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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Hunger Games - Film Review

#TheHungerGames #FilmSnork110 (63) 

The books are everywhere.  The buzz has reached monumental levels.  But how is the film?  I am here to say, go see it... but don't expect too much.  It is not that this is not an entertaining film; it is.  The problem it suffers from is the constraints of being on the big screen. Essentially, there is too much to cover in too little time; and because of that the characters are not developed enough for one to care about them.  Once you’ve established this disconnect from the characters, you need something special to keep the audience from losing interest.  That something special is Jennifer Lawrence who, luckily for the producers, is on screen for 93.6% of the film.

For those of you who do not know, the film is about a futuristic, dystopian society (which seems to be the only future writers think we are going to have) where people are divided into districts and left impoverished and reliant on the government.  As a form of punishment for a revolt, years before, each districts' children have their names put into a lottery where a total of 24 will be drawn and sent to a wilderness arena to fight to the death.  The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, bravely volunteers herself as a replacement for her younger sister, Primrose, in the Games.  The local baker’s son, Peeta, is also selected. From that point on we watch the preparation of the warriors (some possibly too young to read, others built like gladiators) followed by the actual games themself.   Katniss teams up with Peeta, a boy she barely recalls from her past (save for one poignant moment); and they work together to survive.  In the end, only one will stand to win the games

As someone that read the books, I knew what to expect going in, and the film did deliver on many levels.  It was visually satisfying, had great action, and a suitable cast. But where it failed was not spending enough time developing the characters.  During the Olympics the networks spend hours presenting each athlete’s story so that, by the time they win or lose, you actually feel like you care... only to forget most of their names in a few days.  During this film there are 24 game participants, alone.  Some were described in detail, some had a few lines of dialogue to develop them, and others were simply just faces... and (other than Katniss) not one did I care about.  I understand the shock of children killing children was supposed to add weight to the scenario; but after the first few kills you grow numb to the violence.  It is repetitive, and not very engaging, for two reasons:  1) the lack of character development (as said several times already), and 2) the battle arena kills were shot with such wild camera movements that it was hard to tell who was being killed or how... hence taking away any weight they would usually carry.  If I’m already lacking an attachment to the character, then failing to show their face – killer or victim - at such a crucial moment is a disservice to the story.  The eyes are the window to the soul.  Gary Ross would rather you just see a bunch of blurred images.  Do not get me wrong, I do not want gore.  I cringe at the thought of a child being hurt or even sick - but if you are making a film where you are killing children as part of a larger metaphor, make them mean something.  Make me care.  Make me cry.  Instead, you made me dizzy.  I admit I was choked up, early on, when Katniss sacrificed herself, and entered the Games, to save her sister.  Unfortunately, that was the peak of my emotional connection.

Coming in just short of two and a half hours the film could not go much longer.  It would have been better to divide the book into two films – one, that opened in March, showing the story up until the games; the next, in May, showing the actual games.  This would have been long enough to allow audiences to go out and see the first film, absorb it, and have them salivating for more;  yet, not too far apart that the story loses all its buzz.

Overall though (hard to believe after that lecture) I enjoyed the film.  One of the main reasons was Jennifer Lawrence.  There is something fresh about her.  She is a great actress (see Winter's Bone for more proof) and adds a certain on screen presence that is refreshing.  So many actors come across as if they are doing just that – acting.  She does not.  She seems natural and unaffected by the camera.  Perfect casting, no matter what the folks that wanted her to lose weight have been saying.  If she had been replaced as the lead by some Hollywood starlet it would have been a death blow to the film.  Other members of the cast do well enough, too, even though they suffer from having their characters cut down tremendously.  The biggest crime against the film was trimming down the role of, the perfectly cast, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson); the drunken, former Hunger Games winner and mentor to District 12's participants.  Perhaps the second most memorable character in the book, he becomes just a sidekick in the film - even his drunkenness is cut back.  Another shame.

So, overall, if you read the books prepare for the standard Hollywood stripping-down, and fill in the blanks with your book knowledge.  For those who have not read the book, I recommend you read it before you see it.  Otherwise you will probably find the Games a bit hollow as I did.  6.5 out of 10.

1 comment:

c0rnr0w said...

Dead on review.

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