Justin does The Hunger Games

“May the odds be ever in your favor.”

The Scoop: 2012 PG-13, directed by Gary Ross and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Wes Bentley and Josh Hutcherson

Tagline: The world will be watching

Summary Capsule: Brutally fashionable dictatorship orders kids to fight each other to the death. For 74 years in a row.

Justin’s Rating: Shoot the apple!  Then the other apple!  ALL THE APPLES!

Justin’s Review: What if Twilight came out and it didn’t completely suck?  I mean, you’d have to take out the silly vampires and tedious werewolves, perhaps replacing them with some vague post-apocalyptic future where a garish totalitarian government forced its slaves to fight to the death, but as long as you kept in a love triangle where two Tiger Beat boys are soulfully struggling for the heart and soul of every girl in the audience — er, I mean, a central lead character who is strong and noble and is every girl in the audience personified, then you’d be good.

Dang, that was a long sentence.  This one is shorter.  So is this.

I’ve made my peace with the whole Twilight phenomenon, because as ridiculous as it is to the perspective of this cultured 35-year-old man, I know that when I was a teen I was into just as much silliness.  Ever watch the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation?  Or dance to the Ninja Rap song from Vanilla Ice?  Or wear jams?  Being into silly crap is part of a healthy childhood.  Now those Twilight Moms… that’s a mental disorder of some kind that seriously needs addressing.

So I’ve let Twilight go, and I’m generally okay with The Hunger Games.  As post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction, it’s very basic and unoriginal.  I’ve read and seen a lot of this stuff, and apart from the novelty of seeing a core of this society being all poofy and makeupy as a 16th century French court, it’s as standard as can be.  In fact, after having seen the movie and read the book, I’m more than a little frustrated that the author spent so much time talking about dresses while hardly scratching the surface of (a) what happened to the world to make it this way, (b) how this all works, exactly, and (c) how even the most technologically advanced culture can have the foresight to plant a camera in a tree knot 40 feet off the ground on the off chance that a teenage girl fighting for her life happens to roost there one evening.

Anyway.

The Hunger Games as a whole goes down smoothly if blandly.  It’s not a horrible way to spend a couple hours, because the story’s just interesting enough to keep you awake, Woody Harrelson is entertaining as always, and there’s the constant promise of kids killing other kids.  Actually, I found everything leading up to the whole kids-killing-kids thing far more interesting, as the film contrasted the starving outlying districts with the pomp and circumstance of the central Capitol.  It’s a world I wanted to know more about, but no time for that because there’s the world’s most tenuous love triangle to set up.

So yeah, let’s talk about that.  Our heroine is Katniss, a girl who’s about two inches more of an actual character than the blank slate known as Bella Swan, but that’s not saying much.  Really, other than stare with a furrowed brow 90% of the time and shoot apples like they killed her father (which they could’ve; the movie is never clear on that point), she does or says nothing to earn her heroic status.  Katniss starts the film making lovey eyes at… Ted?  I didn’t learn his name.  And since Katniss is enlisted to go off and kill elsewhere leaving Ted behind, it’s probably not important that we learn it either.  The other part of the love triangle comes from Peta or Peter or Peeta or PETA, some blond kid who seems like a great guy but has little to offer the film than decorating his face as if it were a cake.  Seriously.  Ultimately, it’s not very romantic so much as shoehorned in, and this isn’t the movie’s fault as the book goes to great lengths to make it seem like there’s more happening in the cupid department than actually is.

The whole concept of making people fight other people for a bloodthirsty, desensitized society’s pleasure is so dang old it’s hardly worth mentioning, except that some people seem to think that this was a brilliant idea conjured up just for these novels.  It’s an old idea, let’s just leave it at that.  Instead, I’d like to examine what works and doesn’t work about the killing arena aspect.

Once the movie is done hammering in its point about how spoiled and out-of-touch the Capitol is with the world around it, we finally get to the second half of the movie where the struggle takes place.  Better people than I have noted that the premise is hobbled from the get-go, because as both a young adult novel and a PG-13 movie, you’re just not going to get a lot of in-your-face horror and slaughter.  Buffy was more bloody than this film.  Heck, Spongebob was more bloody than this film.  It’s a movie where more deaths are implied and casually mentioned than clearly shown, and boy does that deflate the air in the tension balloon.  It’s hard to find it tragically fascinating when everything’s either happening in blur-o-vision or (as in most all of Katniss’ situations) killing by self-defense only.

I know Battle Royale gets tossed around a lot when The Hunger Games is mentioned, but all I want to say about that is that I was actually truly horrified by the situation those kids were in in that film.  They weren’t trained.  They didn’t have mentors and (sigh) fashion designers.  They were just gassed on a school bus, brought to an island, and told to kill each other or their heads would be blown off.  The situation transformed a class into violent killers, suicidal misfits, scared children, and desperate fighters.  I was on the edge of my seat in that movie because I didn’t know the outcome, I didn’t know who would win, and the whole thing was just so macabre as to make me wonder if I was sick for watching it.

The Hunger Games?  There’s no suspense; you know who’s going to win because she’s on the poster and everyone else is a cardboard character.  There’s no horrific violence, because PG-13.  There’s not even a point where any of the characters open their mouth to say out loud at how terrible this whole idea is.

And yet for how ridiculous it is — fireballs and killer dogs out of nowhere, anyone? — it’s still a passable movie.  It looks good when the shaky-cam subsides, the adult actors are wonderful (Donald Sutherland and Stanley Tucci really sell how corrupt, evil, and smart this ruling society is), and little touches like the cannon fire or the “what would I do in this situation?” moments serve to draw us more in than push us out.

It did need more of an edge, and after both reading the book and seeing the movie, I don’t feel especially compelled to see how the trilogy turns out.  But I wouldn’t fight it if someone forced me to, either.

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.

All I was thinking at this moment was, I guess the fashion crew remembered to shave her armpits.

Intermission!

  • 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 four-note melody that Katniss uses as her signal with Rue (and that plays at the end of most trailers) is G-Bb-A-D.
  • 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.

Groovy Quotes

Gale Hawthorne: They just want a good show, that’s all they want.
Katniss Everdeen: There’s 24 of us Gale, only one comes out.

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.

Seneca Crane: I mean, everyone loves a good underdog!
President Snow: I don’t.

Peeta Mellark: You definitely smell better than I do.
Caesar Flickerman: Well, I’ve lived here longer.

Haymitch Abernathy: Look at you! You just killed… a place mat!

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Battle Royale
  • The Game
  • Gamer
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8 Comments

  1. Excellent, hilarious review as always! I’m 100% with you on K doing or saying absolutely nothing to earn her heroic status–that was my biggest problem with the film, that the MC was kind of a Mary Sue.

  2. The reason that she didn’t earn her heroic status (at least in the book) is that she is the narrator. In fact, most main characters do not earn their heroic status — they are the main character, ergo they are the hero. “The Hunger Games” follows the classical model of having the main character be very obviously the hero and thus have everything revolve around them.

    On a more plot-driven note, the reason that Katniss is seen as a hero initially is because she sacrifices herself for her sister. How many of us would do that? This was bizarre and made her very sympathetic and yet dangerous. Sacrificing yourself for someone else, even your younger sister, is not considered rational in our world or the world of Panem. Hence the audience was rooting for her because she was unpredictable and yet also demonstrated love for her sister. After that, she just kept doing things (with help from others) that made people care about her and make her into a hero: she didn’t really put on airs, she was honest, she was considered the dangerous one, she made an alliance with one of the weaker tributes purely out of friendship, she showed defiance (the flowers) and ingenuity, and she played the part of the girl in love.

    The whole love triangle is entirely made up for publicity, both within the story and to publicize the books/films. Unlike “Twilight,” where the love triangle was the driving force of the story, “The Hunger Games” has the romance as its secondary plot. It’s not even real in the first book. Katniss and Gale are platonic friends and she is never really interested in him beyond that. Peeta has an unrequited crush on Katniss, but she only pretends to reciprocate for the cameras. Afterward, off-camera, they are more fire-forged friends than lovers — at least halfway through the trilogy.

    I apologise for the long rant! I actually quite like your review. (I’ve been a fan of this site for many years.) I will take my toffiness back to my own review.

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