Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games: a review

So we saw The Hunger Games last night. My short review: Don't bother. I haven't read Suzanne Collins novel, so I can't tell you how true the movie is to it, but as a movie The Hunger Games makes no sense. I'm guessing that since the 7PM show on Saturday night wasn't sold out, word-of-mouth isn't that great. Unless you've been hiding in a cave or on vacation on Mars, you know the basic story. Once a year each of the 12 districts that make up the nation of Panem sends two teens (one boy & one girl) selected by lottery to a fight to the death - historically only one gladiator survives - which is shown on television. It's sort of a modern electronic version of the ancient Roman arena. As soon as 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to replace her younger sister, Primrose, and a young man, Peeta Mellark, who has a crush on her, is chosen you will know almost everything that will happen over the next two + hours. Besides Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) all the other combatants are nameless figures that Katniss and Peeta have to hurdle to get to the end. The one exception is Rue (Amandia Stenburg), a young Black contestant who befriends Katniss at a crucial point in the contest.

The adults - except for the seemingly evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Cinna, one of Katniss and Peeta's advisors (Lenny Kravits) - are basically clowns and not very funny ones at that. They just keep repeating the same shtick from beginning to end.

My editor (Ann) reminds me to mention the always delightful Woody Harrelson who plays Haymitch Abernathy, a former winning gladiator, who is now Katniss and Peeta's other advisor. Despite being an alchohic he plays a crucial role in assisting her through post-modern technology with things like salve to heal serious wounds. Harrelson does a wonderful job with this complex character.

Perhaps the theme of this movie should be "young love conquers all" or at least, the appearance of young love conquers gullible adults.

When the basic story is first introduced it is quite horrific, but unfortunately you become a bit inured to the horror of the idea and participate as part of the TV audience and root for Katniss to win and stay alive (since you know there are two more Hunger Games novels in which she continues to be the main character this seems like a pretty safe bet). The fate of Peeta is perhaps a bit less predictable for a while.

Panem seemingly has replaced the U.S. and its different regions fair well or badly depending where they are located. District 12, which is in the Appalachian coal mining area is the poorest. There are references to hunger but none if the teens looks like they've missed a meal.

At the beginning of the film there is another young man, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworrh) who seems to have a relationship with Katniss, but who disappears for most of the movie. But I suspect the triangle of Peeta, Gale and Katniss will reemerge in volume two (and given the money it's already made, this movie's sequel).

I have read in various places that the novels have political meaning, but it seems to me that - except for the obvious that the rich and powerful starve the poor to further enrich themselves and provide spectacles to distract the masses - there is very little else to enlighten even the most politically naive American.

One last thought. I fell in love with Jennifer Lawrence when we saw Winter's Bone in which she plays an equally intrepid female character. Of course, there she played against a real story and interesting characters, not the cardboard cut outs of The Hunger Games. So if there is any reason to see this movie it's Katniss Everdeen, who proves that brains and skill trump foolish arrogance every time, and Jennifer Lawrence, who I hope will soon display a wider range of her talents. Although I haven't seen her turn as Mystique in X-Men: First Class I suspect that's not much different, except that it's a villainous character rather than the hero of Winter's Bone and The Hunger Games.

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