The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games (2012) movie poster

director Gary Ross
viewed: 03/25/2012 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Happy Hunger Games.  Happy indeed after raking in the dough in its first weekend/week in release.  Happy for author Suzanne Collins and her publishers and the makers of the coming two other novels into a film trilogy (or quartet, depending on how they do it).  Happy everybody involved from director Gary Ross to star Jennifer Lawrence.  Their fame and value in Hollywood has risen starkly.   And Happy, mostly, for fans of the book series because the film The Hunger Games is really pretty good.  Good casting, pretty involving, gets the gist of it and makes for a fairly tense science fiction thriller.  It’s not going the way of The Golden Compass (2007), one and done in adaptation from book to screen.  Happy Hunger Games indeed.

Like I said, I thought it was pretty good.  I think Lawrence is perfect as Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the series.  The rest of the cast, from Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Josh Hutcherson, et al. all deliver in their respective roles, nothing overly jarring in the casting (for me, that is.  The racial issue backlash is super-shocking to me.)  The whole thing is pretty well done.  I thought there could have been less hand-held camera and quick cuts, but on the whole, a good job.  Good work.  I look forward to the next.

The kids and I read the books last year.  I had wondered if they would be too “adult” or “teenage” for them, or too violent.  So we read the first one cautiously and both Felix and Clara…and me for that matter, were hooked.  We quickly read through the other two books.  Found myself recommending it to others.

I’ve found it a little hard to communicate the appeal specifically.  A future world in which 12 sectors submit once a year a boy and a girl to fight to the death on television, a punishment/reminder for an uprising three quarters of a century before.  It’s a brutal thing but it’s also not overly original.  The Japanese film Battle Royale was released in 2000, based on a manga from before that.   That was virtually the same concept.

But it ultimately comes down, I think, to the character of Katniss.  Living in the coal mining district, like something from a Loretta Lynn song in a fascist state, she is the elder daughter of a family whose father was killed in a mine explosion, who takes it upon herself to feed her sister and nearly catatonic mother by hunting and fiercely living.  When her little sister Prim is selected in “the reaping” to go and fight to the death in the hunger games, she of course volunteers to take her place, and in her struggle for survival, becomes a catalyst and icon of rebellion, by accident.  She’s a compelling character on the page and Jennifer Lawrence is quite perfect to play her.  Katniss is not a terribly big leap away from the backwoods teenage family protector she played in her breakthrough role in Winter’s Bone (2010).

When it came time to see the film, it was determined that Clara (8 years old) was too young for the film’s violence and brutality.  There are, after all, multiple images of children killing other children.  This is what the story is about.  It’s this enforced violence on one another, dictated by the state, that is the theme of the book and of the film.  The film’s violence seems to be intentionally muted (cut away the moment of impact, limiting spurts of blood, lingering on wounds), perhaps as much just to get the PG-13 rating as it is just not to need to linger on the gore.  But as can well be the case, the suggestion in some ways carries more impact than the detail.  It’s a brutal story.  Katniss is not a born killer, a born hunter, yes, but killing other teens is something forced upon her.  And it’s the killing of the youngest of the participants, her friend Rue, who reminds her of her younger sister, Prim, that displays the sensibility that becoming willing tools of the machine is dehumanizing.  Humanness is connecting and caring.

I think both the books and the film have a well-intentioned agenda for political critique.  I don’t know how successful or unsuccessful or sophisticated or unsophisticated it is.  The thing is, quite simply, a very compelling story, with a great female hero that is engaging, exciting, and compelling despite its apparent lack of originality.  And as far as Hollywood adaptations and franchises, we could be doing a whole lot worse.

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