The Scoop: 2012 PG 13, directed by Gary Ross and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson
Tagline: May the odds be ever in your favor.
Summary Capsule: A brave teenager takes her little sister’s place as a sacrifice for a 24-kids-enter-1-kid-leaves reality show. Political upheaval ensues, and I get to put my foot in my mouth about it being a Battle Royale ripoff.
Heather’s Rating: Mmmm….my first taste of crow this year.
Heather’s Review: Three months ago I was completely ignorant of The Hunger Games series, up until Al and I did our second annual list of judgments and preconceived notions about the movies of the coming year. His inclusion of The Hunger Games on that list, and my subsequent viewing of the trailer, was the first I had heard of this acclaimed YA trilogy and I had what has apparently been a very common reaction among the uninformed: It’s a non-Japanese Battle Royale!
On the one hand it’s easy to make that comparison, as both concern a dystopian future where a government-sanctioned execution game pits young children against each other. On the other hand, the human race has been around a mighty long time and the world population is about seven billion. One would have to be insane to expect no major similarities to be found between the stories we’re writing now and have written in the in the past. I found enough differences between BR and HG to enjoy the two as separate, quality stories that just happen to share a common thread.
The Hunger Games is based on the first novel of the same name in Suzanne Collins’s trilogy. The setting is a dystopian future in a country called Panem, created after the destruction of the North American countries in an unknown apocalyptic event. Panem is made up of twelve dirt-poor districts ruled by the incredibly wealthy Capitol. For seventy-three years each district has been forced to offer up two Tributes, one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen for the Hunger Games as punishment for a violent rebellion against The Capitol.
Our protagonist is Katniss Everdeen, a young lady who has been the head of her household since her father died tragically and her mother lost herself in a deep depression. She has cared for her mother and younger sister Primrose by learning her father’s skill with a bow and arrow and hunting illegally in the forest surrounding her home of District 12. Primrose has just become of age to be eligible in The Reaping, a mandatory public event which chooses the boy and girl to be sacrificed as Tribute. Katniss assures the understandably terrified Prim that she will not be picked, as it is only her first year and there are many more names to be chosen from the pile. Unfortunately Katniss is wrong, and soon after assembling she finds herself being torn away from her sister as she screams out that she will take Prim’s place as Tribute.
Katniss and her male counterpart for the Games, Peeta Mellark, are soon taken away to the Capitol by train to be prepared for the Hunger Games. I can’t say enough about how wonderfully the film version captured what I had imagined The Capitol to be, from the vastly advanced technology to the largely vain and indifferent people with their boisterous fashion choices that would give Lady Gaga feelings of inadequacy. In fact I’m impressed with all of the setting and costume choices, especially Peeta and Katniss’s amazing costumes for the Tribute Parade.
As for the casting, I have zero qualms. I see no more perfect fit for Peeta and Katniss than Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence, who continue being standout actors among their generation. Ms. Lawrence’s expressive nonverbal acting was crucial in successfully bringing Katniss’s thoughts and attitude over from the first-person novel into the third-person film.
And talk about surprises in the cast. Lenny Kravitz as Cinna was completely unexpected, but spot-on. The same goes for Woody Harrelson, who was nothing like I imagined Haymitch and yet portrayed the character with such obvious enjoyment that I came out liking Haymitch’s movie self much more than his novel self. It didn’t hurt that the character’s less-favorable qualities were played down while the audience got to see him working for his Tributes behind the scenes.
The Hunger Games added in these scenes showing what was going on with Haymitch and many other characters outside the arena while the kids were fighting it out, and it played to fantastic effect. Completely absent from the book, these scenes not only made the movie look like a more complete story, but made it more accessible to those who hadn’t read the novel. Having the announcers explain crucial elements of the Games to their audience was a great way to fill in the gaps left by translating the first-person novel to a third-person film without having to drag out the running time even more. Quick and seamless, our audience was brought up to speed along with the audience of Panem.
There are so many things to go on about that the movie got right, but here is where I need to be fair and point out the flaws. First: Shaky Cam. Sweet moistened Wolverine, I wanted to punch the cinematographer halfway through the film. I absolutely hate this trendy, vomit-inducing technique. Some argue that it helped convey violence without compromising its PG-13 rating, but I call BS. One can imply violence without turning the screen into a Jackson Pollack painting. If you suffer from motion sickness I highly recommend sitting as far back from the screen as you can.
Second: Thresh’s scene with Katniss was less intense and emotional than I found it to be in the book. Most changes I got, but I didn’t understand why they did this scene the way they did.
Third, and most important: I’m remaining spoiler-free in this review, so I’ll just say that there is a character whose death is a big deal to most readers of the book. This character’s death in the film was a joke, in comparison, and one of the movie’s weakest points to veterans and newbies of the story alike. It was handled in a stereotypical, goofy manner and I see no excuse for that. I’ve heard some argue that to keep the PG-13 rating it couldn’t be the same death as the book. Again, I say, BS. The killing blow could have been cut away from. Tragedy intact, gore at a minimum and rating retained.
For those in the dark, Hunger Games is a YA series. It’s a lot more violent than America’s movies allow for the same age group, and so a lot of the impact was lessened for many viewers. I think tragedy and violence can be conveyed without blood flying all over the place. I’ve seen films successfully terrify me and disturb me with hardly any bloodshed, and in fact tend to see them as stronger for being able to get those emotions across without it. Where I think THG got it wrong was throwing in all of that Shaky Cam and stereotyping the deaths.
As I finish writing this review, THG has been out for about three weeks and its fame has skyrocketed. It’s becoming another teen phenomenon in the wake of the Harry Potter series and Twilight finishing up, but unlike the latter, it’s deserving of its praise. The Hunger Games calls into question where society is headed, and points fingers at a lot of the nasty motives in all of us that allow reality shows to exist. It’s got its flaws, but overall it is an impressively faithful adaptation and completely works as a standalone piece. Whether or not you think it’s similar to Battle Royale or want to dismiss it as The Next Twilight, which the media really wants to sell it as, you can’t argue that that premise doesn’t beat the crap out of most everything else directed to that age group right now.
- Composer Danny Elfman left the film due to a scheduling conflict and was replaced by James Newton Howard. Thank goodness.
- The name of the main character, Katniss, is derived from the name of a group of edible plant species, genus “Sagittaria”, commonly known as “arrowhead”. This is a reference to the character’s archery skills.
- The fictional nation in the film is called Panem. This is derived from “Panem et Circenses,” or “Bread and Circuses,” which comes from the latter days of the Roman Empire, in which the government would keep the masses satisfied not by performing their public services well, but by providing violent and deadly entertainments for the people to watch, which is rather fitting for the subject matter of the film.
- Though she appeared in all three books, and was featured prominently in the movie, actress Elizabeth Banks’s character’s name, Effie Trinket, was never mentioned in the movie.
- Wilhelm scream: can be heard from one of the victims when Katniss Everdeen cuts off a tree branch and the nest of tracker jackers fall onto some of her opponents.
- It isn’t explained in the movie, but the reason why Gale’s name is in the drawing so many times is because children can put their names in extra times for a tessera, which is worth “a meager year’s grain and oil for one person”. Because of this, the poorer a family is the much more likely those children will be chosen. Also, your name is entered as many times as you’ve been eligible for the Reaping; so once at twelve, twice at thirteen, and so on. Between the tessera and her age, Katniss’s name is in the drawing twenty times at sixteen. Gale’s is in forty-two times.
- Our local archery ranges are completely and ridiculously busy in the wake of everyone wanting to take part in their new “trendy” hobby.
Katniss: I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!
President Snow: Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous.
Peeta Mellark: I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show them that they don’t own me. If I’m gonna die, I want to still be me.
Cinna: I’m not allowed to bet, but if I could I’d bet on you.
Seneca Crane: Hey, hey hey! Who ordered this pig?
Haymitch: This is the time to show them everything. Make sure they remember you.
Katniss: Take care of them, Gale. Whatever you do, don’t let them starve!
Caesar Flickerman: What did you say to your sister when you volunteered at the reaping?
Katniss Everdeen: I told her that I would try to win for her.
Caesar Flickerman: And try you will.
Gale Hawthorne: Okay, listen to me, you’re stronger than they are. You are. They just want a good show, that’s all they want. You know how to hunt. Show them how good you are.
Katniss Everdeen: So you’re here to make me look pretty.
Cinna: I’m here to help you make an impression.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Battle Royale
- The Running Man
- The Condemned