25 March 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

A few statements before I start the review of The Hunger Games:

  1. I have not read the books.
  2. Dystopias are kinda my thing.
  3. This review may contain spoilers.

I have been aware of The Hunger Games Trilogy for some time. The books were very well reviewed and their central character Katniss touted as the antithesis of Belle from the Twilight series. Several friends recommended I read them and one even delivered the trilogy to me; the books are still on my “to be read” pile and now I am not in any rush to dive into them.

I had been led to believe that The Hunger Games was “fresh” and “cerebral.” A few minutes into the film, I leaned over to Mike and said, “Oh, it’s Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, all grown up.” Add to The Lottery a handful of Shakespearean tragedy, the grit of modern sci-fi, and the MacGyverisms of clever youth from Home Alone to Hogwarts then stir to get the batter that is The Hunger Games.

Before you rush to call me bitter and jaded, consider how many other tired tropes were trotted out for the film: the family that’s been through enough already; the extreme contrast of haves versus have nots; the grey, muted color palette of the Districts versus the bright circus colors of the Capital; the mysterious and ominous political figure; and of course the reality TV show taken to the extreme (see also: Running Man or Death Race 2000).

The dystopia in The Hunger Games is represented by the twelve districts who, after a failed revolt against the Capital, have been forced to provide two youths every year for a battle from which only one will return. The Games are in their 74th year -- like the lottery in Jackson’s tale that is in its 77th year, they’ve been going on long enough that their original purpose has been clouded by the tradition. In the two weeks between being selected and being plunged into the arena the “tributes” are bathed in luxuries while they are trained in lethal arts and survival skills.

The game is, of course, stacked. Even the least attentive of audience members could tell by looking at the twenty four tributes that many of them wouldn’t last the first day in the arena. Since it is televised, the producer has to ensure there is a single winner and after the initial contestants are thinned it becomes clear that the action must be directed in order to keep the audience interested. There are also mysterious sponsors -- though the movie did not sufficiently highlight their purpose other than to constantly underline that Katniss needed to impress them.

Knowing that the story was the first in a trilogy, I had my suspicions as to the outcome and, for the most part, I was proven correct. The story follows a predictable arc through to the anticipated climax. One of my biggest issues is that the closest the story got me to surprised was a raised eyebrow of curiosity.

Before I close off this review, I have to say something about the cinematography -- or rather, the lack thereof. Four hours after viewing the movie I still have a headache from the excessive use of hand-cams and the extreme closeups. My daughter repeatedly turned to me during the film wishing that the filmmakers would “zoom out for pete’s sake!”

Overall, The Hunger Games gets a passing grade. As a movie for teens, I approve; Katniss is a strong central character and the theme of cooperation manages to overshadow the Lord of the Flies alliances that I anticipated. That it is predictable and full of very stereotypical dystopian tropes is not going to stop the primary audience from enjoying this film; I am clearly not the primary audience.


1 comment:

Bruce Campbell said...

Good stuff, Cheryl, even if the movie left much to be desired. I've seen other reviews that take about the overly safe directions taken by the director and obviously marketing, who didn't want to limit the appeal of an R rated story when a PG13 audience will generate WAY more revenue.

I do want to read the books, if just to adjust my expectations of what seemingly intelligent commentators really get out of the things they recommend. On the dystopian genres, how about A Boy and His Dog, or Zardoz for more comparisons? It's a strong genre, with more on paper than has appeared in celluloid.