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The Giver: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

The Giver (2014) movie poster The Giver

Theatrical Release: August 15, 2014 / Running Time: 97 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Phillip Noyce / Writers: Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide (screenplay); Lois Lowry (book)

Cast: Jeff Bridges (The Giver), Meryl Streep (Chief Elder), Brenton Thwaites (Jonas), Alexander Skarsgård (Father), Katie Holmes (Mother), Odeya Rush (Fiona), Cameron Monaghan (Asher), Taylor Swift (Rosemary), Emma Tremblay (Lilly)

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Dystopian tales have become extremely popular in the world of young adult fiction
and their film adaptations have been among the biggest hits of the past three years. That might just explain why we are finally now seeing The Giver, a feature filming of Lois Lowry's best-selling, Newberry Medal-awarded 1993 novel of the same name.

The Giver is set in an efficient and organized future where there is no lying, conflict, or even inclement weather. Occupying what appears to be an island in the clouds, this society is highly controlled and monitored. Days are firmly scheduled and announcements are regularly administered. The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) has a tendency to appear in hologram form, always politely apologizing for her intrusions and being systematically forgiven.

In "The Giver", the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) appears holographically at the graduation ceremony where teenagers are assigned their jobs.

Our protagonist is Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who is about to graduate and be assigned a job, as are his two best friends forever, jokester Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and the nurturing Fiona (Odeya Rush). At the graduation ceremony, Jonas is skipped over while his classmates receive their unchangeable assignments. That is because he is appointed the next Receiver of Memory. It is a unique and important position, the only one that allows a person in this world to ask questions and tell lies.

Jonas begins his training under the current Receiver of Memory (Jeff Bridges), an aging man who declares himself the Giver. It is an eye-opening experience, as the Giver introduces the teenager to the good and bad of past human experience. Jonas discovers everything from music to animals to war. He learns of the concept of love, one of the many emotions that the regularly-administered morning injections suppress. Jonas starts skipping that medication, getting it injected instead into an apple with a drop of his blood on it. The gray world around him suddenly fills with color, as Jonas experiences dreams and comes to question the practices of his world, such as releasing the elderly to the mysterious place called Elsewhere.

Jonas' training attracts some concern from the Chief Elder and from his parents (Alexander Skarsgård and Katie Holmes), who like all are appointed and have no special biological relation to him. Though overwhelmed by what he has learned, Jonas considers using it to illuminate the world around him and call attention to the unacceptable limits and methods that have come to be accepted in a place that celebrates sameness.

Under the tutelage of The Giver (Jeff Bridges), Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) begins to see the world in color.

The Giver is a co-production of The Weinstein Company and Walden Media. Walden had a promising and productive start last decade, teaming with the likes of Disney, Paramount, New Line, and Fox to make appealing adaptations of novels new and old. Their Noughties hits included The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Holes, Charlotte's Web,
Bridge to Terabithia, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. These films' success easily overshadowed the failures of other adaptations, like The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, Hoot, and City of Ember. But following the diminishing returns of the Narnia sequels, Walden has kind of faded from the scene and gotten away from book-based entertainment in favor of half-witted original comedies like Tooth Fairy and Parental Guidance.

This film returns Walden not only to satisfying, passionate YA adaptations, but also entertainment with moral and social value. I never read Lowry's novel, turned off in part by its black and white cover image of a bearded old man, so I can't speak to how faithfully it has been translated to the big screen. However, one can't help but notice how the tale feels about twenty years ahead of its time, reminding of Divergent and The Hunger Games with its story and setting. In artistic quality, The Giver falls into the large gap that separates those two Lionsgate/Summit film franchises, falling short of Hunger's powerful post-apocalyptic thrills but coming much closer than this year's unappetizing first taste of Divergent.

Nothing in the résumés of screenwriters Robert B. Weide (more a documentarian and TV director than scribe) and complete novice Michael Mitnick lead us to anticipate much from their script. Similarly, expectations aren't lifted by the involvement of Phillip Noyce, an experienced Australian director best known for big American action and mystery films (Salt, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Bone Collector). Nonetheless, the three of them cross paths to viewer fulfillment, perhaps as a result of the virtue of Lowry's humanity-extolling tale.

Perhaps the biggest of the true independent distributors, Weinstein is considered a "mini-major" studio. They are driven more by prestige than the competition and their ventures into mainstream, commercial filmmaking have been rare. The Giver may be cut from a similar cloth as YA blockbusters Hunger Games and Divergent, but its older source and reliance on more mental than physical action diminished its financial prospects. Nonetheless, the $25 million production budget assembled here is enough to do the book justice. It's enough to allow the filmmakers to produce strong visuals befitting the material. And enough to pay the salaries of two of the busiest, most accomplished and most decorated of sexagenarian actors in Streep and Bridges, who also produces and appears after trying to direct the movie with his late father Lloyd in the title role all the way back in the '90s.

Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) enjoy a forbidden, spontaneous ride down the escalator bannister.

For some reason, the big name long most attached to news on this film was Taylor Swift. The popular musician's involvement amounts to little more than a brief cameo as the previous Receiver of Memory. The less famous, similarly aged leads do more of the acting and generally impress,
especially Aussie Thwaites (underused as Maleficent's Prince Phillip) as our young hero.

The Giver is less derivative as you fear it might be, which is only fair since its source significantly predates the kindred contemporary films. Extensively utilizing black and white photography for roughly half the runtime is a bold approach for a movie aimed at mainstream teen audiences. It may raise inevitable comparisons to The Wizard of Oz and Pleasantville, but the technique works and gives the film a power of its own.

It was tough to gauge The Weinstein Company's commercial expectations for this film. Its theater count narrowly passed the 3,000 mark, becoming only the studio's thirteenth (and seventh non-Dimension Films label) release to do so. That was still a far cry from the 4,000 locations that Hunger, Divergent, Twilight, and later Harry Potter movies have claimed. Furthermore, though The Giver did open in summer, Hollywood's biggest and most competitive season, it only arrived at the tail end of it. The month of August has produced few hits, by far the biggest of which was this year's Guardians of the Galaxy, coming two weeks earlier.

All this suggested Weinstein wanted The Giver to be a big hit while recognizing it probably had no shot of approaching the stratosphere. Such moderate expectations help the movie's somewhat leggy $45 M domestic gross feel like a minor success. Even if the returns were far from Hollywood's biggest heavyweights and even considerably shy of mid-range hits like Charlotte's and Terabithia, at least they didn't squarely add the film to the box office bomb category that's full of YA non-starters like Vampire Academy, Beautiful Creatures, Cirque du Freak, and so on.

Just in time for Thanksgiving and, more importantly, Black Friday, The Giver reaches home video today from Weinstein partner Anchor Bay Entertainment, who release it as a DVD and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

The Giver: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: November 25, 2014
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Watching The Giver on Blu-ray, it's easy to mistakenly assume the film had a budget three or four times what it did. The 2.40:1 visuals satisfy both in a general sense and in how they are presented without the slightest concern here. Sharp, detailed, and often aesthetically pleasing, the picture is all you could ask for in 1080p.

Just as satisfying is the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio, which is loud but consistent. The crisp mix showcases tasteful sound design and does a fine job of mixing elements so that each remains audible.

Lloyd Bridges reads The Giver's lines while a young relative performs Jonas in this 1990s Bridges family script reading. Meryl Streep confesses wanting to work with Jeff Bridges in "'The Giver': From Page to Screen."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with "Highlights from the Original Script Reading" (39:47, SD). It was taped at Jeff Bridges' parents' house in the mid-'90s and features family members reading the parts,
including father Lloyd as The Giver and mother Dorothy as the Chief Elder, with Bud Cort narrating. Who wouldn't want to see a 1990s Bridges family home movie? That there's relevance to this project is a nice bonus. Sadly, Beau and Todd are no-shows here.

"The Giver: From Page to Screen" is the standard, obligatory making-of featurette (21:39, HD). It gives us good information regarding why the movie took this long to materialize, then makes sure to pay notice to each of the film's key cast and crew. If you watch just one bonus feature, this should probably be it.

"Jonas' Harrowing Journey" (9:23, HD) isn't just an extended scene, but kind of an extended climax involving Jonas and travel companion on the run through an assortment of landscapes. It's fun to see, though clearly not content the end of the film needed.

Taylor Swift and Meryl Streep, two female icons two generations removed, are seated next to each other at The Giver's New York press conference. Author Lois Lowry speaks highly of the film adaptation she's glad she lived to see.

The one Blu-ray exclusive is a New York press conference (35:31, HD) conducted last August. In it, author Lois Lowry, actors Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift, Brenton Thwaites, Cameron Monaghan, Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes, and Emma Tremblay, producer Nikki Silver, screenwriters Robert B. Weide and Michael Mitnick, and director Phillip Noyce answer questions from a host and international journalists about the long journey to get the film made, the use of black and white, their experiences with the book, and shooting in South Africa. It's a good piece which makes up for the lack of an audio commentary.

"Ordinary Human" featurette (2:43) lets Ryan Tedder discuss his band OneRepublic's song contribution to the film, which is prominently showcased here.

"Lois Lowry on The Giver" (3:35) has the author discuss both her novel and the long-in-development filming of it.

Teachers get four lesson plans using clips from the movie to tie in with the book. The three friends forever enjoy a bike ride together through their gray world.

Finally, a Study Guide offers four text screen lessons with suggested points of discussion and fitting film clips to support them.
It's a nice way for teachers to promote the movie, preferably in conjunction with the reading of the page-cited novel, while easing their class preparation load.

The discs open with trailers for Vampire Academy and Fox's The Maze Runner. Neither is accessible by menu and, sadly but standardly, no trailers for The Giver are included.

The menu loops an ordinary, scored montage of clips, reflecting the film's visual design of black and white gradually gaining color. Sadly, the Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks or resume unfinished playback.

The silver DVD and full-color Blu-ray share a standard blue keepcase, joined by an insert supplying a code and directions for the Digital HD UltraViolet included with your purchase. The case is topped by a textured slipcover (long rare but suddenly common for an Anchor Bay Blu-ray), which sports a gold foil sticker reminding one of the Newberry Medal seal that's long adorned the book's cover (but is apparently replaced by a Taylor Swift mention in new tie-in copies).

Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) journeys to places of varied weather in the climax of "The Giver."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My fellow critics weren't crazy about The Giver and those entering with a love of the original novel may not be either. But I am happy to find it a very good, almost great YA film that is interesting, original, and full of strong ideas about what it means to be human. Well-acted and directed, it's a cut above most teen-oriented literary adaptations and requires no prior reading to enjoy.

The Blu-ray combo pack treats the film to fantastic picture and sound plus nearly two hours of substantial bonus features. It's a set that's easy to recommend.

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Related Reviews:
New: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1Into the Woods (Broadway)
YA Adaptations: The Hunger GamesDivergentPercy Jackson: Sea of MonstersBeautiful CreaturesVampire Academy
Walden Media: City of EmberBridge to TerabithiaThe Lion, The Witch and The WardrobeJourney to the Center of the Earth
Jeff Bridges: Tron & Tron: LegacyIron ManThe Big LebowskiThe VanishingThe Last Unicorn
Meryl Streep: August: Osage CountyDoubtFantastic Mr. FoxMarvin's Room | Brenton Thwaites: Maleficent
Cameron Monaghan: Prom | Odeya Rush: The Odd Life of Timothy Green | Directed by Phillip Noyce: Salt
Alexander Skarsgard: What Maisie Knew | Katie Holmes: Don't Be Afraid of the DarkTeaching Mrs. Tingle
Oz the Great and PowerfulThe Tree of LifeIt's a Wonderful LifeWinter's Tale

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Reviewed November 25, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 The Weinstein Company, Walden Media, Tonik Productions, As Is Productions, Yucaipa Films,
The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment, and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.