Onscreen Entertainment Seen and Heard; Mozart’s Comic Gem in Lavish Met Production
By: Ellis Nassour
The Giver [The Weinstein Company; 94 minutes] giveth and taketh. Based on Lois Lowry’s best-selling [over 12 million copies] and acclaimed [Newbery Medal] 1993 children’s novel, the first in her quartet of stories set in futureworld [followed by Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012). It’s set in a strange, sterile Big-Brother-Is-Watching utopia [that’s anything but] set high in the stratosphere away from Elsewhere, the real world, overseen by the Chief Elder, with no past, pain, color, music, or love.
It’s an over-controlled black and white society where everyone’s equal. There’s no strife, so they naively think. The joys and pangs of life [marriage, childbirth, emotion, growing pains, poverty, illness, love] have been removed. There’re no books. Every step is orchestrated and watched by cameras and drones to catch infractions of the "bible" of rules.
Entering the picture is a pre-teen Jonas, a sort of rebel with a cause, who’s chosen from the minions to be The Receiver of Memory, the person trusted to have past memories of Elsewhere [war, starvation, crime, murder] to help in making decisions as a sort of Chief Rabbi if need arises. The envied position will isolate him from friends and family – and also bring its share of pain. He will experience what has been concealed from the others. But Jonas, played in the film by Brenton Thwaites, is different. He questions. He has feelings. He’s falling in love. He rebels. He escapes. He…
Yes, the book was rather a novel idea when first published. Even though it’s a challenging read with enough holes to fill a doughnut shop, The Giver‘s popularity and controversy was immense. While it was banned in some controlling communities, it became Catcher-in-the-Rye-like assigned reading in many middle schools [followed by weeks of discussion].
No sooner than the reviews circulated, Jeff Bridges, who’s a producer of the film and also plays the Receiver passing along knowledge [someone who holds secrets and the key to "freedom"] tried for over 10 years to bring The Giver to the screen. He kept being told it couldn’t be filmed. In the meanwhile, the book was adapted into a play, an opera, and was set to be adapted into a computer game.
Even sadder is the fact that it’s sort of old hat now with the success of Suzzane Collins’ blockbuster Hunger Games novels and Veronica Roth’s Divergent and those movie franchises, among others, even last year’s Elysium; and long ago preceded by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenehit 451 (1953) and the Brit screen adaptation (1966), directed by François Truffant, and Frank Herbert’s Dune (1966), also a film.
Unfortunately, the film adaptation suffers from being only 97 minutes and hardly able to develop characters in a way that we really care about them. The role of Chief Elder, portrayed by Meryl Streep, wearing a strange coiffure and very little make-up [and allowing herself to look "aged"] has been greatly expanded from the book no doubt to attract her to the project. It was a brave move on her part, especially after the horrendous flop of Lions for Lambs, and box office has been much more resplendent. However, this leaves even less time to develop other storylines. Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard as sort of robot parents have very little to do.
In the end, against almost insurmountable odds and with Superman-strength, Jonas escapes, but to what end. The screen goes black and we must wait for the continuation…or find a copy of Lowry’s Messenger, where his fate is finally revealed.
Click Here The Giver Trailer
Aussie director [actor and cinematographer] Phillip Noyce [The Bone Collector, Patriot Games], even with his background working on shoestring budgets, can’t jump the hurdle of clichés, holes [like those in a donut shop], and embarrassing CGI.
The Giver has a score [available on Sony Masterworks] by two-time Oscar nominee Marco Beltrami [3:10 to Yuma, The Hurt Locker], a composer of big [World War Z], small, and indie pics. He’s segued from action and horror genres to symphony concert orchestrations, such as in The Giver. A good score, used properly, can help tell the film story. Here, his motifs run the gamut from ethereal to pensive moods, with a beautiful sequence titled "Color"; and another that expresses the stirrings of Jonas’ conflict and oncoming conflict with martial percussion.
CLASSIC THEMES FROM CLASSIC FILMS
In its 20 years of existence, Turner Classic Movies Network has celebrated Hollywood’s classic movies. No classic movie – even those starring Garbo, Gable, Davis, Crawford, Bogart, Flynn, Hepburn, and Bergman – ever became "classic" without benefit of a memorable musical soundtrack.
Click Here for Trailer Gone With The Wind
What would Gone with the Wind and Davis be without Steiner? Hitchcock without Herrmann? Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago without Jarre; Ben-Hur without Rózsa; Peyton Place without Waxman’s stunning main title sequence; Spaghetti Westerns without Merricone? And dozens of films without Williams.
World cinema scores are front and center on Play It Again: The Classic Sound of Hollywood [TMC/Sony Masterworks; two discs, 18 tracks/suites; SRP $15.50] a reissue of portions of RCA’s late 70s Classic Film Scores series recorded by conductor Charles Gerhardt and sources such as the Boston Pops.
Tracks and extended suites include Bernstein’s Magnificent Seven, Herrmann’s Psycho and Vertigo, Jarre’s Lawrence of Arabia, and Dr. Zhivago, Korngold’s Of Human Bondage and The Sea Hawk, Mancini’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Rózsa’s Ben-Hur, Steiner’s GWTW and the original King Kong, Waxman’s Peyton Place, and Williams’ Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Sadly, sound varies from track to track and there’s been no effort to remaster.
MEAT LOAF RETURNS
Glee meets Rocky Horror Picture Show in a manner of speaking in the "operatic bloodfest" Stage Fright [Magnet Releasing/ Serendipity Point Films; 89 minutes; Blu-ray and DVD] , which mixes comedy and buckets of blood in a murder spree taking place at a snobby musical theater camp terrorized by the Metal Killer, who hates musical theater. Meat Loaf, Minnie Driver [who single-handedly stole the film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera as the diva by eating every piece of scenery – even some that was nailed down], and Allie MacDonald headline this slasher.
A starry-eyed teen (MacDonald) wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a Broadway diva, but she’s stuck working in the kitchen at music camp. She auditions for the summer showcase and lands the lead only to herself terrorized not by Michael Reidel but a bloodthirsty masked killer.
Writer/director Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion composed the score [Lakeshore Records], producing a genre-bending mix of heavy metal, rock, symphony orchestrations.
MORE OPERA FROM THE MET
Mark your calendar: Thirteen will telecast Lesley Koenig’s lavish production of Mozart’s barbed romance Cosi Fan Tutte on Sunday, August 31 at 12:30 P.M. Renée Fleming hosts this wizened tale of romantic complications when a pair of friends test their fiancée’s fidelity. Starring are Susanna Phillips and Isabel Leonard as sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella; Matthew Polenzani and Rodion Pogossov as their fiancés, Ferrando and Guglielmo; and Danielle de Niese as the feisty maid Despina. James Levine conducts.