Monday, April 2, 2012

The Hunger Games

Well, I suppose two posts a month shouldn't be too hard to maintain, if I'm going to keep this site revived. And what better way to commemorate that than by reviewing the film with the third largest opening at the box office ever?

The Hunger Games is based off of the young adult novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins (who also co-wrote the screenplay). I never read the book or its two sequels, so I had the benefit of going into it semi-blind, albeit with the knowledge that the plot was supposed to be pretty similar to the awesome Japanese film Battle Royale. For the two of you that haven't seen/read it yet, it's basically set in a future where the countries divided into twelve districts, and each year each district has to pick one boy and one girl aged 12-18 to compete in the Hunger Games, a reality show in which all 24 contestants have two weeks to fight each other for survival out in the wilderness, with the last survivor winning fame or something (I don't remember a prize ever actually being mentioned, unless the prize is that they get to return home alive).

So yeah, plotwise it's pretty close to identical to Battle Royale, as we get a dystopian future and a villainous government that forces a large group of teenage kids to kill each other, though stylistically thw two films are still pretty different. BR managed to be simultaneously much darker, with a level of violence that might well have gotten it an NC-17 if it had ever gotten a theatrical release here, while also having a good deal of gallows humor to itself. Hunger Games is obviously much more mild with its PG-13 rating, though it's as serious as a heart attack once it finally gets to the Hunger Games.

That's actually one of the main problems I had with the film. Not so much that it takes the premise very seriously, mind you, but that it takes it very seriously almost exactly half of the time. The other half of the movie is devoted to a ridiculously over-the-top parody of the main government and the fashions (and over-elaborate facial hair) on display in District 1. It's an extremely jarring tonal shift, and one that weakens a pretty large chunk of the film.

That said, the Games themselves are pretty entertaining, with a good deal of action and strategy. There were some bits that confused me here and there, such as the seemingly magic medicine used (which actually led to me asking my friend Jasmine if it was meant to be a virtual reality environment, which would have also explained a few other things -- it wasn't), and the outrage racists felt over how a "major character" like Rue was cast by a black girl, when she's barely in the movie anyway, but these are all minor quibbles. Somewhat more major is the ongoing Hollywood obsession with shaky cam for every action sequence in what feels at times like every damn movie that comes out, but while irritating that's obviously hardly a problem exclusive to Hunger Games. Much more fun are the strategies employed by Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) to try to defeat her rivals, from blowing up the food supply to dropping a hive of killer wasps into their midst.

This isn't a great movie by any means, but it's pretty entertaining all the same. I don't know that it really warranted getting the third biggest opening of any film ever (and the outright largest for a non-sequel), but it was good enough that I'll probably go see the next one in a year or two when it comes out. Those of you that can handle more violent material, though, should definitely check out Battle Royale. It's pretty much the same story, though much darker and (mostly) more intelligent too. By the way, while I mentioned earlier that I haven't read any of the books, supposedly the film hews pretty closely to them, and while obviously a few things had to be abbreviated or outright removed to keep the film from being four hours long, I should probably thank co-writer/director Gary Ross for apparently deciding to heavily downplay the love triangle that every damn young adult writer feels they have to include in their books these days. Stop that shit already.

Rating: ** 1/2

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