Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

I have never read The Hunger Games, so this review is based on the movie. 

Every year, each district must randomly select one teenage female and one teenage male to participate in the Hunger Games—a vicious spectator sport in which the teens are expected to fight to the death, with only one survivor.  Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who lives in a district reminiscent of coal mine towns of the early twentieth century, is horrified when her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is chosen.  She volunteers herself instead, saving her sister. 

A shlubby guy named Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is chosen as the male. 

They are whisked away to the dominant part of their society—a futuristic civilization whose information technology far surpasses our own society’s.  But the citizens are decadent, dressed in laughingly ridiculous excesses of frowsy makeup and psycho-kubuki, heightening our contempt for them as they cheer on the victims selected to entertain them through death by edged weapons. 

Katniss is skilled at killing game with a bow, while Peeta bitterly admits he has no chance in the games.  But not all the teens are innocent—some relish the idea of winning, and look forward to killing their competition.  When each one ascends on a pedestal to an enclosed wilderness for the games, the tension is unbearable.  Will Katniss survive? 

The railed walkway below lets you know
how big this outdoor poster is

A couple of mild spoilers follow. 

The Hunger Games is a thrilling, highly original movie.  The stark helplessness of the townsfolk in the districts as they submit to the barbarous demand to sacrifice two of their young people each year—the teens are actually called “tributes”—sets our emotional baseline for the movie.  This serves to deepen our disgust in the self-absorbed spectators who delight in watching the deadly games. 

Jennifer Lawrence is a revelation as Katniss.  A strong young woman, she convincingly displays a whole range of emotions:  Puzzlement as to how to please the audience in this reality game and possibly earn survival gifts, trembling fear at the start of the games, grief at the outrageousness of the death of an innocent, and ultimately great courage and resolve.  Josh Hutcherson as Peeta actually shows the greatest character growth:  He starts as the nervous guy who knows he has no fighting chance, then rises to the challenge of learning both survival skills and how to cater to the audience.  This is interesting, since Peeta is the one who doesn't want to change, saying I want to still be me.  While Katniss replies, I just can't afford to think like that.  

When for the sake of the show Peeta professes great feeling for Katniss, will this turn out to be real? 

The movie is filmed in North Carolina.  The real outdoors!  Real trees!  For the most part, the deaths of the teens are just barely off-screen, though a couple are shown in brutal reality.  It would have been so easy to make this an exploitation movie, but the young actors are filmed with respect.  Parents, of course, will have to choose whether it’s okay for their offspring to watch teens killing each other. 

The flaws in the movie are serious.  The first part of it has so much cinema verité—jerk the camera around, show rapid scene cuts, change the point of view suddenly—that I started to feel motion sickness.  I had to close my eyes several times, not because of any violence—the fighting hadn’t started yet!  A friend who saw it separately agreed it was “dizzying.”  I thought I would have to sum this movie up as “Unviewable.”  Fortunately, they stopped that when the fight training got serious, and it only returned a few times afterwards.  But this utterly terrible style of film editing for the first part of the movie almost ruined it for me. 

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss does not handle the bow realistically.  Yes, people may exclaim over how realistic it looks, but that’s no different from admiring the explosions in Star Wars—in the vacuum of space.  Trust me, it was jarringly unrealistic. 

For some reason, Katniss’ jacket turns from bright blue (which makes her quite a target) to black (which is much more practical) during the Hunger Games.  No explanation is given. 

Aside from these flaws, The Hunger Games was good, original entertainment—though I suspect Katniss is a female version of the Greek hero Theseus.  The music is great, and I’m ordering the soundtrack.  And as a final piece of advice, do not sit near teenage girls who have read the book and love to squeal about it.  


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Thanks for stopping by my movie review as well! I agree the jarring scenes were a bit tough, but they didn't disturb me too much. I'm curious to see what you think of the books! There's a lot more depth to the characters than you picked up from the film, which is interesting and also somewhat telling about how the film glossed over some of the character development. Great review!

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks for sharing, Mark! I'm going to go see it this weekend. :)

Mina Burrows said...

Great review, Mark. I didn't experience the dizzying effect, but I did read the book and think I was caught up in which aspects they included in the movie vs. book etc.... The last part of your review was hilarious..."teenage girls who have read the book and love to squeal." LOL. Too funny. I saw it this weekend and reviewed as well. :)

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Thanks for this wonderful review. I did read the books and I've been debating whether to go see the movie. The last line of your review had me laughing and has helped me to decide. : )

Mark Murata said...

Cynthia, does that mean my last line had you for or against? :)

carol said...

I didn't read the book and probably am not going to see the movie either. I feel like I'm the only one though.

Ellie Garratt said...

I haven't read the books (I have all three in my current TBR pile) or seen the movie, but that didn't put me off reading your review. I think the majority of films have flaws, especially if they are based on books. But it sounds like they've done a good job with it. Only question I have now is, read the book first or see the movie?

Kate Coursey said...

I actually really loved the shaky camera, but I guess that's really a subjective thing. Some people seemed to love it, some hated it. I agree that Lawrence did a really good job....although I don't know much about archery. I certainly couldn't tell whether or not she was handling the bow correctly, but someone with more archery training probably can.


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