Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

Caught The Hunger Games last night, and though I know it's not horror, just had to post a few thoughts on this world wide phenomenon.

Oh, maybe not world wide, as it appears Wrath of the Titans cleaned up outside of the domestic market. I won't say I'm surprised, because while The Hunger Games is quite good, it's just not that good. The film has some serious flaws and feels about 20-30 minutes too long.

Now, I'm not going to compare the film to Battle Royale, as other sites have made the comparisons. Nor am I getting into the visions of The Running Man that flashed through my head during one of the more listless moments in the film. Come on, an innocent person, thrown into a game to the death, inspires the flames of revolution is an oft told story. This version simply didn't have over the top hunters and the presence of Arnold.

And I'm dispensing with a plot summery, as I suspect anyone reading my blog probably knows it by now. But I will issue a spoiler alert, as I will discuss some things not in the trailer, so be warned. And please, don't tell me about the book, as I haven't read it. I'm just talking about the movie, so any complaints that reference to the book I will have to ignore. I just saw the movie and that's what I'm writing about.

Let's start off with what worked. First off, Jennifer Lawrence was amazing. I don't think the film could be a strong as it was without her. Also, her more seasoned costars (Banks, Sutherland, Tucci) were outstanding as well. Her romantic interests, well, not as good, but they and the rest of the young cast did a fine job.

Second, director Gary Ross did some outstanding work. His use of silence during several scenes was amazing, and he gave Lawrence to opportunity to deliver an emotion gut punch during those scenes. And I really enjoyed how Ross let the action tell the story, rather than relying on worthless exposition to tell the audience what it should know by the character's behavior. And I will be forever grateful for not being exposed to a soundtrack designed to sell CDs/downloads/whatever, rather than tracks suitable for the film.

But the movie was a bit too long, as a few moments could have been trimmed down or excised. For example, unless the subplot about Katniss' father comes back in a later movie, the scenes surrounding his death seemed underdeveloped and more like filler than a driving force in the narrative. Additionally, some of the moments when Katniss and Peeta are exposed to the good life before the game could have been shortened without losing anything but running time.

Had that been the only problem, I might have enjoyed the film more. But the fact that the basic premise made no sense was a big stumbling block to me. Yes, I understand that the Hunger Games was enacted as punishment for the 12 districts revolting against the main government. Still, after 70 something years of feeding their children into a gladiator game, the idea that no one thought about open revolt until now is unrealistic. One would expect some kind of resistance force to form after such a long history of oppression, even if their attempts failed.

Also, the film tries so hard to keep Katniss from becoming a killer that I started to wonder why I should be rooting for her. I know the story had a fine line to walk, as the plot involves kids becoming killers for sport, but it goes to absurd lengths to show that Katniss isn't evil, it dilutes the concept of her as a hero. The most glaring moment (SPOILER ALERT) is at the end of the film, when Cato is about to snap Peeta's neck. Instead of putting an arrow in his face (which would be fine, as Cato is presented as the villain of the Games and he's going to kill Peeta to spite her), she shots him in the hand, allowing Peeta to free himself and push Cato into the pack of mutant dogs below them.

Okay, first off, shooting Cato in the hand would only serve to present him and Peeta as toothpicked sausages to the dogs, as her arrow would pass through Cato's hand, Peeta's neck and into Cato's chest. Second, given the skill Katniss displays with a bow, a simple head shot would have been easy and achieved the same results. By trying to keep Katniss from outright killing someone, the script made her weaker as a hero. Cato not only had to die, he deserved to die and if Katniss isn't willing to step up and take action against the bad guy, I don't give the rebel forces I suspect she will lead in the sequels much of a chance. And, don't get me wrong, I deplore when films let male heroes not kill off the bad guy as well (don't get me started on Road House). When it's obvious the villain needs to die, yet the hero is reluctant to do it just to remind us they are not evil, the screenwriters have let the character down.

And let's talk about Peeta's rock make up. Good stuff, but I want to know how he was able to apply it with no materials and no mirror. Yes, the moment was set up earlier in the film (and the script made it obvious his skills would show up later in the film), but it's doubtful he could have done such work in the woods, without supplies, and while dealing with a massive sword wound, no less.

It's obvious why American audiences are taken with The Hunger Games. It's the us against them film of the decade, the elite verse the working class, the 1% against the 99%, and people really want to see the top tier fall. But despite some shining moments, the glaring plot holes, unexplored subplots and a very weak climax hobbled the film. And while I'm curious to see where the story goes from here, I just hope the filmmakers do right by Katniss in the sequel.

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