Published back in 1993, Lois Lowry's young-adult novel was a touching, dystopian fantasy, centered on a 12-year-old boy. If it had been filmed back then, it would have preceded similar stories like "Ender's Game," "Elysium," "Divergent," and the "Hunger Games" franchise. But now, it's just one more bland, teen-centric story, set in the distant future, depicting a post-apocalyptic society of "true equality."
The Community, as it's called, is supposed to be Utopia. Classless, climate-controlled and conflict-free, it's an isolated world that's free of poverty, famine and other forms of suffering. Choice is unknown; achieving sameness is everyone's goal. Tranquility reigns, enforced by "precision of language," meaning people are constantly apologizing and saying, "I accept your apology."
Upon ritually graduating from childhood and receiving his lifetime job assignment, Jonas (Brendan Thwaits) is chosen by the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) to be the next Receiver, meaning he's to be taught by the titular Giver (bearded Jeff Bridges), a tormented soul who holds the collective cultural memories.
As Jonas learns about the pain of love and war, and the ecstasy of art and music, he becomes determined to "free" not only his family (Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes), including a continually crying infant, but also one special girl, Fiona (Odeya Rush).
In this disappointing screen adaptation by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, directed by Philip Noyce ("Patriot Games," Salt"), the protagonist has been transformed from a child into a young adult, which dilutes the impact of the ethical/moral conflicts and loss-of-innocence theme but allows for a sweetly plausible romance and some vaguely religious overtones.
Working with production designer Ed Verreaux and cinematographer Ross Emery, Noyce creates this eerie, not-so brave new world monochromatically, allowing Jonas to slowly notice subtle bits of color, eventually including vivid greens, blues and reds.
Except for Bridges and Streep, the actors are nondescript, delivering strangely stilted, unmemorable performances.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Giver" is a platitudinous, all-too-familiar 5, unlikely to satisfy avid fans of Lowry's Newberry Medal-winning book.