Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games (2012)
Director - Gary Ross
PG-13; 142 Min
Jennifer Lawrence - Katniss Everdeen
Josh Hutcherson - Peeta Mellark
Stanley Tucci - Caesar Flickerman
Wes Bentley - Seneca Crane
Elizabeth Banks - Effie Trinket
Woody Harrelson - Haymitch Abernathy
Lenny Kravitz - Cinna
Donald Sutherland - President Snow

"Primrose Everdeen" the heavily made-up long lost twin of Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen of Alice in Wonderland speaks into the microphone after drawing a name out of all things, a giant fishbowl, and so begins the journey of the yearly event in a world once lost that has found itself again, and now must both pay tribute and sacrifice to its history - The Hunger Games.

It will be quite difficult not to give out any spoilers for this review of the Hunger Games, because in order to say some of the things I want to say I need to reference some specifics, but I swear I'll simply lay it out there without letting anybody know that Darth Vader is actually the father of Luke and Leia Skywalker and that Kevin Spacey is Kaiser Soze the whole time (there, now you don't have to pretend to tell people you saw the Usual Suspects if you never did, but if you never have I don't know what you are waiting for, but your like way late to the party, so stop complaining to me about it.)

I'll cut to the chase very quickly with major plot details so I can discuss other matters.  The civilization depicted in the movie is made up of 12 zones, with each successive outlying zone a little less desirable than the last.  If you were born in zone1, well, good for you chap.  Zone 12 you say? May want to brush up on your coal mining skills.  You get the drill (yeah, I went there.) Each year for 74 years running the rulers from the Capitol select 1 boy and 1 girl of a certain young age group from each zone to compete in a reality tv show to the death, as a way to honor and sacrifice for civilization's past misdeeds, in this case, a civil war.  The premise of the games is to have 24 children dropped in the middle of nowhere (albeit a controlled environment) and left to their own devices (and supplies made available from time to time) to outwit, outlast and outplay each other. - I couldn't help myself.  Making oneself desirable in the game to sponsors is key to attaining gifts that could help save your life.  Also key is killing the other kids. Win the game and forever be hailed a hero by your district and the entire civilization.  Lose the game and you're dead, so no accolades.  In this instance Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her younger sister, something no one has ever done from district 12.  She is in all likelihood going to die to save her sister, and she does so knowing full well the consequences.

Suzanne Collins wrote the books that inspired this and the sure to be sequels and apparently has a huge following now, not unlike the Twilight series or, from what I'm told, the Harry Potter series.  I have not read the books nor had I heard of them so I went into this viewing knowing only what I've seen in trailers and read about - basically I knew everything except how they would actually shoot the film.  Minor spoiler alert - teen girls love it! I paid the extra few bucks and saw this at an Imax experience, which I do think is worth it every once in a while.  I'm not sold that this movie won't play just as well on a regular screen, but if you only go to one or two blockbusters why not make it a huge screen with great sound?

There are a lot of roles to follow in this film and surprisingly that was never much of a problem, in general, as you got just enough of the government and entertainment type people to understand the basics.  Where it did suffer was the lack of character depth for the participants (tributes) since I'm sure they were all fleshed out well in the books, but here for sake of time the filmmakers really had to sparse things down to a few obvious bad guys and girls and a few good ones.  Oh well.  At least we get a lot of Jennifer Lawrence.  I can't say enough good things about her and have been fascinated with where her career may go after the incredible performance she gave in Winter's Bone (I know, not all of you saw it...your bad.)  Again, here, she commands every scene she is in and holds this film together.  I know we've been marketed to for a while here, but I find it difficult to imagine a better casting job for the strong and emotionally distant Katniss.  Lawrence is pretty at times, rugged at others, and all the while a force that is moved forward with her piercing eyes and direct approach.  I hope she is able to seek out and find some well written roles in the future.

The film spends the first hour setting things up as we watch the tributes paraded with pomp and circumstance in the Capitol and on television.  They are trained in fighting and mentored to prepare for what they are about to face.  In the case of Katniss and her district 12 male tribute companion Peeta, they have a former winner from district 12, Haymitch, to guide them.  Haymitch, played by Woody Harrelson

I was both pleasantly surprised and equally shocked at the levels of violence shown in this film with a PG-13 rating.  Now my eyes are not virginal and my moral code and ethics could use some major touch ups, but for a film aimed at tweens and teens and puppy dog tails there was quite a bit of spear to gut, bricks to the head, and neck breaking.  Do I want to even begin to comment on what that means in a larger sense to society? Hell no.

I enjoyed this film.  I liked it.  I did. But I also found a lot of things wrong with it and obviously I'm going to mention those issues, now, actually.

We need more back story.  We get absolutely no decent context as to why the Hunger Games happen each year or why Donald Sutherland's god like ruling of this civilization is the way it is... and yes, I know we are told about the civil war etc. We don't get enough information about why zone 1 people are the crazy Hollywood types in love with themselves and the entertainment of these deaths, nor do we get any feel for any of the other zones except the despair of district 12.  I would have loved to have seen some sort of video footage of when Haymarsh played his game, how he won, and what happened afterwards, just something to tie together the before, the game, and the after.  I also detest that the filmmakers had to acquiesce and spend too much time on the developing love story of the main characters.  I can't compare to the books so I have no idea, but man did it feel forced and hokey to watch Katniss let her guard down when she clearly understand the ramifications of her situation and the need to be on guard at all times to survive.  Which brings me to my biggest fault with the film, perhaps, and that is with the sponsors and the immense time and energy spent relating to the tributes how important it is to win over the crowd and the sponsors to survive.  You know how often the sponsors are on screen? You know how much we learn about them, who they are, why they care or don't care about the tributes? You know how many life saving parachuted items we witness in the games?  I won't give it all away, just know I was greatly disappointed with that entire aspect of the movie and felt it brought it down a level.  The most glaring mistake the film makes is not depicting any hunger in the hunger games.  Seriously, WTF? They make a point of saying that tributes should expect to die of all types of causes and diseases and they will have to fend for food and shelter etc... At no point do any of the actors look any different than if they just came from a hot shower and bed in breakfast.  I don't need them to emaciate away like Christian Bale, but at least give us some sense that these kids are struggling to survive after days in the wilderness.

Can we talk about the shaky cam for a second? It's over people.  It served a purpose and I actually haven't minded it for a lot of action films of recent years, but let's be honest with each other - we need to stop the use of the shaky cam for every single action sequence, or for that matter, every single crowd shot, aerial shot of birds, people running, cars driving, etc etc etc... Let's just agree to let shaky cam go and get back to nice wide shots and close ups that complement each other.  Thanks.

The premise of the books and the movie is steeped in a long line of stories and films with similar ideas.  You'll recall The Lord of the Flies, The Running Man, The Lottery, and perhaps most of all but most likely the least seen by an American audience, Battle Royale, in which a class of children is selected randomly to kill each other off until there is one winner (Collins claims to have had no knowledge of it before she began, and maybe that's true... maybe it is... sure, let's go with that.)  Battle Royale is much more graphic in its depiction of killings but it also manages to make us care a bit more about some of the students trying to survive.  I bring all this up only because there are so many obvious  plays from other films that you can't miss them - doesn't make this film bad because of it, it just happens to be stamped all over it.

And here we are at the end of my review, which fittingly has my disapproval of much of the ending of the film, from the last 20 minutes or so.  I can't and I won't spoil it for you, but for a film that does a pretty decent job of creating a realistic battlefield environment with kids killing other kids to survive, why in the F&%* did they have to go and add in such horrible CGI and awful story telling right at the climax of the entire film?  You'll know what I mean when I say that much of the ending will not leave a good taste in your mouth (a berry pun you'll understand when you see the film.)

*** out of 5

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

My only complaints of the film were the pretty much the same as yours. The books does go in much more detail and the movie left out a lot of the struggle during the games. Basically imagine the games lasting four times as long as what they made it look like in the movie. I also feel that they didn't do a good enough job of portraying Katniss' struggle and made her seem too complacent in the love story. In the books, she really struggles with it and it is much more forced. Overall it was accurate, however, there were a few things that they changed that I'm curious to see how it works out in the second movie. If you enjoyed the movie, you would love the book.