Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Lois Lowry's book The Giver is now a film. Despite some slick direction by Phillip Noyce (Salt), the film is a decidedly lukewarm sci-fi chase, which slips and slides from black and white to sepia, then into color with a dreamy facility that gives the cinematography a singular appeal.
We have young Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) who is a uniform teen in a cubistic white-washed world of gray reminiscent of Pete Seeger's song "Little Boxes". Each dwelling resembles a kind of bauhaus jigsaw puzzle, utilitarian and devoid of color.
Jonas and everyone in his family "unit" does what they are told; each citizen has a purpose and a role. All events are governed in a very Orwellian manner. There are no colors, no vibrant emotions or conflicts.
Obstacles and deviations are shielded by daily injections taken by the community. Jonas and his friends exhale a bland bliss.
But The Elders see great things ahead for Jonas and act accordingly. When Jonas sees his infant brother marked as "unspecified" and destined to be "released," he decides to take action.
While the context of the story has a retro feel, recalling every film from "Logan's Run," "Soylent Green" and "Fahrenheit 941," "The Giver" feels stuck in retrograde, having an "After school special" texture and not really going anywhere that is original or provocative.
Jonas battles against the system, lost in a blinding white network of homogenized houses with baby in tow. The dialogue is static with Jonas mostly in a voice-over narration, talking at length about adventure and expression, color and the emotion of love. Thwaites delivery grows monotone and the expression on his face (one of shocked dismay) seldom varies.
There is a laughably flat appearance by Jeff Bridges here as The Giver who has all the pathos of an animatronic figure in Disneyworld's Hall of Presidents. Granted, it is Bridges' voice, but you don't see his mouth move all that much. For a man who is the keeper of all emotions, words and memories of the past, he moves stiffly with odd jerks throughout.
Meryl Streep who is usually full of verve also gives a strange decaffeinated performance as a Head Elder, a kind of Big Sister. Her role could be filled by anyone.
Katie Holmes (in a somewhat ironic turn with her history of Scientology) doesn't emote at all and the same applies to Alexander Skarsgård. While it is true that a bland delivery is needed, it doesn't call for boredom. The original "Stepford Wives" made for riveting stuff as did "Soylent Green" and other 1970s classics. The acting has a television-like tepid quality that lacks point and just goes on course.
Tweens may get a kick out of a cameo by Taylor Swift as The Giver's daughter, but they'll only get Taylor's usual, gooey-eyed looks into the camera.
The crux of it all involves a run for a young boy's life against a totalitarian society that has been done too many times to carry a surprise now.
The one interest is the direction of Noyce which has a definite Kubrick influence and style with long shots of the puzzle-like houses as they loom in the distance like faceless polyps usurping and watching all on a grid. Not to mention some billowy clouds that hover on a horizon, providing a tease of options.
It is reported that Jeff Bridges has wanted to bring this book to the screen for many years. He once said that he himself filmed a version on a home movie camera with his dad, Lloyd Bridges in the title role.
One wonders if Jeff's organic version would have been better; this adaption of "The Giver" feels stingy. It is flat, repetitive and serial in tone, and, if you are older than twelve, you will probably wish to be given a different film.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org