Saturday, November 22, 2014

Blu-ray/DVDebut: Phillip Noyce's THE GIVER is a young-adult film a lot better than you've heard

As dystopian fantasies go, THE GIVER -- directed by Phillip Noyce from the novel by Lois Lowry (screenplay by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide) -- is more believable and intelligent a film than The Hunger Games twaddle (but with a lot less violence, and so commensurate box-office) and infinitely superior to the also-young-adult-oriented and godawful Twilight series, which substitutes vampire-lite mythology for teen sexual hunger and in the process makes hash of them both. Because Lowry's novel is already 20 years old, its movie version did not come quite so filled with Internet acclaim as the other two and did not have the hoped-for billion-dollar ticket sales. It is nonetheless a most interesting, if flawed, work worth seeing.

Australian director Noyce, shown at right, has a resume indicating that he knows his way around a lot of different genres -- from mystery to politics to action to socially-conscious movies -- and his work here is professional and smart. The screenplay lets us down a bit on some particulars (I haven't read Ms Lowry's book so can't compare): for instance, just how powerful is this "Giver" and why would the powers-that-be keep him/her around, when the Giver pretty much represents their possible undoing? You'll have to cut some corners to make all this make complete sense, but the film is generally worth it. It is very well cast, too, with Brenton Thwaites (below, left) and Odeya Rush (below, right) representing the younger generation trying to show their older counterparts what really matters (a plot factor true in all these young-adult books and movies).

That older generation is represented by the likes of Meryl Streep, as the person-in-charge, and Jeff Bridges (below, left) as someone who's only "sort of" in charge. Less old but still living in thrall to the accepted philosophy of their seemingly rational but deeply dysfunctional community are "parents" Alexander Skarsgård and Katie Holmes.

The movie is much more subtle than the usual teen blockbuster (hence, perhaps, its failure among this generally brainless and web-driven crowd). Horrible things are going on in the name of community spirit and equality, but the now sheep-like populace, over generations, has been lulled into near-total acceptance. Uniformity is virtue; difference is wrong.

How all this is conveyed -- Noyce uses a palette initially drained almost of all color, into which that color returns only gradually as our hero (Mr. Thwaites) begins to feel and experience more. What caring and parenting really means is called into question, as is the need for action and even some violence to protect our most basic rights.

All this should make the Y.A. crowd maybe sit up a little straighter, take some notice and even start thinking a bit. One hopes that the movie, which comes out this Tuesday, November 25, on Blu-ray, DVD and digitally -- via Anchor Bay Entertainment and running 97 minutes -- will finally find its deserved audience among home viewers.

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