Thursday, November 15, 2012
The Cinema File #19: "The Hunger Games" Review
Just finished watching Battle Royale with white people, and I can honestly say its the best mainstream big budget movie I've seen this week, if only because the other one was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
The Hunger Games follows Catness Everdeen, a name so corny I seriously can't say it without retching, as she is conscripted into the titular last teenager standing competition as punishment for her district's past rebellion against a fascist dictatorship controlling Earth. At least I think it's a fascist dictatorship on a future Earth. Not a lot of information is given to those who haven't read the books (like myself), so the non-rebellious districts might be perfectly free and happy for all we see of them, and the whole thing might just take place on Arid, pre-desert fallout, as far as I know. At least that would explain the need to have Wes fucking Bentley in this movie, despite his never being good in anything ever. Clearly there's a separation between the haves and the have-nots, but other than that, I would have preferred to explore this world a little more, especially if this is the first of many future outings set in this universe.
Part of the reason I yearn for more detail about the future world is that I found that once the action of the story shifts to actually being inside the Hunger Games arena, it becomes far less interesting to me. That's not to say that it is by any means boring, but it seems like once that very easy to understand situation begins to unfold, all the possibilities presented in what could be a rich science fiction setting are dwindled to fight, survive, or die. You know the main character is going to get out of it, and the only question is whether the guy she's with will make it out as well, once that option is thrown in at the last minute, which isn't nothing, but isn't quite enough to keep me too excited. It might be better if Catness (retch) wasn't so damned stone faced all the time. I wanna say she's a bad actress, but evidently she's been in and is due to be in some supposedly Oscar caliber movies, so maybe its just the limitations of the character, but a little more emotion from our protagonist would have done wonders for me. Not since Argo have I enjoyed a movie so much despite the wooden performance of the lead.
That being said, the set up is solidly entertaining. The premise is both compelling and a perfect pitch satire of modern day reality television and our love of hyper violence, both in showing the regular people whose lives are ruined, and those whose lives are defined by the desire to please the audience, all couched in a brutal context that could have very easily come off as implausibly silly if not for the strength of the story and the credibility the film establishes early on. Watching the tributes parade for their smiling fans, all while knowing that they are sheep to the slaughter, can be heart wrenching at times, aided considerably by their obvious youth. I loved the callous commercial spectacle grown up around the game, considerations of fashion and sponsorship and so forth, and Stanley Tucci shines as the host, never dropping his veneer of congeniality even as he does play by play over the carnage. I found myself always wanting to step out of the forest and back into that world to see what Woody Harrelson's manager character or Donald Sutherland's creepy president were doing.
There's a very thin line between wanting to know more than is being told (but generally being satisfied with what's there), and wishing the movie had ultimately done more overall, and The Hunger Games falls just on the right side of that line. There's just enough to make the world presented feel real and intriguing, even if there seems to be so much more under the surface. The name of the games themselves is only obliquely referenced as far as I could tell, with one throw away line implying that the more one eats, the more likely they are to be picked for the games, if I even understood that right. Also the cultural differences between the districts, and especially between the rebellious districts and the wealthy audience left me a bit flat. There is a character whose name I didn't catch who is meant to exemplify the hoity toity masses, dolled up in pale white make-up, and yet she seems to be the only one like this, and with no explanation, it just comes off as weird and takes me out of the movie a little bit.
Because the action inside the games becomes a fairly rote story of survival, I could have done with a lot more character development for the other kids. I assume the book provides this, but here, so many of them just feel like cannon fodder, when this is exactly the wrong movie to treat your characters so shallowly. You should make me feel for each and every one of them before they go down, not just the traditionally sympathetic ones. By the end, the face off with the character who becomes the main antagonist by process of elimination has less impact considering I barely know anything about the guy other than that he really wants to win. And the movie seems to go out of its way to spare Catness (retch) from doing anything too morally ambiguous. She fights and even kills, but only in self defense, never strategically, and while I get that they want to keep her marginally heroic under the circumstances, it seems to me that the story would have carried more weight had she been forced to make some tough choices, either with the character set up to be her romantic co-star, or better yet, the much younger girl she takes under her wing.
Still, overall, I easily recommend this movie if you haven't seen it already, whether or not you've read the books. Personally, even considering what I said about my desire to know more about the world, it feels like a pretty self contained story and I can't really see where the series goes from here, but based on the strength of the first film, I'll be more than ready to get in line and find out.
Though I still don't understand why the kids don't just follow the noise of those sponsor balloon drops right to their targets. Seems like a no brainer to me. Then again, my fat ass would easily be the first one down, so what do I know?
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