Chandler, Arizona, United States

There's an old saying. If you don't want someone to join a crowd, you ask them, "If everyone were jumping off of a cliff, would you?" Well, I have. So my answer would be "Yes". True story.
Profile continued . . .

Review of The Hunger Games

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

this entry brought to you by tool, "the grudge"

Someone I know who is a fan of the book series The Hunger Games is based on and loved the film told me the reason I might not have enjoyed the movie as much as some other people is that it's mostly a girl thing, which I honestly felt isn't true at all. The concept is hardly new-- we've seen the idea of a television show the nation is transfixed on where the contestants kill one another as far back as 1987 in The Running Man, which itself was based on a Stephen King novel from 1982-- but the idea of a young girl being at the forefront of the story is hardly a turn off for me. In fact, if it weren't for that strong lead female character, I'm not sure The Hunger Games would be worth anything at all. My problem had more to do with the trappings of the young adult novel the movie is based on than anything else.

Let me get the good stuff out of the way first.

I thought the acting, for all the characters that needed to be well acted, was absolutely perfect. Jennifer Lawrence is imminently watchable as Katniss, the main character, and I could hardly take my eyes off of her when she was on screen. Katniss's worries aren't just about being afraid of dying on a battlefield or determined to stay alive, but Lawrence ably portrays the general confusion of being a teenaged girl, of wanting to be home with her childhood crush Gale, and being forced to confront the fact that she is developing feelings for Prim, her teammate. Lawrence looks lost and yet able to keep her head up-- if you have any preteen daughters, fictional role models don't come much more positive than Katniss.

But there's also Woody Harrelson whose character I was disappointed wasn't in it as much as I wanted. I wanted Katniss to develop more of a relationship with him despite his drunkenness, but that's because Harrelson is really damn good as the couldn't-give-a-shit mentor who sees some potential in this new kid. And I should also mention that Stanley Tucci is brings some much needed levity as the over-the-top television host, and Elizabeth Banks is superb as the grotesque host for the children in their new living quarters as they practice for the games.

The problem with The Hunger Games is in how immature a way it handles its subject matter. Yes, I'm aware it's based on a young adult novel, but some of this stuff is just poor storytelling, unless the audience was very young adult-- like, pre-preteen young adult.

Believe it or not, I'm not complaining about the way the camera cuts away at the last second when a teen (or even child) dies, or that the movie uses too much shaky cam. I've heard people complaining about this, that the movie takes on this pretty brutal subject matter, but then doesn't have the resolve to actually carry through and show these things. I thought the deaths that we did see-- and one in particular-- were sufficiently brutal that I never felt the movie was being pointlessly tame.

No, the real problem with The Hunger Games is that it has no stakes. Yes, if the characters lose, they die, which you could argue is the highest stake possible, except that I never once thought that Katniss would lose. And yes, of course, I'm watching a movie, I get that the main character won't die. For example, you know from the beginning that Batman will win in the end in The Dark Knight. But over the course of the movie, we're introduced to a horrible villain that seems inscrutable, tricky, and beyond anything else, flesh-crawlingly crazy and is completely unpredictable. Meanwhile, Batman's comrades are either blown up or in some way subverted so that he can't count on them anymore. Batman might ultimately be the winner by the time the credits roll, but in the thick of it, the circumstances are so dire that you're left wondering exactly how Batman's going to be able to get past everything.

Katniss, on the other hand, is established early on as being a great archer, so strong-headed that she is the one to calm her mom down and tell her everything's going to be okay as she's heading off to the games. Then, through a stunt she pulls when trying to impress the judges, she's given more sponsors than other characters, and then, when the news shows what the odds are for every character to win, she is far and away the favor. Then the movie continues to put her in predicaments that you know exactly how she'll squeeze out of. Bad guys right below her? Don't worry, there's a bee's nest directly above them, which were introduced just prior, without any time for the viewer to put them in the back of their mind. Yes, Katniss is a strong character in and of herself, and she is portrayed so well by the magnetic Lawrence-- but if the character isn't put in any circumstance the movie didn't already tell me she could easily overcome, then why should I care?

The other problem is that about a third of the other contestants in the film are grinning, laughing bullies that, inexplicably, group together. Why in the world would anyone make a pact to cooperate, when they know that they'll get a sword in the back as they sleep? This isn't the show Survivor, this is a game where there can literally only be one winner, not because somebody got on somebody else's bad side and got voted off, but because all but one person will be dead.

It's explained that the two kids in one particular district are different than kids from other districts because they train from an early age just for these games, and they typically win. So their confidence and utter lack of concern is explained. So why would other kids join them? And why does this group walk around like bullies from The Karate Kid? There's a scene where they catch a glance at our hero and practically say "There she is! Get her!" before giving chase with sneering laughter. The teen antagonists in the movie are so idiotically over the top, it's as if they're in a completely different movie.

This actually goes for the movie itself. Other than the idiot bullies, the characters with actual names are so well acted they all seemed to have prepared and rehearsed and really gotten into character, only to accidentally end up in what is essentially a 100 million dollar B-movie that is really well art directed, but lacks substance as a story. It's not that I hated The Hunger Games-- I thought it was a fine rental-- but if Lawrence, Harrelson, Banks, and Tucci weren't in it, it would have been intolerable.

with love from CRS @ 9:37 AM 


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