Not a Movie Snob - The Hunger Games

Posted on Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 07:00 PM

"How far off are we?"

The Hunger Games

Undoubtably in the minority, I went into The Hunger Games without ever having read the books or even having seen a trailer. I knew the basic premise but early cries of 'the new Twilight' sent me off in the other direction. But, at the end of the day, sometimes you just have to see what all the fuss is about (this doesn't extend to Twilight). So, surrounded by teenaged girls and with expectation low, I gave it a go. 

I mentioned this in a review I wrote for Battle Royale, and despite what Suzanne Collins claims, she ripped that book and movie right off. Battle Royale is more brutal, takes place in a different time and doesn't lean as heavily on the reality TV angle, but it's basically the same thing. Obviously with Hunger Games aimed at the teenaged crowd and the film being rated in the PG category, this is going to be a washed out version of a story with a lot more blood lust potential.

But here's where it surprised me. This is a pretty brutal movie. They pushed their PG (PG-13) rating as far as it would go with the violence and I love that. Right out of the gate at the onset of the games, a whole boatload of kids die. And you see more of their deaths than you think you're going to. Thanks to some fancy footwork Bourne-like cutting and off camera slice and bludgeon sound effects, a few splatters of blood and some bodies hitting the floor stays safely within the ratings territory, while feeling like you just witnessed a blood bath. The movie stays pretty action packed throughout and while you don't see every death that's happening in the arena, as it's called, the ones you do see are pretty hefty. A wasps nest provides a particularly disturbing set piece midway through the film, especially if you don't like wasps and honestly, who does?

Not that it needs to be explained, but the plot is fairly simple. Due to an uprising of some unexplained cause and effect years ago, the government now takes one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to fight in 'The Hunger Games' of title, in which they are set loose in a computer animated arena and forced to kill each other off, the victor returning home, well, victorious. As you can imagine alliances are made and broken, heart strings are tugged and (this is a teen marketed film) crushes are made public. The pace is fast and furious and the story is told well enough that there is always some new plot turn materializing to keep things fresh.

This taking place in the future and perhaps another world, the sets and costumes are very much sci-fi-ish. I wasn't a big fan of the world that went on outside the arena. It came off as more cheesy and fake than the worlds in films like Blade Runner and A.I. which were beautiful and new and exciting.

The film is populated with a den of well known supporting actors who give it their all. Woody Harrelson is by far the best, as an alcoholic, disillusioned past Games winner who must act as mentor to his districts new recruits. Woody seems to be everywhere lately and I don't mind a bit, I've loved that guy's acting since Cheers and will never tire of seeing him bring his specific brand of coolness to a role. Parker Posey's unofficial twin Elizabeth Banks does really well as a representative of some sort of the government who also ushers along the new recruits and her character's lack of sympathy and ditzy disposition is annoying and silly, which is exactly what it's supposed to be. So well done.

Jennifer Lawrence carries it all on her shoulders though and she does alright, but not to the extent that I don't think they could've gotten somebody better. She was amazing in WInter's Bone and brings that same sense of melancholy to this role, where it doesn't have the same effect. She's a little flat, a little wooden, but not in any way that hurts the entertainment value of the film.

I mentioned I went into this film 'cold' as we say in the industry, not knowing the book or having seen a trailer. Throughout the film I wished that wasn't the case. While I truly believe that seeing a movie after reading its source material can ruin some of the movie going experience (how often are movies better than the books they're based on?), it also annoys me when filmmakers just assume that everyone has read the book and can fill in the blanks themselves, leaving far too many back story explanations unexplained. Ron Howard did that with The Davinci Code, Gary Ross does that here. Does it not make more sense to assume no one's read the book and make your film that way than just trying make as good an adaptation as you can?

I don't actively seek out underlying themes in movies or sit around trying to figure out what the message was or what the filmmakers were trying to say with this scene or that scene, but I think it's fairly obvious that The Hunger Games is at its core a commentary on our silly obsession with reality TV and how far will we allow that to go? This is another thing I really enjoyed about the film: It's a reflection of our reality TV soaked minds, in which human suffering and hardship passes for entertainment, our brains somehow protecting us from the reality that we are nothing more and no better than a bunch of peeping toms. The television screen acting as barrier between worlds and tricking us into the belief that because it's happening in there and not out here, it's less real.

The Hunger Games succeeds at being a film everyone can enjoy. You don't have to be a teenaged girl (or boy) to be entertained by this one. Something I don't think, without having seen any of them, you can say about the Twilight flicks. I enjoyed it so much in fact, that I'm going to go read the books now and fill in some of the those holes the film left me with. If that's not intelligent cross promotion on the part of the filmmakers, nothing is.

Rating: ****



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