Sunday 1 April 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

Year: 2012
Director: Gary Ross
Screenplay: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Josh Hutchinson, Liam Hemworth

Synopsis is here

*WARNING: There is a slight spoiler in my review but come on...who hasn't seen it yet?*

By the time I had my ticket to the hunger games, half the western world had seen it.

Yes; the biggest problem for a film blogger, who is also a paying patron, is that with work related issues and life getting in the way, you'll often be talking about a film that many have already seen and forgot about. My reviews on movies have never really been about telling people exactly what to watch although it's great if someone takes my view and enjoys a flick. However, it is nice to try and get your writing out with the big guns before the money rolls in.

From the view of The Hunger Games however, it's particularly interesting to observe the reaction of a film after the opening weekend. As much as we go on about cinema as an artform (and it can be), mainstream cinema always has and always will be dictated on cash. How a film uses it's money and how it makes it back is the bottom line of everything, period.

Case in point, it's fascinating to watch how (regardless of your view on quality) The Hunger Games lapped up the board audience and big bucks that John Carter missed previously. Scott Mendelson gives us decent reasoning as to why John Carter had such a fall from grace. Strangely enough, The Hunger Games appears to have done the complete opposite in all regards and reaped the rewards.

While one of the main reason behind the films attraction is of course the clear fact that the film is aimed at the "young adult" crowd. The film clearly has universal appeal. It's director; Gary Ross, had his writing talents involved in films such as Big (1988) and Pleasentville (1998). Simple features with board appeal and to this blogger, more than enough entertainment value. As writer and director here, Ross makes sure that the basic translation is solid (although it's clear that plot strands have been streamlined), and those who know the material well will probably be happy with what transpires.

Those who have brought the book on their kindle, and are still reading the life and death of Don Simpson, will see that the films story and themes, tender to various audiences. There is something for most within the material.Played out like Lord of the files meets The Running Man (with a sprinkle of Orwell), the films politics, the action and the female lead all come out well enough, yet doesn't feel like they've been picked by committee. You do get that true escapist feel of the world situated. I'm sure that this is evident with the book (I'll brush the dust off my kindle soon) but Ross does his best cinematically to give the film a certain amount of scope.

Jennifer Lawrence is as convincing here as the world that is built. This is mostly because she brings to the role the same quiet steeliness that she graced Winter's Bone with. Striking her role with the right balance of vulnerably and aggression. Whether it's bouncing off the ever reliable Woody Harrelson, or fighting through the foliage during the games themselves, Lawrence carries the film as comfortably here as she did in the Ozarks.

The film has it's faults. Due to it's 12-A rating and modern action filmmaking in general, it's blink and you miss it editing makes some of the set pieces feel awkward. Meanwhile; a streamlined relationship between Katniss and a fellow hunger gamer Rue, feels reminiscent of the Ripley/Newt but feels lacking in screen time.  Such aspects could do with a bit of breathing space. However, the films lengthy running time reminds us that we should be happy that the film manages to place as much in as it can. In fact, contrary to the racists tweets from ignorant alleged fans who clearly can't read well, one of the films changes from the book involving a revolt in one of the districts after a certain event, works surprisingly well because of the aspects of race. Consider the films talk of districts uniting and revolting together. Surely such a mixture of races uniting as one voice makes the theme stronger than a typical white on white view. But then, maybe I'm wrong with such idealism.

Dubious race readings aside, the film works well when it has other sci-fi in its sights. Many have made the comparison to one Battle Royale, and while it's true that the film's main conceit has similarities, Much of the film seems to owe itself to Orwell's seminal 1984 (don't they all). An early moment within the film involving Katniss and her District boyfriend feels much like the neutral space that Winston and Julia share halfway through the novel. The constant manipulation of the media and containment of hope and emotion evoke the  same Ministry of Love meddling that took place in Oceania (and of course the aformentioned Running Man).

Some of the films politics are clearly dated for where we are now. Ideas of celebrity being not only an importance but life affirming (as well as life giving). The dolling up our young and utilizing them for political gain and distraction is a difficult and complex element that the film does well to explore. The complexities aren't there, but for such a mainstream film to even think about such things is surprising. In comparison to Battle Royale*, The Hunger Games lacks the explicitness found within certain areas of that feature. In fact its straight laced nature of the film means that it lacks the absurdity observed within it's so called Japanese counterpart. The severe bloodletting is of course missing, but then so is the extreme adolescent behaviours that take place. Said enhanced immaturity helped highlight the senselessness of the situation. The Hunger Games doesn't appear to strive for anything too similar, focusing on a typical Hollywood arc, in which the kids grow up fast and quickly, one step already into womenhood and heroics.

This isn't a negative per say. More of an observation between two films that share similarities, yet are from two very different cultures. The Hunger Games works well as an entertaining piece of Hollywood affair. One willing to engage in lofter and darker themes than one would usually expect. For a film that found itself being touted as "the next twilight", this gives us a heroine who eschews the passive nature of Bella and hints at a romantic triangle which looks set to be more complex than the wolfs and the vamps. What happens next should be quite compelling. For now, I need to make do with checking out the book, as I'm more behind with that than the movie.

*Note: I know, I know EVERYONE has referenced it.