The Hunger Games (2012)
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Gary Ross, Billy Ray
Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Paula Malcomson, Rhoda Griffis, Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne Boyd, Anthony Reynolds, Judd Lormand, Woody Harrelson, Toby Jones, Kimiko Gelman, Nelson Ascencio, Brooke Bundy, Lenny Kravitz, Amandla Stenberg, Donald Sutherland, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Ian Nelson, Kalia Prescott, Karan Kendrick, Katie Kneeland, Steve Coulter, Sharon Morris, John Ross
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We all have the films that we want to see so badly that when we do it's hard to be subjective about the actual quality. Likewise, there are themes that may resonate more with some of us than others. I confess that I have a soft spot for heroic antics, the moment in a film when a character looks at the overwhelming horde and charges right for it with a shrug that seems to say, "I guess I have some work to do." Think when Iron Man first starts fighting during the climax of The Avengers.
Not all films are going to be like The Avengers, and that's fine too. The thematic material being brought into bounds by The Hunger Games is fine dramatic territory, a place where, quite frankly, it should be easy to manipulate the emotions of the viewer by plying the might of the State and the apathetic masses versus the willpower, desperation, and determination of a single person or small group of people who, for whatever reason, have chosen to resist. You can play this in a more adventurous, family-friendly way, such as Star Wars, or you can roll up your sleeves and try to really express in your reel world what you think is wrong with the real world.
As a book, I understand that this is what Hunger Games was; I haven't read it. As a film, in an effort to achieve a family-friendly PG-13 rating, I think it loses its way with whatever edge it may have had in the book, and it left me with my own distinct sense of apathy for both what it was trying to say and the characters it implemented to say it.
Not-too-distant future earth has been broken into twelve zones by wealth. Our protagonist, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), lives in the crappiest one in which food is daily quest. Ongoing are the Hunger Games, a battle royal betwixt two people under the age of eighteen from each of the twelve zones; 24 'children' to fight to the death for the amusement of everyone else, a distraction from the oppressiveness of the State. Katniss' sister is selected to compete - and dainty, demure little thing that she is, she's certain to become roadkill - so Katniss volunteers in her place. Katniss and her fellow zone 12 competitor, Peeta Bread (Josh Hutcherson), embark on their journey through training and marketing under the tutelage of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) until the Games begin.
I'm going to zip past how much I hate the names of most of the characters (other being Thresh, Glimmer, Marvel, Effie Trinket, Primrose, Caesar, Seneca, Claudius - often silly and on the nose) and admit that up to this point in the film, my only mild complaint is the relationship between Katniss and her sister Primrose (Willow Shields). Similar to The Road's relationship between Aragorn and his son, Katniss is shown to be so protective of Primrose to the point of retarding her, but instead of that having its own consequences, it's merely supposed to be a pet the dog moment for Katniss. This causes a disconnect with me. When you live in a harsh world all your liberal pap needs to take a back seat. To show you truly love someone in this scenario, you need forge them into a weapon - and this has its own dramatic fallout that is interesting to explore.
I also take issue with the fact that the movie makes a big deal about exposure, that is, the tributes dying from whether conditions, which leads one to think that The Games are a rather drawn out affair. However, the entire competition seems to take maybe two days, and everyone seems sweet-smelling, shaved, and bathed. Furthermore, there are three characters that enter the Hunger Games that I know anything about. Peeta, who is uncharismatic, unattractive, and uninteresting save the fact that he has kind of a mix-tape crush on Katniss, Rue (Amandla Stenberg), in place to be so cute that her death is meant to be a huge blow when it happens, and Katniss.
The point of all of this and the sequels to come is that Katniss winds up being the spark that leads to a revolution. Her outpouring of emotion over the death of Rue, her volunteering to take the place of her sister, and her refusal to kill Peeta and win the Hunger Games solo are, I guess, the elements that separate her from all the other tributes who've come before. The problem is that I don't feel it.
I repeat, I have not read the book, but if there are two things I had to guess differed significantly it would be the relationship between Peeta and Katniss (I'm guessing they screwed each other in the book) and the death of Rue. The death of Rue particularly seems to be one of the biggest catalysts, but why? WE'VE never seen the Hunger Games before, so the idea of a little girl dying by the javelin toss of a teen seems like enough, but these people have seen little kids die before - they have to have. For her death to have the impact it's supposed to - for me anyway - I needed her death to be drawn out, prolonged, and terrifying. Watch the Grey if you need pointers. Seeing Rue scared to die, convulsing, and Katniss furiously and fruitlessly trying to save her life would've done the trick. I should be crying when Rue dies, not thinking, "Bummer."
Hello PG-13, goodbye point of the movie. It's not just Rue's death either. Part of what Katniss should've been breaking down about what the fact that she just killed a person. The bees on the girl was one thing, this is putting an arrow in a person like they were a squirrel. This too could've been a moment that the citizens of the world are shaken from their malaise, but I just don't feel it. And I just teared up from the third Man of Steel trailer, so I'm not a callous git.
Some stories just aren't meant to be family-friendly, or maybe we need to reconsider what that should mean. Either way, Hunger Games failed to make care, so it loses.
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