Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Hunger Games - Movie Review

This is the first in a multi-part series discussing the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games.  I have not read the novel and do not expect to in the near future (I may this summer but I don't consider that "near".)  It may contain light spoilers for the movie (and thus novel).  I will do my best to keep it spoiler free but if you wish to remain pure you may wish to skip these posts.

Watching The Hunger Games I had an opportunity to have many reactions and thoughts.  The movie was intense, longish, with a cast of characters and some very strong imagery wrapped around some incredible effects and shots. Before I delve into my reactions as an author and a parent I thought I'd begin with a general movie review as a viewer.

For those totally unfamiliar here's a short spoiler-free explanation of the world:  It's the far future.  After a devastating civil war, the nation was divided into districts, and cordoned off.  Once a year each of the twelve districts sends two children between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death in The Hunger Games.  The lone winner, of course, is heralded as a great champion.  The losers, of course, are dead.  This is the story of one such competitor, fighting to prove herself before the people, and then fighting for her very life in the games.

Now I have to take a moment to pause and talk about audiences.  I know that The Hunger Games is considered Young Adult.  That's fine and all, but the movie I saw was rated PG13, and I'm going on the assumption that it was intended for people who are either older than 13 or are there with parents who understand that there will be content inappropriate for their children.  Personally, I find it unfair to review/ rate the movie, or indeed discuss its implications and relevance outside of those parameters as that is how the movie is presented.  I will only offer one comment on those who take children under the age of 11 to see it:  Really?

Over all the movie was well paced with a good deal of suspense, drama, light moments when appropriate and some serious action.  It was easy to tell who to root for and who to root against and they did a nice job of giving me reasons for that beyond the obvious "look here are the bad guys".

I also have to give positive marks to the cast in general.  They were believable, genuine and across the board turned in top rated performances.  It was good to see Woody Harelson in the role of Haymitch, a washed out former champion turned mentor and power broker.  His affections and biases were made to appear natural and honest.  I also think that Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss did an amazing job for 80% of the movie.  Where I think things broke down was late in the film and really can't be discussed without spoiling it.  Suffice it to say, I think that even young talented actors can over act.  Or perhaps be over-directed.  Or perhaps be made to appear like they're overacting due to poor editing.

And a last comment on the acting.  See Stanley Tucci in Captain America.  Then see him in The Hunger Games.  Then try to tell me that the man is anything less than brilliant.

I've read some concerns about the style of film making, that there are a lot of shake cam shots, and that most of the combat (it is a movie about kids fighting to the death) is done "off camera".  Let's be honest here.  Would the movie have gotten a PG13 rating if they'd done full choreographed fights that end with the 13 year old losing an arm and then falling over dead?  Did I mention that the combat is done with medieval weapons?  Yep, not laser pistols or even rifles for a clean shot.  They go old school and hack, slash and pepper with arrows.

On the subject of film making, the movie did include some obvious and subtle references and images.  During the "Reaping", the children from District 12 are herded to together and registered for the drawings.  They are all dressed in "nice clothes" all of which have a very 1940's vibe.  As the guards look on from towers and behind fences it was impossible to not see the parallel to Nazi round ups of the Jews.

The other one that struck me, and perhaps it was accidental, was also early on.  The commentators were discussing previous Hunger Games and showing footage of a boy about to bash in the head of his opponent with a large brick.  The dialogue was "You never forget moments like these.  Moments when Champions are made."  From my seat I had a different take.  I was taken back to The Lord of the Flies and the moment that the boys went from unruly to savage:  The death of Piggy, done in by a rock to the head.  Perhaps I read too much symbolism into that visual.  But I found that it put a very fine point on how detached this society had become to death.  The moment in one novel that marked the end of the hope for redemption is heralded in this story as the coming of age.

And that is really what this movie is about:  A society that has cheapened life so much that the ritual sacrifice and execution of children is entertainment.  It is disturbing and off putting and I think it should be.  Make no mistake, you know very early on that this is not a competition for most of the "tributes".  It's an execution on live TV for the entertainment of the masses.  It's a society where not only do the kids fight to the death, but the public can pool money to send them trinkets to help them succeed.

Visually stunning and entrancing while at the same time repulsive and disturbing.  If nothing else it generates conversation and that is a good thing.  I admit that there were moments I thought it went too far (which I will discuss later, dear readers), but overall I think it was very solid.

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