Two decades before big-screen adaptations of dystopian young-adult novels like "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent" became the rage, Lois Lowry's Newbery-winning book "The Giver" laid out the blueprint for the genre, in which a young hero challenges the authoritarian order of a futuristic society.
Now "The Giver" has finally made its own way to the multiplex, shepherded by producer-star Jeff Bridges, but according to movie critics, the resulting film is overly familiar and uncinematic.
The Times' Kenneth Turan says "The Giver has "a bland, earnest, even pokey quality that no amount of tinkering with the book's plot has rectified." Directed by Phillip Noyce from a screenplay by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, the movie's "added action sequences and increased melodrama feel half-hearted, where whatever stabs at tension and conflict we see have a clunky, manufactured air."
In the end, Turan says, "The problem with 'The Giver' is not that it departs from the book by adding things such as surveillance drones and hints of romance, it's that it has been unable to find a way to make the essence of the novel cinematically involving."
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis says '"The Giver's" "enervating hash of dystopian dread, vague religiosity and commercial advertising-style uplift is nothing if not stale." Stuck with "a lamentable script" and "cheap digital effects and sets that needed more money or imagination or both," Noyce "can't do much here, but doesn't seem to be trying hard, either."
Though "The Giver's" source material came first, Dargis adds, the movie "can't help but come off as a poor copy" of previous YA adaptations like the aforementioned "Hunger Games" and "Divergent."
USA Today's Claudia Puig says "The Giver" is "visually handsome, but disappointing and thematically flattened," and she agrees that it "suffers from comparison to the surfeit of teen-centered dystopian thrillers in recent years." Puig adds, "For those who have not read the book, the movie will seem derivative. And for those who have read it, it is likely to feel disappointing for the dimension it leaves out."
As for the cast, Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Labrecque says that Bridges "seems trapped playing [a] passive seer, and Meryl Streep's villainous turn as the Jane Campion-haired Chief Elder will test the blind devotion of Golden Globe voters." Labrecque continues, "In the end, the film practically collapses under its own … hmm, what's the opposite of 'weight'? In any case, it falls apart with a slapdash final act that doesn't work as drama or action."
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr says the movie's "market-driven retrofitting still doesn't manage to kill what made 'The Giver' special: its hero's patient inner journey to understand the terrible truth about his world and act on it. It's not the most cinematic tale, but [Noyce] and production company Walden Media have done what they can, filling in the blanks of Lowry's artful, minimalist storytelling."
The final product, Burr says, "won't offend anyone but won't get them very excited, either."
Among the more positive reviews is that of Tom Long of the Detroit News, who writes, "'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."