Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Hunger Games

It only took an extra week but I finally took some time to go and see what the hell everyone has been freaking out about. I saw the trailers I knew right away this wasn't going to be Twilight, with its horrid scripts, awkwardly painful acting and just plain cheese factor. But I was still skeptical of anything that has an obsessive following, especially, by teenaged girls I'm always going to be highly suspicious. To tell the truth the film intrigued me even though I've seen this theme many times before: Logan's Run, The Running Man, Battle Royale and for the super geek out there who knows his sci-fi you can track all of these stories from two distinct sources, the short story called the Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell and, in my opinion, the episode of Star Trek that started this whole thing about a televised bloodbath for sport; Bread and Circuses from season 2 of the original series. I'm serious, watch the episode and tell me that you can't see the influences. Anyway, I have no background with this particular story. I never the read the books, so I can say pretty definitively I haven't drank the Kool-Aid.
This is the film adaptation from the novels by Suzanne Collins, but of course you would have to have been living under a rock over the last year if you didn't know that. You don't glean a whole lot about this futuristic world they are living in but it isn't pretty. Apparently the U.S. is now called Pan-Em and there was a Civil War many years ago and the victors, in all of their wisdom, decided that the best way to keep order is to break the rebels into 12 districts and every year choose two, a boy and a girl between the ages of 12-18, from every district to compete in combat against each other to the death, all live on TV. They call it the Hunger Games. The Poor folks from the districts live in backwater towns and do not seem to have many choices for occupations other than the mines. The folks in the capitol however are living high on the hog as they wear frivolous clothes and strange hairdos and it appears they also live fairly frivolous lives.  So right away you can see the divide quite clearly. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a tough 18 year old from district 12 who has the burden of taking care of her little sister, Prim (Willow Shields) and her traumatized Mother (Paula Malcomson). She likes to sneak out beyond the gates with her bow to hunt with her best friend and possible love interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth). When her sister is tasked with putting her name in the lottery called the Reaping for the first time she is shocked to find that she is the girl chosen to go. As you saw in the trailers Katniss jumps in as a tribute and volunteers in her sister's place. Apparently people don't usually just volunteer for this, and once you see everything unfold, it's kind of easy to see why. She joins fellow district 12 lottery pick Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) as they are sent to the capitol to train for a few weeks before the games begin.

So in a nutshell, yes I really enjoyed the movie, it's a tough fucking movie to watch but it was pretty good all the same. The script seemed sharp and the pace and the acting was steady and good, this isn't Oscar fare or anything but for a popcorn movie with a message it certainly delivers. It's a gritty survival flick that feels a bit like Rambo meets Deliverance. But I stress this is not for kids under 13. It's brutal and pretty depressing when you get down to it. But I don't really need to make the pitch for this movie so far it's made over 200 million domestic and it's looking to recoup more over the next few weeks. For a big blockbuster movie it does a lot of things right. I could see the influence of all of those movies and TV shows inlaid in the myth created here. And given how large this world is with all of these characters I felt that they focused their time on the right characters to move the story along. There are some benefits having not read the book, and I don't want to give any secrets away, but I thought that throwing the Peeta character into the mix without much explanation allowed his character to seem more ambiguous and therefore more interesting. Is he going to take her side or is he going to stab her in the back? I was told this was much more clear in the books, in the movie, not so much which I think added to the suspense.
I thought that the sub-characters were great too. It's always fun to see Woody Harrelson and he brings quite a bit to his character Haymitch, a former winner of the Hunger Games from District 12. I was also surprised that singer Lenny Kravitz could act, totally surprised me, he was great as Katniss' sponsor, Cinna. I usually love Elizabeth Banks and she did a great job but her character was so shrill and annoying and her costume was so ridiculous. Not her fault but she definitely had a thankless job as Effie Trinket. You then had the mainstays Donald Sutherland as the cold and ruthless President of the territories and Wes Bentley as the Games master. Hadn't seen that guy in forever. Also you had Stanley Tucci as the host of the games, he's always good even rocking the weird blue hair. The other kids in the games were all over the board you had the cute yet crafty Rue (Amandla Stenberg) and the psychotic bad ass Cato (Alexander Ludwig).
This was a massive undertaking that probably could have been split into two. Especially with trying to explain this country, they missed some opportunities to tie it to our world, just with a place card they could have explained if this was our Earth or even the former United States which apparently is better explained in the books. I also thought the cinematography was all over the place especially when they were on the game grid. It was effective in some places but it went from static shots and sweeping camera to the Bourne Identity type camera work, and I'm not fully knocking that but it did feel a little inconsistent. Otherwise I had a good time with this flick, I liked it a lot more then I thought I was going to. I guess a part of me was thinking it was still going to be another carbon copy of the Twilight series. Now having forced myself to watch the first two in that series I can happily tell you this is NOTHING LIKE TWILIGHT, thankfully, not even close. They may have similar fans but that's where the similarities end. So I'm sure as I'm writing this you have either seen Hunger Games or on your way to see it, so that would render this post moot, and more of a bandwagon one, but whatever, I call them like I see them. Happy Hunger Games.
Grade: 4 Buckets

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