60 Second Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)
April 21, 2012 8 Comments
After finally finishing The Hunger Games book — remember books? — I allowed myself to visit the Cinemark Century Theatres in Redwood City in order to see the film. At 3 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, no less. Because I’m a rebel.
Coming straight at you, here are my rapid reactions.
The film really cuts to the chase, opening by displaying titles on the screen explaining how the Hunger Games operate.
Effie’s condescending and cruel attitude toward the underprivileged reminds me of Barbara Bush saying that the displaced Katrina survivors massed at the Astrodome were basically lucky duckies. The two appear to share the same hairstylist and and the same sense of self-importance.
Most of the adjustments for the big screen seem to be in that vein of trying to explain the narrative to the viewer without taking us inside Katniss’ head, so they show us a lot involving the people who run and comment on the games. I didn’t recall a Guy Who Kinda Resembles Ashton Kutcher (Seneca Crane, the Head Gamemaker) playing such a large role in the book, but it does makes sense as a guide for the viewer.
To some extent it’s actually better than the book in the way that it reflects how our media is used to justify the cruelties of our economy.
I didn’t mind the toned-down violence. To have had the same level of violence on the screen as there was on the page might have been gratuitous and put us in the position of taking pleasure in the pain, which is of course a major critique of the roaring crowds in the Capitol.
On the other hand, casting an adult actresses in the lead role of Katniss Everdeen did take the edge off, not just regarding the level of cruelty, but concerning how overwhelming this journey is supposed to be for her. In the book, she’s a sixteen-year-old struggling to make sense of the transition from girl to woman (cue Britney Spears) even while fighting for her life. In the film, it’s hard to believe that Katniss and the oh-so-handsome Gale Hawthorne aren’t already playing a few rounds of “trap the squirrel,” if you know what I mean. (And I’m not sure that I know what I mean, if you know what I mean.)
The film works best at evoking the emotional moments, such as that of Katniss volunteering to take the place of her sister Primrose. I wonder how that played, though, to audience members who didn’t know the book. Were they impacted by the cues of the music, even though they didn’t have access to her internal musings? In the book, it’s about Katniss’ mental as well as physical journey, but that first component is largely missing from the film.
In the book, Katniss’ outburst against the Gamemakers conveys the fury of adolescence. In the film, it’s a character trait without additional layers. In the book, it seems obvious that Peeta is not pretending to be in love, while in the film at times it seems like a legitimate possibility. Similarly, the possibility that Katniss is in love with Peeta seems diminished in the film. This is not a critique of the actors, including Jennifer Lawrence, who blew me away with her performance in Winter’s Bone (2010).
Lawrence does everything they ask her to in The Hunger Games movie, usually playing it quiet, which is far better than going over the top.
Some of the characters appeared on film as they do in the book (Lenny Kravitz’s Cinna is instantly likeable) while others have gone Hollywood (Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch struck me as a tame Hollywood drunk).
Where I would have expected the film to excel — the action! — it actually turned a tad boring, perhaps because those sequences were written for a book, where a character’s internal musings are a bit more suspenseful. Watching Katniss cut down a hornet’s nest just isn’t as thrilling on 35mm, and the final combat scene was particularly underwhelming. Come to think of it, the slow pace in the second half of the film just didn’t work for me. I enjoyed the film, but mostly as a fairly faithful translation of the book. I doubt I would have taken to it had I seen the movie first.
Three final thoughts…
1. “May the odds be ever in your favor” should be adopted as the official motto of the New York Stock Exchange.
2. Rather than filling me with awe, the fiery entrance into the stadium by Katniss and Peeta seemed a bit silly, like it was out of an old Flash Gordon film.
3. So, has enrollment in girls’ archery classes skyrocketed nationwide?
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