Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games

Hey folks, we got a special guest review by Noelle Loughran of The Hunger Games!
Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire!

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS! From what I can surmise from Noelle's review, enjoyed it overall, though the action scenes used too much shaky cam. I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds good! For the full spoiler-filled recap, especially for those who have already read the book, I'll leave it in Noelle's colorful hands!

Seriously you guys. Spoilers.

Gary Ross is a brave man. When taking on filming the movie for a book series as wildly popular as The Hunger Games, your movie isn’t just facing the media and the critics.

It’s facing a tsunami of fans, all frothing at the mouth as they wait to either catapult the movie to Titanic and Avatar level of cult status, or to tear you to bloody shreds when you fail harder than a cheerleader taking the SATs.

It’s entirely too easy to fail when a series gets as hyped up as one like this does. Especially with a book so heavily drenched in terrible violence, because Lionsgate, looking to launch a moneymaking franchise, may try to pander to all ages, when there’s only so low you can rate a movie that’s about a post-apocalyptic country that watches the brutal slaughtering of children the same way we watch Jersey Shore or Teen Mom - for entertainment.

The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, (played by Oscar-nominated actress, Jennifer Lawrence) a 16-year-old girl living in a country known as Panem, the fractured remains of America, after a massive war wiped out pretty much everything. From the ashes rose the Capitol, a shining ‘Emerald City-esque’ place where all the wealth resides. Outside the Capitol are 12, formerly 13, districts. The 13th District rose against the self-absorbed, materialistic Capitol, only to be decimated, destroyed completely for its crime.

As punishment, each year, the districts must send forth one boy and one girl, between ages 12 and 18, to fight in the Hunger Games, a brutal fight to the death, from which only one can emerge the victor. Before the Games, an event called the “Reaping” is held, in which the tributes are selected. Katniss’ little sister, Primrose, is selected as tribute, and a distraught Katniss flings herself out, screaming that she volunteers. This is unheard of in outlier districts like 12, because no one /wants/ to be a tribute. The male tribute is Peeta Mellark, the son of District 12’s baker, played by Josh Hutcherson.

In some Districts, such as 1 and 2, the districts that usually win, the kids are sent to a special academy where they are trained until age 18, when they purposefully volunteer to be tribute because it’s almost assured that they will win. They’re called the Careers, because winning the Games is basically just that for these kids, a Career. Killing becomes all they know how to do.

Effie Trinket, a flamboyant Capitol resident, is the liaison to District 12, played by Elizabeth Banks, and is fantastic in the role, giving Effie her airheaded-but-trying-to-be-helpful attitude with just the right amount of comedy. She’s not quite a villain, but she’s not a rebel either. Effie makes comments about Peeta and Katniss being lucky enough to see crystal chandeliers and having the penthouse suite, which sound to us like she’s being a bitch, but Effie seems to genuinely believe it’s a treat for them.

The tributes are also paired with a mentor, one of the previous victors from their District, if they have one still living. Katniss and Peeta get Haymitch Abernathy, an unkempt, sarcastic drunk played by Woody Harrelson. The role had the potential to go sour, because while in the book, Haymitch is drunken and slobby and falls off a stage here and there, but he also develops as a character. His drinking is the way he deals with tributes who are constantly dying, having been 12’s only mentor since his turn in the Games, 24 years earlier. But as the book/movie progresses, Haymitch reveals himself to be a cunning character, once he sees Katniss - and to a lesser degree, Peeta - has a chance of winning. It would be all too easy to brush off the development and use him as solely comic relief, but Harrelson walks the line beautifully, starting off filthy drunk, and gradually showing the wit behind the scruff. He is comic at times, but also can be remarkably serious.

Once they arrive in the Capitol, we meet several interesting characters. There’s Seneca Crane, the gamemaker, played by Wes Bentley, who creates and runs the arena. The arena is a massive expanse of woods, but it’s entirely controlled by Crane and his team in a high-tech control room, where they have control over every last detail, from the sun to forest fires, to sending creatures after the tributes.

Then there’s President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland, the chilling and sinister ruler of Panem. Sutherland excels in the role, playing Snow with a quiet, reserved evil, casually making remarks about containing the spark and how it would be faster to just line up the 24 tributes and execute them all, and that the only thing stronger than fear, is hope. (WARNING SPOILERS:) The most intense moment he has, however, is when he crowns Katniss victor, and they share a gaze that speaks volumes. Katniss is a threat to him, and they both can feel it, and the ice in their stares is chilling in the best way, promising a fearsome fight in the rest of the movies. (END SPOILERS)

And of course there’s Caesar Flickerman, the Master of Ceremonies for the Games. He is basically a talk show host, interviewing the tributes and giving commentary as the Games are broadcast to the Capitol. He’s played by the always fabulous Stanley Tucci, who is very amusing as the easygoing and enthusiastic host. It’s important for the tributes to develop a persona, to play to the crowds, because during the Games, the wealthiest Capitol citizens can “sponsor” them, sending them food and other vital supplies. The more well liked you are, the better sponsors you’ll receive.

One of my favorites, despite his small role, was Cinna, played by Lenny Kravitz, who is Katniss and Peeta’s stylist for the games, creating the fiery costumes that give Katniss her nickname, “the Girl on Fire”. Cinna, unlike the rest of the Capitol, is not flamboyant and twisted, rather he wears black and only a hint of gold eyeliner. Cinna and Katniss quickly develop an easy relationship, and he helps her get through the interview by telling her to pretend she’s just talking to him, to keep her relaxed. Stylists are not permitted to bet on tributes in the Games, but he tells Katniss he’d bet on her if he could. Kravitz plays Cinna with quiet style and confidence, and I look forward to seeing more of him in Catching Fire.

The story features a love triangle, but unlike the Twilight series to which The Hunger Games is constantly being compared to, the story is much more about Katniss’ transformation from a self-contained girl taking care of her family, to an unintentional political activist who becomes the face of the rebellion, rather than Bella’s much less interesting dilemma of “oh my god, which boy do I like?” The Hunger Games is a coming of age story for Katniss, and the change in a materialist, twisted society as the citizens rise against their supposed utopia.

One of the things that bothered me about the actual filming of the movie was the action scenes. Gary Ross is known for directing films like Seabiscuit and Pleasantville, but The Hunger Games is a different beast, filled with bloody fights and brutal stomach turning action. Yet the action scenes are filmed poorly, with badly done cuts and tracking that was so dizzying that I gave up trying to figure out what was happening, and just guessed at what happened during the fight by who was left standing. The point at which this was worst was in the climatic battle between Cato, the brutish killer from District 2, and Peeta. It was dark, and all I could see was two blonde boys beating the life out of each other, and I couldn’t distinguish between them until they finally stopped moving.

What I liked a lot was how well Ross captured the Capitol’s twisted frame of mind. As the train rolled in with Peeta and Katniss on board, we’re given our first glimpse of the Capitol citizens, a sea of color and utter fake-ness, clapping and laughing blissfully as they watch the tributes arrive, as if they’re coming to the Capitol for vacation, not to die for their entertainment. The same goes for the Careers, who, in the arena, run through the forest after Katniss, laughing and gleefully cajoling each other to kill her, clearly enjoying themselves as they brutally murder the other tributes.

The Games in the book were extremely brutal, and I occasionally had to put the book down for a minute after imagining the horrific scenes. In order to achieve a PG-13 rating, the killings in the movie were softened, but thankfully weren’t completely dumbed down.

(major spoilers from here on out)
One of the most heartbreaking scenes is the death of Rue, the pintsize tribute from District 11, who teams up with Katniss, who clearly sees her sister Prim in the little girl. Marvel, one of the Careers from District 1, throws his spear into Rue’s chest after Katniss frees her from a trap (in the book, she’s impaled just as Katniss arrives) just before he’s shot and killed by her arrow. Distraught over Rue’s death, Katniss gives her a bouquet of flowers and sings a lullaby, before taking off into the woods.

While the romantic side of Katniss’ journey is not a major focus of the book, what did occur was not represented well in the film, especially the romance with Peeta. It first begins when, during his interview, Peeta reveals to Flickerman that he is in love with Katniss, painting them as star crossed lovers. Katniss is furious, believing he has made her look weak, but Haymitch scolds her and says he’s done her a favor, making her desirable, which he insists will keep her alive, it will get her sponsors. At first, she’s awkward about it, giving him a weak kiss on the cheek during the Games, but realizes Haymitch is correct, and kisses him passionately later, and after the games, they talk about how they couldn’t live without the other, making Flickerman and the crowd swoon and squeal over them. What is disappointing is that at the end of the book, Peeta learns Katniss was faking it to survive, and a divide begins to form, but while it’s vaguely hinted at in the movie that Peeta may suspect this, it’s not actually stated.

What also gets not enough attention is the Mockingjay. Katniss gives a pin to her sister to protect her, and on it is a bird with an arrow, known as the Mockingjay. Prim gives it back when Katniss goes to the game, and Katniss wears it throughout the movie. The Mockingjay was a genetically altered bird that, as its name implies, can copy, or mock, humans. Rue and Katniss use them during the games to whistle a signal back and forth as a sign they’re okay. In the book, Rue decides to trust Katniss because she sees the pin but this is not touched on in the movie.

The Mockingjay
The Games end with Cato, Katniss and Peeta battling it out atop the Cornucopia, a bizarre black metal structure that looks more like bad modern art than the golden weaved structure described in the book. Cato delivers, through a mouthful of blood, a small monologue about how killing is all he knows, and the true meaning of the Games, all the while daring Katniss to shoot him, telling her he can still kill Peeta, by snapping his neck. But she shoots him and he falls to the ground, and still alive, is brutally attacked by the mutations, dog/goblin like creatures that Crane sent to chase them all to the final battle. In an act of possible mercy, Katniss shoots another arrow at Cato, ending his life so he doesn’t have to suffer a drawn out death at the jaws of the mutations.

Earlier in the Games, Crane had announced that two tributes could win, if they were the same district, but just as Cato dies, he changes the rules, insisting only one can win. The two, Peeta and Katniss, attempt to commit suicide with Nightlock to force the Capitol’s hand, and are stopped just in time. Once outside the arena, Haymitch warns Katniss to act like it was the act of a desperate lover, as the Capitol is furious that she made a fool of them.

The end of the movie is used to set up the audience for the next in the series, Catching Fire. Crane is alluded to have been forced to commit suicide by nightlock (as punishment for his failure to crush the spark of rebellion in Katniss) as we see him locked in a room, in which there is nothing but a crystal dish filled with the poisonous berries. Then Peeta asks what will happen next as they return to District 12 and their families, and Katniss tells him now they can try to forget. He says he doesn’t want to forget, and then we see an angry President Snow, and then, the end.

Thanks for reading, moviegoers. May the odds be ever in your favor!

1 comment:

  1. The film doesn't really get going until they actually do get to The Hunger Games, but when it does get started up its entertaining, tense, unpredictable, and very well executed from Gary Ross. I also couldn’t believe that this was his 3rd film after other flicks such as Seabiscuit and Pleasantville, which are both good but are different from this one. Still though, great jobs from everybody involved and I cannot wait for the sequel. Good review.