A bloodsport featuring kids killing each other isn’t just entertainment, it makes for an excellent parenting tool…
Ever since the ridiculously huge success of the Harry Potter films, Hollywood has attempted to create more cash cows in the form of children or young adult novel adaptations. And it’s been an entertaining parade of pathetic cash grabs, like I am Number Four, Eragon, and Percy Jackson. Most of these movies barely make back their budget and the “promised sequel” becomes a pipe dream in the mind of the hack writer who wrote the series and is now crying into his typewriter since he can’t get another film deal. Sure, Twilight managed to escape that trend by making five films, but the first four are eye-tearing awful cancers on the history of film, with an unnecessary fifth conclusion ready to finally let the series die. Now comes The Hunger Games, the adaptation of the first part of a trilogy with curiously devout fanbase. While I wouldn’t call it the beginning of the next great series of films, it’s still entertaining enough to kill an afternoon.
In case you haven’t read books and are only seeing the movie since reading takes up way too much time (thanks for reading the Internet instead by the way), here’s the rundown. The film takes place in a dystopian future where a massively dick-headed government selects 24 children from each of 12 territories and forces them into a deathmatch against each other called “The Hunger Games” as a sign of sacrifice and punishment for causing a rebellion many years before. In one of these territories, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to be one of these poor bastards to take the place of her younger sister after she gets selected. She travels to the futuristic Capitol where she trains with the other poor bastard from her territory, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutchseron), in a winner-take-all blood sport where only one can be a winner.
If you’re a fan of exploitative films, the above description sounds eerily similar to such beloved (for psychotics like myself) films like Rollerball, The Running Man, and of course Battle Royale (a film where a dystopian government selects 24 children and forces them into a deathmatch blah blah blah see above). But trust me that the televised bloody free-for-all meant to appease an uneasy public is about where the similarities between The Hunger Games and the above films end. This is more aimed to pre-teen and teenage audiences while offering a boring love story in the mix.
The first half of the film is an interesting set up to the games, focusing on the character of Katniss and how she quickly becomes one of the favored to win the games. Become a favorite to win increases her chances of survival, since “sponsors” can send gift packages to competitors to help them survive. Oh yes, there’s a hint of critiquing the current sponsorship of everything in television, film, and video games as well which goes no where at all actually. But back to Katniss. She’s actually a likable character, mostly for standing in for her younger sister and becoming a headstrong, independent young woman. And Jennifer Lawrence does a great job in the role, leaving me nothing negative to say about her, so let’s rag on everyone else.
Katniss’ friend Peeta (it’s sounds like Peter, Christ knows why the author went with such weird names when everyone speaks American English) is a whiney, weak, inept, dim Mommy’s boy. He pretty much exists for Katniss to save his dumb ass when he inevitably gets himself hurt not once, but three times in the film. On one hand, it’s an interesting gender role reversal of saving the damsel-in-distress; but on the other hand, Peeta isn’t likable and I didn’t particularly cared if he lived or died. Hell, I cared more when Katniss bonded with a younger competitor since she reminded her of Katniss’ sister. So when a “love” story develops between Katniss and Peeta, it’s just seems forced and awkward.
Not like the rest of the cast does any better. Sure, you got the likes of Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland in a few scenes but none of them do anything special with their roles or seem particularly interesting. Lenny Kravitz is a fashion designer for some reason, but he seemed inoffensive to me since he was bland as the rest of the cast. The Capitol is filled with people in gaudy, lavish outfits while the poor territories are dressed in Amish garb for some odd reason. As for the other competitors in the games, they range from bloodthirsty psychotics to canon fodder that die within seconds of screen time. The exception is the young Rue (Amanda Stenberg) with whom Katniss forms a sweet relationship for all of five minutes before she’s offed in kind-of-a-fucked-up-way-even-for-a-guy-like-me sort of way.
Despite my complaints of the cast with the exception of Katniss, the atmosphere and intensity of the games is still great and it’s the reason why the adaptation is saved. It’s nice that the film chose to focus on one character instead of many, allowing you to experience all the perils that come Katniss’ way. You can see the desperation of her situation and Katniss gets into several close calls. The poignancy of the games is illustrated by some slightly off-putting scenes showing teenagers killing each other in gruesome ways. It’s mostly bloodless, but a neck snapping scene was particularly weird for me.
However, the action gets bogged down by some amazingly terrible camera work. There’s a few fight scenes that are filmed with “shaky-cam” a la The Bourne Movies. They look awful and you can’t tell what’s going on half the time.
And as I left the theater, several questions popped into my head. Why would parents of the deceased children put up with this kind of shit for so many years? Why is the lavish Capitol populated by gaudy-dressed “one-percenters” in the future and the other territories’ citizens have people dressing up like it’s the 1800s? Where is all this advanced technology for fast-healing medicines and mutated animals coming from?
While I couldn’t come up with satisfactory answers for any of these questions and I’m still annoyed by a pathetic and bland cast shot with horrible camerawork, I was still impressed by a strong lead character played by an equally strong actress and some great atmosphere building. It’s not a great film by any means, but catch this film as a matinee and you’ll have a fun afternoon.