Finally! I am caught up on my meagre movie reviewing! Well, I will be when I finish this one off. Then a busy Easter weekend, where hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze in a bit of R&R, quite possibly with a movie or two.
A few things about The Hunger Games, I had heard the buzz about the books and upcoming film from a friend a while back, and my curiosity was aroused. Determined not to be “last in line” again, I picked up a box set of the books. Let me say that the books are quite an easy read; though I did not read them at the same pace I put myself through on my “Harry Potter marathon” where I read a book a night to get caught up. One could easily read a book night, but each novel is broken up into three acts, so I took my time and usually stopped at the end of each. All in, I think it took a week to read the three books after work. It is nice to be in on the ground floor of a franchise, where I’ve read everything, no more written material should be forthcoming, and I can relax and enjoy the movies whenever they come out. That hasn’t happened for me since Lord of the Rings, which I read long before the movies were even an idea.
It seems lately at work whenever someone starts to talk about The Hunger Games, someone always pipes in with a “Hunger Games ripped off Battle Royale” argument. It’s unavoidable, but I’m tired of it. Yes, both stories originated as books. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins came out in 2008 and Battle Royale by Koushun Takami was published in 1999. I have not seen or read Battle Royale, but from what I have learned, it again deals with groups of children in a dystopian future, being forced to kill each other, with only one survivor. The difference being the Hunger Games children are being sent to their deaths as punishment and a reminder for a past revolution; while the Battle Royale children are sent to their deaths to put fear into the new rising groups of angry and violent youths. If people are so quick to draw parallels, may I point out The Running Man, or even Lord of the Flies? In both novels (Lord of the Flies & Hunger Games), you get suspense, wondering what will happen to these young protagonists as they try to survive the elements. Katniss, like Ralph, finds herself in situations where she has very little experience and yet must outsmart her enemies if she is going to survive the night. The difference is that Ralph’s story is set in a past that is almost too far gone, while in Katniss’ version of the future it is easy to envision. The memory of the first two World Wars is not part of this generation’s consciousness, but the fears of a third one can be all too real.
I enjoyed the story behind The Hunger Games, as we are presented with a strong leading character, who volunteers herself to enter the Games; thereby saving her younger sister from the cruel fate. I will say that I liked the movie, but I didn’t really enjoy the movie. An unsteady camera used to be lambasted as the shoddy workmanship of a bad director. Now, hacks jerk the camera around to up their artistic credibility and are praised for a “realistic” approach. I’m not calling screenwriter/director Gary Ross a hack, but the shakycam was too much for me, and nearly ruined my appreciation for the movie. Once the film started, and the shakycam began, I started to feel a little queasy, but that soon passed; leading to a splitting headache for the remainder of the film. As the film opens up with Katniss at home in District 12, I pretty much figured that the “District” scenes would be mainly shakycam, and the “Capital” scenes would be steady camera shots. I assumed that the “Arena” scenes would be a mixture of both. The camera did settle down after a while, but the damage was mostly done for me.
Focusing on the more positive things about the film, let me say that the costume design was excellent. During the Oscars this year, I commented to a friend how it is disappointing that no sci-fi films ever seem to be nominated for Best Costume. I know a lot of times it is CGI, but the design of Iron Man’s armour, or Captain America’s TFA outfit are worthy of some recognition. Period pieces are not the only films to have award worthy costume designs! My friend made his prediction that 2013 Hunger Games will at least be nominated for Best Costume Design. While it is certainly deserving in my opinion, we shall have to wait and see. I found the casting of Hunger Games to be well done, with Jennifer Lawrence playing a very believable Katniss. I was a little surprised to see a few faces pop up. Lenny Kravitz was a strong choice for Cinna, and Donald Sutherland was probably the perfect choice for President Snow. While I enjoyed Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, I envisioned someone a little rougher around the edges, and a little dirtier. In my mind, Haymitch was more of a Hagrid character in the book, but Harrelson did deliver an excellent performance once I got past my own personal preconceptions about the character.
The acting really help deliver the strong script, with a good balance between the drama and the action. The special effects did not overshadow the story, and neither did the violence. This was a rather disturbing tale; with many of the Tributes meeting rather graphic deaths; both in the book and on screen; but the brutality of the on screen deaths may have actually been lessened by the use of the shakycam. Clever use of quick cuts and POV shots were used to actually hide the results in several scenes. There were several moments in the film that were really emotionally powerful and played very well by the young cast. I’m sure a few people misted up seeing the normally strong Katniss start crying as she closed the eyelids of a murdered ally and Tribute. I may have even sat beside one…
Once again we have a case of a book being turned into a film, and clearly there is more information in the book than can ever be put on the screen. The book is told as a first person narrative, and as such, the level of description is very high. Many things are left out, and roles are reassigned in the movie. I had made comments before about how this was done in the original, Swedish, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo film; which I presumed were made because of the prohibitive cost of hiring another actor to play a simple role for a scene or two . In that case the character shuffling was “corrected” (in my mind) in the 2011 David Fincher version. In Hunger Games, the “logo” of the film, of the franchise, and of who Katniss is to become is the Mockingjay pin that she wears. The way she obtains the pin in the book has great meaning and actually develops her character more, but the path of the film, really seems to write it off as a random event, which puzzled me.
Despite my minor problems with the movie, I would recommend it, as The Hunger Games will be with us for quite a few years. Catching Fire is apparently coming out next year (2013), and then presumably Mockingjay in 2014. Whatever happens with the trilogy, the books , the comparisons; if you watch the movies or not; may the odds be ever in your favour.