‘The Giver’ Reviews: How Does The Movie Compare To The Book?

Here's what critics are saying about the Lois Lowry adaptation.

At long last, “The Giver” has arrived — but does it have enough color to survive?

That’s the key question critics are batting back and forth as reviews for this weekend’s “The Giver,” directed by Phillip Noyce and based on Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel of the same name, start to trickle in. Starring Brenton Thwaites and Jeff Bridges, “The Giver” takes place in a future society devoid of color and emotion, preferring authority-abiding Sameness to the dangers of diversity. The classic young adult novel is a key predecessor of stories like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” but how does it hold up as a film of its own?

Some reviewers are happier with the results than others. Here’s a look at what folks have to say about “The Giver,” from its colorful cast to its color-free world:

The Story
“Thwaites plays Jonas, who lives in a black-and-white world. Literally. Color, unpredictable weather and interpersonal conflict have been carefully excised from the society he was born into — an unnamed city-state, set on a mesa ringed by clouds, where identical dwellings house family units whose members aspire to perfect Sameness. Daily injections of passion-inhibiting drugs help in that quest, as does a total ignorance of history. Memories of mankind’s unruly past have been erased, known only to a single Receiver of Memory (played by Bridges, who appears to have filled his cheeks with cotton in search of the perfect grumbly-gruff Voice of Experience).

“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 until they are sent off to be raised by host families. 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 in their decision-making.” — John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter

The Cast
“The adult casting for the project feels right on the money; Bridges (who is also a producer here, this being his longtime passion project) and Streep are perfectly pitted against each other, representing two drastically opposing views on humanity. Neither is challenged here, but the presence of both elevates the picture to a comfortably sophisticated level. Skarsgård and Holmes are perfectly cast as vapid pawns of the system, and the three young actors do a decent job without impressing in the same wayJennifer Lawrence or Daniel Radcliffe did with their respective franchises.” — Nikola Grozdanovic, The Playlist

The Color
“It is director of photography Ross Emery’s magnificent use of color and montage that elicits the most emotional response in the viewer. His slow introduction of color, a hint of red here, a tinge of green there, pulls the plot forward as much as the action. It doesn’t take long to get used to the black-and-white world in which they live, which makes the piercing clementine sky of Jonas’ first sunset in color utterly breathtaking.” — Addie Broyles, Austin360.com

For Readers
“They’ve served the material well. Not all the book’s edges have been softened — including the initial use of black-and-white and what an infant who goes to ‘elsewhere’ entails. Those details, in addition to Bridges’ performance, help ‘The Giver’ avoid feeling like a cheap cash in on the current YA movie fad. There are a few hiccups from the book’s transition to screen, but more often than not, Noyce’s picture is an entertaining and thoughtful adaptation.” — Jack Giroux, FilmSchoolRejects.com

For Non-Readers
“In terms of non-readers enjoying ‘The Giver,’ the movie does a fairly good job of introducing the rules and terminology of the universe. As someone who hasn’t read the novel since middle school, I can say that non-book readers will easily be able to follow along — it’s all pretty straightforward stuff. That said, with the movie clocking in at a mere hour and 40 minutes (preferred by my standards, but a little short for a movie like this), you can tell some of the book’s intricacies had to be cut or changed to fit the movie format. This of course may upset some fans and, at times, confuse newcomers, but sadly that’s the nature of adaptations like this, which don’t often go as deep as their source material.” — Max Nicholson, IGN Movies

The Bad News
“Why did it take two decades for someone to make ‘The Giver’ into a movie? Lois Lowry’s new classic of young-adult literature has been a staple of middle-school classrooms almost as long as it’s been in bookstores; like training wheels for ’1984′ or ‘Brave New World,’ the novel has eased a couple generations of American adolescents into the world of big-idea science-fiction. But if the long wait for a proper big-screen adaptation is perplexing, it’s no mystery why that wait has finally ended: Phillip Noyce’s futuristic melodrama is a ‘Giver’ for the post-Katniss era, its narrative now adorned with CGI-abetted action scenes and its nominal romance slightly inflated to draw in the target demographic. The ironic side effect is that this major influence on today’s new class of dystopian YA smashes now looks like just another greedy knockoff on-screen—a monochromatic ‘Divergent,’ or something similar.” — A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club

The Final Word
“There are some serious gaps here — if inheriting memory and knowledge is such a frazzling experience, how did The Giver and apparently many previous Givers come to be? And the story abandons all explanation as Jonas sets out on a major quest to change his world, tossing question marks every which way. But then ‘The Giver’ is far more concerned with big, central issues than minor particulars. Are emotions a gift or a hindrance? Is order preferable to freedom? Is the human spirit anything more than id gone amok? Is balance possible?

“True, these all sound like middle school talking points, but at least they are talking points. ‘The Giver’ offers more than just the standard clamorous post-apocalyptic claptrap that fuels far too many films these days. It dares to offer food for thought to audiences who may be starved for such after another addle-brained summer of explosions, car chases and aliens. Let’s be thankful.” — Tom Long, The Detroit News

“The Giver” is in theaters now.

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