Clearly, The Hunger Games is one of those movies Doug and I should have had one of our patented movie conversations about because much as I might enjoy going blow for blow with Doug, I imagine it’s getting pretty old for you, our dear readers. Besides, a blow for a blow never settles the score (yes, that was a little Flobots for you). Anyway, as Doug said, there really is no point in trying to convince somebody that a film has value when he clearly already has his mind made up that it doesn’t. But I had a novel thought, what if I actually reviewed the film? Maybe some of you would decide to go see it. And then, maybe you would decide for yourself what you think the movie means and what worth that message has. After all, isn’t that what all these dystopian stories are really about; not being a follower and making up one’s own mind? As Bruce Springsteen once said, blind faith in your leaders or in anybody will get you killed. So read the review, check out the movie, and then let us know what you think. Is Hunger Games a modern reimagining of a Lord of the Flies-esque story where primal instincts and human indifference threaten to overwhelm love, loyalty, and basic decency or, as Doug suggests, is this a simplistic sketch of a dystopian society that never delves deep enough to really make the themes soar? We’d love to know what you think!
So, on to the movie. All right, to be clear, The Hunger Games is not exactly rocket science. The story goes that a tyrannical government punishes and subjugates a once rebellious people by forcing each of its twelve districts to offer up two tributes, one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 18, to compete in the Hunger Games. The games require survival skills and a certain amount of blood lust as it is a battle to the death and the last person standing wins. The story follows Katniss, one of District 12’s tributes, who volunteers for the games to protect her sister, Prim after her name was drawn in the crap lottery. Alright, so that’s pretty straight forward and, as has been mentioned before, writer Suzanne Collins borrows liberally from some other classic works. But I actually think that, for a movie with a target audience that has grown up in a culture saturated in reality TV, competitive sports, and Call of Duty-esque video games, the idea of making this struggle for survival a competitive, fight to the death, game was a pretty ingenious way to repackage a few older themes. It’s novel, but still wrapped in the relatable reality TV/Olympic competition veneer and she gets points from me for coming up with a completely modern and timely plot device. As to the presentation of this story on the big screen, well, it probably isn’t as good as the book, which I’ve only just started reading, but how many movie interpretations of a book ever completely satisfy the fans of the books? Remember the ruckus over Peter Jackson cutting Tom Bombadil from The Fellowship of the Ring? I do and it was bad, but fans of the book came around.
I would agree that some of the performances are spotty, but the reality is that much of the focus of the film is on the indifference towards their fellow humans that this society has come to accept. They don’t value each other and there seems to be only two extreme types of people; the haves in the capitol who are drowning in opulence, but are, apparently, entirely superficial, and the miners, farmers, and other blue-collar have-nots who are simply struggling to make it from day-to-day. Maybe performances by those playing these characters failed to achieve depth, but that’s probably because there is no depth to be achieved. Where it counts though, the actors pretty much hit the nail on the head. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, the two district 12 tributes’ mentor, is an alcoholic, but it becomes clear as the film progresses that there’s a reason for that. Haymitch won the games twenty-some years earlier. That means he competed against 23 other young men and women and watched them all die; he probably even had a hand in the deaths of some of them. If that’s not enough to drive a man to drink, I don’t know what is. In response, he settles uncomfortably into the indulgent lifestyle offered in the capitol and drinks himself into a stupor until he meets Katniss and her fellow tribute from District 12, Peeta. You see Haymitch come to life, start to really care about the fates of these two teens and that is important when he’s surrounded by so many who have stopped caring about anyone but themselves. Stanley Tucci is also notable as the talk show host that I believe was modeled on Oprah Winfrey – if she were white, male, had blue hair, and was sort of maniacal. He asks a lot of “how did that make you feel” type questions with a sort of zealousness that makes it clear that it’s all about ratings. Meanwhile Jennifer Lawrence gives us as detailed a performance as playing an almost superhero will allow. She’s energetic, emotional, and, well, human, which is in stark contrast to pretty much everyone in the capitol, the residents of which come off as something a little inhuman, but deliberately so. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta is a little more inconsistent; he’s strongest when he’s playing to the crowd, recognizing that Peeta’s only shot at winning is to garner favor with the sponsors. Unfortunately, the chemistry, if I can even call it that, between Hutcherson and Lawrenece is pretty much non-existent and that does make the end of the game a little hard to swallow. As Doug notes, most of the other characters are mere sketches or outlines, never really colored in, but I think that’s entirely intentional. The story focuses on, at best, the indifference that most of society has towards the competitors in the game or, at worst, their murderousness. The entire society is complicit in allowing an entirely inhuman competition that results in the death of 23 young people every year to continue. Doug likes to say people are complicated and I expect part of why he didn’t like or relate to these people is because they aren’t. Most of the society in Panem – the name given to the new North American society – including many of the competitors in the games, are simple and self-indulgent and that really is all there is to it. If you try to read more into it than that, I’m afraid you will only find yourself frustrated. But the more simplistic and inhuman the people living in the capitol are, the more it heightens the humanity of Katniss and her few sympathizers, Haymitch, Cinna, and Peeta. Overall, the movie really isn’t that complicated and for pure entertainment value, it was fun to watch while presenting some interesting themes to a wider market than your Brave New Worlds or Animal Farms are ever likely to reach. On a scale of “I want my money and two hours back” to “pay full ticket price to see this one on the big screen,” I’d say this is worth the price of a matinée ticket. It’s a good-looking flick with some interesting themes and nice action sequences that are worth seeing on the big screen, but on one thing I will agree with Doug, it probably could have done more.