Usually when a popular and critically-acclaimed book is adapted for the silver screen, the transfer isn’t very strong. Books are typically better on paper rather than celluloid. That can be said about a great many book-to-film conversions and the same can certainly be said about Lois Lowry’s 1993 The Giver, a very popular children’s sci-fi drama which was currently brought to movie audiences too lazy to read the book in the first place. It stars Academy Award-winning actors Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep but they are terribly underused and when they do appear on screen, their performances are lackluster at best.
Set in 2048, The Giver takes place in a utopian society which is devoid of color and emotion. Known as “The Community”, it is a society of people who wear white and are assigned their jobs in life at the age of 16. The Elders (led by Meryl Streep) are the ones who assign the positions and Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is assigned the coveted position of The Receiver of Memory, basically a librarian and keeper of past thoughts. Jeff Bridges plays The Giver, an individual who must teach and impart his wisdom and memories onto Jonas. Eventually, Jonas starts questioning The Community and its function. The authorities catch wind of this and soon take chase. The majority of the film follows Jonas as he tries to make sense of his world which makes very little sense and hopes to experience the world beyond The Community.
The Giver is a great novel but the film adaptation is far from great. Sure, it has some interesting moments and the script is somewhat entertaining but the film as a whole is a letdown. The performances are what really bring the film to mediocre levels. Brenton Thwaites (Oculus, The Signal) does his best to lead the picture as Jonas but he is just a pretty boy on par with Robert Pattison and Taylor Lautner. Jeff Bridges is simply eh as the title character and his sage-like teacher is decent but we’ve all see this role before and done better. Meryl Streep is also disappointing as the society’s leader, reminiscent of a character from the much more entertaining The Hunger Games. Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard offer some adequately stiff future parents of Jonas. Their deduction to the roles is what sells their performances but sadly, these two can’t save the film as a whole.
The Giver is not for everyone. In fact, it shouldn’t be for anyone. Watch it only if you are curious about the book-to-film conversion which as I said is weak and ineffectual. With a budget big enough for any modern Hollywood blockbuster, this film has all the makings of a film destined for excellence. There are elaborate chase sequences, believably futuristic sets and costumes, some state-of-the-art visual effects, and of course, a talented group of actors who rarely disappoint. With all of these ingredients and then some, The Giver should have been a lot better. It’s not a terrible film but it’s not particularly good either. It is simply a sci-fi drama that works much better on paper.