Following the success of The Hunger Games (2012), the Young Adult dystopian multi-book series is all the in thing this year. Filmmakers everywhere are flocking to make their own Young Adult Dystopias before it goes out of fashion and we have seen the launch of Divergent (2014) to great success with sequels to follow and followed by The Maze Runner (2014). Here The Giver is flaunted as the next latest Young Adult Dystopian work, although the fairly indifferent box-office reception surely means that it is unlikely to continue as a franchise.
The Giver is apparently a project that Jeff Bridges personally shepherded in for many years and he acts as a producer on the final film. The film comes from Australian director Philip Noyce who emerged in the 1970s and gained a solid footing on the international stage with the psycho-thriller Dead Calm (1989). Noyce has steadily worked away as a mainstream director with films that vary between the reasonable and unremarkable such as Blind Fury (1989), Patriot Games (1992), Sliver (1993), Clear and Present Danger (1994), The Saint (1997), The Bone Collector (1999) and Salt (2010), as well as more personal works such as The Quiet American (2002) and Rabbit Proof Fence (2002).
I am at somewhat of a disadvantage not having read the Lois Lowry novel. From what I am able to gather from those who have read the book, the film waters down a story that is essentially a conversation between an old man and a boy, bumps the boys age up until he is in his teens, adds a romance and a clearcut villain, and substitutes a conceptual awakening for standard dystopian tropes. Certainly, the film settles in with what feels like a host of familiar tropes from the dystopian genre the society where emotions are suppressed or else drugged a la George Orwells Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and films such as THX 1138 (1971) and Equilibrium (2002); the discovery of forbidden knowledge almost any dystopian work; the hero gone rogue who becomes hunted by his best friend Logans Run (1976); the society where everybody slots into pre-chosen lifetime job assignments City of Ember (2008), Divergent and especially Aldous Huxleys Brave New World (1932); the hero who ventures into the forbidden realm beyond the hermetically-sealed utopia Logans Run, THX 1138; the rebel in the world where everybody is forced to adopt an identical sameness Nineteen Eighty-Four, THX 1138, Gattaca (1997).
The Giver starts out seeming promising. Philip Noyce chooses an interesting way of depicting the slow awakening of Brenton Thwaitess senses by showing the world in black-and-white where occasionally flashes of colour start to show, gradually opening out into full colour by the time he becomes emotionally freed. Here The Giver undeniably reminds of Pleasantville (1998), Gary Rosss allegory about characters entering into a world of a 1950s black-and-white television show and gradually changing the way people think to open them up into colour. Maybe if you want to think of The Giver as Divergent by way of Pleasantville only a much better directed film than Divergent was, even if Philip Noyce fails to make a terribly interesting film out it. We are somewhat carried through the heros triumphs, struggle, emotional awakening and so on. But by now it all seems terribly generic and the film hits the cues without any genuine affect. For a film that is all about defying the need for everybody/everything to be the same, there is precious little that The Giver does to craft its own individuality and stand out from the sameness of the rest of the genre.