Film Review: 'The Giver' alters book for softer tale

Aug 14 2014, 14:29 IST
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SummaryAn agreeable young adult riff on Orwell - via ''Logan's Run'' - topped with the kind of magic-transformative baloney that passes for an ending in too many otherwise-fine Hollywood adventures, Phillip Noyce's ''The Giver''...

An agreeable young adult riff on Orwell - via ''Logan's Run'' - topped with the kind of magic-transformative baloney that passes for an ending in too many otherwise-fine Hollywood adventures, Phillip Noyce's ''The Giver'' greets a man-made Utopia with an eternal question: ''If you can't feel, what's the point?''

Lois Lowry's 1993 Newbery Medal-winning source novel has been substantially altered here, mostly in ways that nudge it toward other chosen-one teen fantasies set in restrictive futuristic worlds ("Divergent'' being one of the most recent). The changes, which include making the book's 12-year-old hero old enough to make tween viewers swoon (he's played by 25-year-old Aussie Brenton Thwaites), surely enhance marketability, even if they sand some edges off the tale.

The presence of Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep in supporting roles will help draw some attention from grown-ups who don't know the book, but while the film may see enough success to justify follow-ups (Lowry has written three sequels), this franchise won't come close to competing with "The Hunger Games.''

Thwaites plays Jonas, who lives in a world in which color, unpredictable weather and interpersonal conflict have been excised and members aspire to perfect Sameness. Memories of mankind's unruly past have been erased, known only to a single Receiver of Memory (played by Bridges).

Upon their ritualized graduation from childhood, the Chief Elder (Streep) doles out appointed roles to Jonas and his peers. Good buddy Asher (Cameron Monaghan) will pilot one of the many flying drones that watch over citizens and politely inform them when they're breaking a rule; sweet Fiona (Odeya Rush) will work in the Nurturing Center, caring for newborns. Jonas, who already secretly realizes he sees things others can't, will inherit the Receiver's role, studying with his predecessor until he's ready to advise the Elders.

If much of Ed Verreaux's production design has a deliberately generic feel, Receiver's home office lives up to the revelations that will transpire there. An atrium-like library in a small bunker, it's built on ''The Edge'' and looks out on the cloud bank separating this world from Elsewhere, the place (ahem) that old folks go when they have reached the end of their careers. Here, Bridges' Receiver becomes the eponymous Giver, sitting in mind-meld sessions with his pupil and allowing the young man to experience all the sensations and knowledge denied other citizens. This process of eye-opening is easily the film's highlight, and Thwaites is

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