Review Rating: 7
In a bleak future where Tributes from each District are selected to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take part in the Games, to save her sister Primrose from having to participate. Based on the book by Suzanne Collins.
Okay, yes, I’m going to come right out and say it, because after all I did see them first and I can weigh in on this issue. Yes, Battle Royale came first, and yes, they did it better. For those of you not familiar with BR, it is a Japanese film done with an astonishingly similar plot – the government forces a gaggle of teenagers to engage in a Battle Royale to the deaths of eachother, under a new law. BR did it better for several reasons, not the least of which being most Asian films these days are way better than anything Hollywood can come up with, but I think the most telling thing is, they’re not shy. This is a movie, after all, that’s dealing with approximately 24 teenagers, please bear this in mind, who are set out with all sorts of tools and training, to kill eachother. Hunger Games got very shy when it came to the actual death shots throughout most of the movie, just when you know another Tribute is about to bite it, there’s no escape, the camera zooms away like it’s been touched by an electrical wire. I know it’s at least partially to keep the PG 13 rating, but why, why on earth would you do that when the deaths of all these teenagers is the pivotal plot point of the entire movie? Answer – so the pre-teens that the books are aimed at can also watch the movie without people going ballistic. Is that really what we want? I say, go bold or go home. And Katniss said, or did, that same thing. While you can, let them be children. Kat thought so for her sister anyway.
As for the main character herself, Katniss Everdeen struck me as wooden. Not that I blame her, until the games actually begin she’s surrounded by sycophants and gawkers who’d like nothing more than to watch her untimely death – I’d be unresponsive and rebellious too. It isn’t until towards the very end of the Games, when a little girl is dying in her arms, or her supposed teammate is losing mobility, that Katniss finally shows some real emotion. And what was with those berries anyway? Kat must know something we don’t, but I don’t think it’s worth reading the books just for that information. If Kat thought acting numb for most of the movie would aid her in the Games, well, I think that plan is long over. Can’t blame the actress either, she was just playing the part they gave her. Kat’s fellow Tribute from District 12, Peeta, can’t seem to make us his mind which way to lean, and that rather annoyed me. Throughout the setup of the Games and even the training process, the general feel seems to be that the 2 selected Tributes from District 12 are kind of in this together, and will be loyal and help eachother out, despite the fact that, as they are finally reminded like right before the Games start, that there can be only a single winner. Again this does not inspire confidence or loyalty, either in the System or eachother, but then perhaps that was the point.
Very very little, if at all, is the true poverty and wretchedness of District 12 actually shown. They all dress up in their very best for Reaping Day, which is exactly what it sounds like, the day when people are chosen by supposedly random lottery for the Games. To me, it looked like a huge old-style Mormon rally, with all the girls in dowdy dresses and braids, and the boys in simple pants and shirts, all combed and washed. (At least they appear to have water in not short supply.) The movie seemed to vaguely present the potential issue that certain Districts have certain, we’ll say other-colored, people in them, and as soon as the idea began to form in the audience’s mind, veered away from the thought like it was on fire! Remember that that District only rioted when the little black girl Rue was killed, so once again, implication but no follow through.
There is of course the huge lead-in to the Games in the first place, where we meet mentor Hamish, played by Woody Harrelson. The mentor position is someone who’s apparently won the Games before, and will be your instructor for training and such, but more importantly he’s there to get you sponsors – people on the outside who can get you things you might need once inside the Games, via parachute and bot drop. Each District gets a Host or Hostess, and these Tributes are no exception, but the Hostess in her clown makeup and fluffy ways gets on my nerves. The costume designer Cinna turns out to be a good helpful guy who truly seems to care, and his inspiration for the Tributes parade is nothing short of on fire – literally! (The fact that Cinna is played by Lenny Kravitz is truly helpful, I loved him in this role.) The movie poster with the mockingjay on fire only seems to support this life or death struggle, yet once again, Katniss really doesn’t shine until almost the end of the movie. The end inspection right before the start of the Games, where Katniss sacrifices a pigs apple for some dubious attention, was almost the single spark in all those rounds. That spark should’ve made a blaze, and instead dwindled to the ash of loss. Unless it’s a setup for the next movie, (of course it is, that explains the Donald Sutherland President contemplative stare) that’s kind of pointless. No rebellion against the system at all, until the very end, and even then, that’s what you would call a temporary cease-fire in war, at best. Word has it the next movies will involve rebellion against the system, this first one was a setup movie.
The Games themselves, aside from skating away from the actual death scenes, are full of what we refer to as “shaky-cam” shots, breathless perspectives, and a lot of mummery that turns out to be, the forest where the Games are held is entirely automated and all those that run the Games (there are a lot of em) can bring about random fireballs, and horrific beasts, and even hallucinogenic wasps called Tracker-Jackers! It hardly seems fair to me. Somewhere towards the beginning on Reaping Day, they play a PSA type video where the President gives a speech about where the Hunger Games comes from and how this is how we honor the memory of those involved in the war. Right? With the deaths of 23 teenagers from the 12 Districts. I can dig that, it’s very post-apocalyptic. But after the setups and explanations are done and the movie is supposed to be in full swing, the characters are still…numb. What Katniss did, when her sister Primrose’s name was called at the Reaping, was very honorable in it’s own way. But did it change or even stop anything? Not yet. Here’s hoping the sequel shall. And they had best keep the same actors, or there will be a reckoning from the Twilight crowd, and believe me, no one wants that.
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