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The Giver (2014)

The Weinstein Company
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/25/2014

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/21/2014

Pioneers are often celebrated for their accomplishments. It's an honor to be the first to do or discover something and history often remembers these individuals with reverence. However, there is a drawback to being a pioneer. This occurs when others come along to ride your coattails or misappropriate your feats. Insult is added to injury when younger generations aren't aware of the original groundbreaker and think that some also-ran is a genius. Unless you've been in a coma or "off-world" (is that a thing yet?), you know that post-apocalyptic dystopian novels aimed at teens (AKA YA Fiction) have been all the rage and have spawned movies like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Host. When my daughter first showed me The Hunger Games, I stated that the author owed a huge apology to Stephen King. With the arrival of The Giver, it appears to author Lois Lowry is owed a due as well.

The Giver is set in an undisclosed future, following an event called The Ruin. Society is now housed in an area of "Communities". People live in family units in these Communities and they dress in uniforms, obey the curfew, and don't lie. At the end of "Childhood", everyone is assigned a job. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is nearing the end of his "Childhood", and he enjoys spending time with his best friends, Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan). Jonas' father (Alexander Skarsgard) works in the birthing center, and Jonas often visits him there. When the special ceremony finally arrives, everyone is given their assignment, save for Jonas. At the very end, it is announced that he will be "The Receiver" and he's assigned to meet with "The Giver" (Jeff Bridges). You see, in this world, no one has any recollection of the past. Only The Giver has any knowledge of history and every few years, that knowledge is passed to a new Receiver. After his first meeting with The Giver, a sad old man who lives as a hermit, Jonas' eyes are open not only to man's past, but also to strong emotions. How can someone whose whole life has been shattered continue to live in such a restrictive society?

Lois Lowry's novel The Giver was published in 1993. It won the Newberry Award, has sold millions of copies, and it part of the curriculum in many schools. So, we aren't talking about an obscure work here. Some elements of the story made me think of Logan's Run, which appeared years before The Giver was published. Otherwise, most of the movie made me think of the stories which have followed it and impressed young readers who may not be aware of The Giver. While it seems that everything is compared to The Hunger Games, it's Divergent which owes the biggest debt to The Giver, as there are many, many similarities here.

The sad thing is that the film version of The Giver made its debut after all of the other YA novel movies have become hits. Therefore, the uninformed are going to see it as a rip-off. This may explain why the film underperformed somewhat during its box-office run. (It made a profit, but didn't do nearly as well as many of the other movies in this sub-genre.) I'm not a champion of the book or anything, but the real injustice here is that Bridges tried for nearly 20 years to get the book to the screen. Ironically, it wasn't until the success of The Hunger Games that anyone was willing to take The Giver seriously. Perhaps things would have turned out differently for it if the movie could have come out years ago.

All of that aside, The Giver is a serviceable movie. At the outset, the world is in black and white. As Jonas gains more and more insight into history and emotion, he begins to see things in color. The pacing is good and the movie is rarely dull. The acting is decent, but Thwaites is a bit stiff. As one would expect, Bridge is a natural as The Giver, as he's been studying this role for years. Unlike the pretenders, The Giver doesn't dissolve into a violent action movie, although things do pick up in the end. I really enjoyed the flashes of history and emotion that Jonas experiences. I can see how some wouldn't like the ending, and the finale does leave some things unsaid. I enjoyed The Giver, but it is admittedly hard to watch the film and feel that we are watching anything unique due to all of the movies which have come before. If you want to see a movie that tries something a little different with some familiar ideas, give The Giver a chance.

The Giver never explains the blatant racism taking place in the Community on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of The Weinstein Company. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The black and white photography looks fantastic, as the blacks and greys don't bleed into one another. When things change, the colors look great and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth is very good and the image shows a nice amount of detail. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very good, as they highlight sounds coming from off-screen. The surround sound effects are abundant and they don't merely mimic the front channels. The subwoofer effects are somewhat subtle in the first half of the film, save for the flashbacks, but they really pick up in Act 3.

The Giver Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. "Highlights From the Original Script Reading Featuring Lloyd Bridges" (40 minutes) is a home video shot nearly 20 years ago, featuring members of the Bridges family reading an early script. This exemplifies how Bridges dedicated years to trying to adapt the novel into a film. "Making The Giver: From Page to Screen" (22 minutes) is a fairly in-depth making-of which examines the struggles which were endured to get the book made into a movie. While this contains a lot of clips, we do get comments from Lowry and the cast, and some on-set footage. The Disc contains one EXTENDED SCENE from the third act which runs about 9 minutes. "Press Conference with Filmmakers & Cast" (36 minutes) was recorded in August of this year and features Lowry and the principal cast. We get the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Ordinary Human" by Ryan Tedder. "Author Lois Lowry on The Giver" (4 minutes) allows the writer to give her views on the development of the film and what it means to her. Finally, the Disc features a "Study Guide" for teachers to utilize.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long