-fi movies and TV shows (The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, The 100, etc.).

This is similar to the relationship John Carter shares with many sci-fi and superhero stories, existing as an influential literary precursor but not being made into a movie until well after its successors demonstrated the genre was viable. Ender’s Game also could be listed in a similar category.

As we learn in the Blu-ray bonus materials, The Giver was pegged for a movie adaptation not long after it came out, with Jeff Bridges picking it out of a catalog and hoping to direct a film version with his father, Lloyd Bridges, in the title role, inspired by its image of an old bearded man on the cover. The disc even includes a 40-minute Bridges home video from 1994 in which Lloyd and other family members, read from an early script.

At the time, studios considered the plot too complicated and passed on it. Then Lloyd died in 1998 and the project seemed completely off the table. It wasn’t until the success of The Hunger Games created an atmosphere of interest in similar works, and The Giver was revised with the now age-appropriate Jeff in the title role.

The film depicts a creepy future of conformity in which people are organized into isolated communities governed by a council of elders (led by Meryl Streep), and controlled with drugs that rob them of emotion, creativity, faith and even the ability to see color. The desire for “sameness” is supposed to eliminate the kind of envy and resentment that breeds war and conflict, and the masses are conditioned to follow a strict set of rules that keep them in line. All knowledge of the past is kept hidden from the population, except for a single individual (the old man played by Jeff Bridges) tasked with such knowledge for the purpose of advising the elders.

The Giver begins with a ceremony in which several young adults are assigned their roles in society, in which Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is appointed the new receiver of memories. Once Jonas begins to learn the totality of human experience from the old man, he realizes the extent of his oppression and becomes a subversive element against the established order of things, not unlike the main characters from every other young adult sci-fi story these days.

Like so much of these young adult stories, The Giver is heavy on creating a high-concept future society that has just enough cracks in it to give the heroes an excuse to rebel. But the filmmakers, possibly because the implications of the social commentary might not align with their personal politics, are less interested in exploring the story’s parallels to our own society as they are in crafting the film’s stylistic and character beats.

Thus, it’s much easier to criticize The Giver for squandering its premise. As parable, the film begins with an intriguing setup and its depiction of the future society is quite interesting. The film is presented in black and white until Jonas begins to awaken to a larger world of ideas and diversity, paving the way for splashes of color to peek through. And the production design is top notch. But then the story resorts to nonsensical elements to resolve itself, concerned less with logic or proper exposition as it is with meeting a taut running time of less than 100 minutes.

Still, the Blu-ray fully embraces the film’s literary roots, down to a study guide that suggests students compare passages from the book with clips from the film.

Also included is a behind-the-scenes featurette, a short featurette about the OneRepublic song used in the film, and an extended sequence that just raises more questions about the film’s resolution.

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