What I learned from The Hunger Games:
- In film-making, it is perfectly logical to cut from one of the most touching, heartfelt scenes in a movie to one of the ugliest people in the cast for no specific reason.
- Wasps cannot feel the branch their hive is on vibrating and shaking from the branch being sawed through…or if they do, they don’t take it as a threat. At least, Tracker-jacker wasps can’t.
- Whatever role he takes, Woody Harrelson is going to have a drink in his hand. It must be in his contract.
Firstly, I have not read the book. My only information on this film was the basic premise and the fact that some folks are saying that it is ‘too violent for our dear, precious little young’uns’. As far as that second point, I’ll go on the record and say that I think we baby our kids way too much on this kind of thing. Sure, anything kids do not need to know should not be shown to them, and real graphic violence (like the Saw films, for example). However, we hear about violent death everyday on the news, and kids can understand some pretty deep concepts. I was 12 when I saw Star Trek 2 in theaters, which included the death scene with Spock, Scotty carrying his dying, graphically burned nephew in the ship, and the crew of Regula 1 being strung up like dead cattle. I also saw Luke’s hand cut off and the good guys essentially get their butts kicked in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. They didn’t scar me, and with Star Trek 2 especially, I understood some of the subtext. Kids in other major cultures are taught to deal with these kinds of issues, since we all deal with death and tragedy, but American kids seem to only be able to take funny, singing animals and fairy tales until they are 15 or so. End of sermon.
I doubt there will be any spoilers here. The Hunger Games is set in a future or fantasy setting (I think it is Earth, North America) where 12 districts of ‘lesser peoples’, those who lost an uprising sometime in the past, must give up a girl and a boy 12-18 years of age to compete in a death contest. The one who wins gets rewarded and brings prestige to his/her district. We follow one particular competitor, Katniss, from just before the drawing of this year’s competitors from District 12 (I was hoping the competitors from District 9 would be space aliens that look like shrimp, but I was disappointed. *SIGH*) through to the competition.
Well, what can I say? I was very impressed by the film. We’ve seen the basic theme done different ways. In The Running Man, we had Richard Dawson sending Arnold Schwarzenegger into a city environment against WWE-esque enemies. We’ve seen Battle Royale, out of Japan, which is a violent, gory mess. We’ve even seen Gymkata (at least I have), which could be one of the most laughable bad movies out there, with an Olympic gymnast finding things like a pommel horse in the middle of a town square and using it to beat dozens of crazed attackers…who happen to charge at him one at a time! There are others, but none of these previous films really take the subject seriously. The blood game is just a premise to set up whatever they are presenting (Arnold, gruesomeness, or absurd gymnastic martial arts). The Hunger Games treats the situation seriously, presenting the events of the film more like Spielberg did in his early films.
The power of The Hunger Games comes mostly from Katniss. We follow her through the film; the other characters come and go as they interact with her. One thing I really appreciated was the subtlety of it all. There are many scenes where some weaker film would have given us exposition but here we just have facial expressions and body language. Pain isn’t just a hurt look, it is a clenching of muscles, a setting of the jaw, a trembling to keep control. Anger is in the eyes, lips, and stance. A moment of happiness is shown by a relaxing of the muscles and a shine in the eyes, not just a smile. You really get to know Katniss by the end of the film, which is somewhat rare in many films these days.
As far as the violence, it is there but it isn’t as graphic as I might have expected. I did feel a little discomfort about young people killing young people, but they used a Hitchcock-like trick here. I don’t remember ever seeing a weapon strike a person. You see someone charge, or swing their weapon, or draw their arm back, then a cut to a reaction, then cut to seeing the person wounded. Even then, you don’t see most of the wounds clearly. The most realistic injuries in the film are on people who live through the battle they receive the wound from. It is a nice trick, leaving your mind to fill in the blanks.
I also loved the subtleties of the setting and background. Here, many filmmakers (George Lucas, Michael Bay, Joel Schumacher, to name a few) would have blasted us with gigantic CGI landscapes screaming ‘LOOK AT WHAT MY COMPUTERS CAN DO! THIS IS HIGH QUALITY! LOVE IT!!! Not here. The sets, backgrounds and especially the city we see are kept in the background, just part of what our characters are experiencing but not an important point of the movie itself. The sound is great too. I’m so used to bombastic music scores and ear-pounding effects that here, where we often hear only what the characters are hearing at the moment, was surprising in its noticeability. Refreshing, too. And while the movie lasts for 2 hours and24 minutes, I did not feel like I was sitting there that long. The film was too engrossing for me to watch the time.
I won’t go into anything else since I would have to include spoilers. Even though I did see a couple small errors, I really liked The Hunger Games. The makers of the film decided to make a real film out of it, not just a show, and it reminds me of what a movie can be when someone puts their mind to it. It is a serious film with serious subject matter and serious consequences for the characters in it yet easy to ‘get’ by the younger audience that has embrace the novel. It is just an engaging, well-made movie, something we need more of. I think folks across the age spectrum will enjoy The Hunger Games. I would not suggest it for children 10 and under though, as they might not appreciate the quality of the film and may be more effected by the violent nature of some of the scenes.
I give The Hunger Games 4.5 out of 5 stars.