Monday, September 22, 2014

Giving Audiences a Heaping Spoonful of “Meh”

Mediocrity abounds in the latest fantasy sci-fi ‘super kid’ flick, The Giver.


ARTH VADER (AV): Based on the wildly popular 1993 children’s book of the same name by Lois Lowry, "The Giver" presents us with a distorted utopian society that quickly repulses us and becomes increasingly dystopian. This society has eliminated pain and suffering by converting to "sameness," a societal brainwashing program that eliminates pain suffering, greed, music, dancing, art and even color from eyesight. The novel (and film) chronicle the life of a young man named Jonas, whose ‘come of age’ allotment to his society is to become a ‘Receiver of memory.’  This is the chosen citizen who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. Jonas learns the truth about his dystopian society and struggles with suppressing his new-found knowledge and ultimately must chose between a life he’s always known and the true nature of humanity. Thoughts, pontificator? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The story sticks well enough to the events in the book. Written by Lois Lowry and having taken nearly twenty years to come to the big screen, it is reminiscent of other dystopian societies we have seen before…but more on that later.


AV: While we were treated to Jeff "Obadiah StaneBridges as the veteran Receiver of memories, Katie “Rachel Dawes” Holmes plays Jonas’ Mom while Alexander “True Blood” Skarsgard is cast as Jonas’ Dad. the film features a cornucopia of budding young stars, too many to account for here. While the acting overall is decent, it is a bit stuffy, almost formulaic. Director Phillip "Salt" Noyce brings some particularly difficult and inspirational visuals together onscreen quite handsomely. Some of the most stunning cinema-graphic moments in this film include the (visual) transition of Jonas’ budding realization of the true nature of the world around him  as color is slowly introduced into his world. An awesome story-telling tool I have not seen before. 

TP: The two big names attached to this film are Jeff Bridges, who is the Giver, and Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder. Both play their roles superbly but I expected nothing less given their experience and talent. The rest of the cast did well, but with a society largely devoid of emotional expression, I think it takes some of the pressure off in terms of performance delivery. The film moved at a pretty good pace and never stalled which surprised me since a stale society can quickly become boring.

AV: As you well know old friend, my favorite kind of special effects are the kind the eye doesn’t know are effects. Seamless, clean, polished. That epitomizes the special effects of The Giver for me. From the hi-tech drone scenes to the transitional effects from B&W to full color to the expansive landscapes. This was some of the best SFX work I’ve seen this summer. 

TP: The special effects were not ground breaking, but they also were not shoddy Dark One. Most of the effects came in the form of the set and props (I was especially interested in the design of the bikes). The little bit of CGI that was used was used very effectively to advance the story and the use of old historical footage was also an excellent “effect” to push the point of the film. 


AV: How many story lines about the ‘kid who’s going to save us all’ do we have to endure? I don’ t have an issue with formula, not when it works it works. Take a proven storytelling technique, wrap a new skin on that bad boy (so to speak) and I'm good to go. But pick the flick and I will show you the kid who is going to save us all from destruction, an alien invasion or catastrophe. Luke Skywalker. Harry Potter. Percy Jackson. Catniss Everdeen. Ender (from Ender’s game). Tris from Divergent. The list is endless. So, apparently, are the prospects for future films and stories with this trope.

Look,we’re both Dads here, P–Man. In all fairness, I can’t even get my kids to clean their room… and now I’m supposed to buy that they’ve got the secret powers/knowledge/lineage to stop our impending doom? C’mon Hollywood, check the cliff notes. Sure, sure. Young people are capable of incredible feats of accomplishment. But, let’s not call that out as the norm. The story of Jonas here, is no different. A super clean-cut white kid–who has only ever followed the rules his entire life–now knows more than people who have been around for six or seven decades? Nope, not buying it. I guess that’s the fiction in ‘Science Fiction.’

TP: There were so many elements of this film that I have seen “elsewhere” I almost felt that it was nothing more than a hodgepodge of earlier films. The ceremony to decide your place in society was seen in “Divergent.” The “releasing” of people to Elsewhere was similar to the ceremony of Carousel in “Logan’s Run” in that nobody realizes what is really happening is death. They further expand on the similarity by having Jonas “run” with Gabriel, who is slated to be put to death. Even the injections of the daily drug were also seen in “Equilibrium”…perhaps it was even the same drugs as both had the effect of suppressing emotions. It takes just a little bit away from the story when I’m thinking to myself that I’ve seen that in (insert movie here) throughout the film. The script could have been a bit tighter as well. Earlier in the film it is stressed that society has adopted “sameness” to suppress envy, greed, jealousy…and Jonas, upon seeing the past, remarks that he saw people of different skin hues (suggesting that for sameness there are no more people of color in society) but later they actually show people of color in that society, debunking “sameness” and Jonas’ reaction to seeing them in the past. I think this was a case of political correctness trumping science fiction.

AV: This film is going to rear it’s unoriginal premise again I am sure. Companion books to The Giver from Lois Lowry include Gathering Blue (2000), The Messenger (2004) and Son (2012). The book’s reviews have been mixed at best. This quote from Wikipedia sums it up best; “Some critics find the work lacks originality or real literary merit, while others argue that books appealing to a young-adult audience are critical for building a developing reader's appetite for reading.” I can’t comment on the book themselves but my kids have all read The Giver so it is a property they are familiar with. For Hollywood these days, that’s about all they need to finance a movie. 

TP: The Giver is the first of a four part book series. Whether or not more films get made to continue the telling of this expanded story remains to be seen and is probably largely dependent on the box office performance of this film. 


ARTH VADER rates The Giver: Look folks, this is far from the worst flick of the summer or even in  the genre. There are truly entertaining moments that are engaging and even emotional. I just think that for the tens of millions of dollars each of these film cost, we can expect a little bit more than formula. Every year we get astounding examples of fresh new perspectives on sci-fi and fantasy. I wish the Giver tried harder and had a higher calibre personality. Still, if you can shut off the monotony of the ‘kid saves the world’ formula, you’d be a better person than me, and might even give this film better than four (4) busted blocks. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates The Giver: Although I felt this story has already been told in other films, it was still an interesting film to watch. I enjoyed the performances of Bridges and Streep although I felt the ending fell a bit flat. Considering all the elements of this film that have been played out before, it was still able to “give” six (6) busted blocks of entertainment.

The Giver: 5 / 10 Busted Blocks

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