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Review Roundup: Is Phillip Noyce’s Dystopian ‘The Giver’ Too Late to the YA Franchise Party?

Review Roundup: Is Phillip Noyce's Dystopian 'The Giver' Too Late to the YA Franchise Party?

Reviews are out for Phillip Noyce’s Lois Lowry adaptation “The Giver,” and early consensus suggests that this YA dystopian sci-fi, while handsomely directed, may not be franchise material.

We were worried at Comic-Con when The Weinstein Company previewed the film, which turns on a vaguely post-apocalyptic society founded on uniformity and sameness a la George Orwell and, obviously, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” A longtime labor-of-love for producer and star Jeff Bridges, “The Giver” features Aussie newcomer Brenton Thwaites as Jonas, the young hero of this uncomfortably numb community. And, of course, Meryl Streep costars, which will be a draw for audiences.

While The Hollywood Reporter, Film School Rejects and Washington Post are kinder to “The Giver,” Variety and The Wrap are not in love. More reviews to come. Also, listen to our Screen Talk podcast, which covers what we saw at Comic-Con and more. “The Giver” goes wide August 15.

Trailer after the jump.

The Hollywood Reporter:

“The changes, which include making the book’s 12 year-old hero old enough to make tween viewers swoon (he’s played by 25 year-old Aussie Brenton Thwaites), surely enhance marketability, even if they sand some edges off a tale that has won many hearts over the years. The presence of Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep in supporting roles will help draw some attention from grown-ups who don’t know the book, but while the film may see enough success to justify follow-ups (Lowry has written three sequels), this franchise won’t come close to competing with ‘The Hunger Games’ and other more epic series.”


“Sameness, the conformist plague that afflicts the futuristic citizens of Lois Lowry’s celebrated and scorned YA novel, ‘The Giver,’ might also be the name given to what ails the movie adaptation — the latest in a seemingly endless line of teen-centric dystopian fantasies that have become all but indistinguishable from one another. A longtime passion project for producer/star Jeff Bridges, ‘The Giver’ reaches the screen in a version that captures the essence of Lowry’s affecting allegory but little of its mythic pull — a recipe likely to disappoint fans while leaving others to wonder what all the fuss was about. Any hopes by co-producers the Weinstein Co. and Walden Media that they might have the next ‘Hunger Games’ (or even ‘Divergent’) on their hands look to be dashed by lackluster late-summer box office.”

The Wrap:

“If the film aces its depiction of the dawning horror and social alienation that comes with studying yesteryear, the rest is largely a failure. ‘The Giver’ is an anti-totalitarian allegory so farcically hyperbolic it feels like only a teenager could have come up with it… [It] feels pinned and tucked into place, evincing a too-smooth surface with all the standard narrative folds and corners. The picture is more human than the people it depicts, but it merely goes and ends where you’d expect it to, save for a gruesomely stupid final two minutes that surprises only with its laziness.”

Film School Rejects:

“What’s refreshing about how the book has been translated here is how the filmmakers have stuck with its simplicity. Having made two of the finer Jack Ryan films and 2010′s ‘Salt,’ Noyce could have made a more conventionally exciting version of this story — where Jonas picks up a gun and starts fighting the system with his teenage buddies — but even his camerawork is far from the level of flash we expect in the summertime. While his approach to the short bursts of shared memories is a tad hamfisted and often hokey, there’s a controlled cleanness to the way he and DP Ross Emery approach the dichotomy.”

Washington Post:

“In its own way, the movie version — handsomely directed by Phillip Noyce and featuring an appealing, sure-footed cast of emerging and veteran actors — aptly reflects ‘The Giver”s pride of place as the one that started it all, or at least the latest wave. Ironically, it wasn’t until its imitators became box office bonanzas that ‘The Giver’ was seen potentially profitable enough to produce for the big screen. Far less noisy and graphically violent than those films, this mournful coming-of-age tale feels like their more subdued and introspective older sibling, even as it trafficks in the self-dramatizing emotionalism and simplistic philosophizing that are so recognizably symptomatic of the YA genre.”

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