Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games - Movie Review (updated!!)

The Hunger Games
rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images - all involving teens
Moral Rating:  

After an enormous buildup of hype and marketing, Gary Ross' big screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' novel "The Hunger Games" is finally in theaters. Starring Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class), and Josh Hutcherson (Journey 2, The Kids Are Alright), The Hunger Games certainly delivers in both emotional impact and intense action.

Set in a futuristic totalitarian country called "Panem", The Hunger Games follows Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), a free spirited girl from District 12 who volunteers to take her younger sister's place in the 74th annual Hunger Games, a brutal competition to the death instated by the Capitol to keep each district in line. As Katniss and her fellow tribute Peeta (Hutcherson) struggle to survive the bloody arena, her acts of courage and selflessness begin to create hope for an oppressed people. (This is all I'm giving you as far as plot is concerned due to the absolute wealth of summaries online right now) As far as stories go, Collins' story is nothing particularly revolutionary, but the emotional impact of the characters and their situations is far reaching. Both on the page AND on screen, Katniss Everdeen is an incredibly sympathetic heroine. Her actions are inspiring and by the time we reach the arena (over an hour into the film) we are anxious for her survival, emotionally tied to her struggles, and fully engrossed in her story. 

The characters indeed are what drives The Hunger Games and in my opinion a major part of what makes the story work. In such a brutal setting we must have something hopeful to hold onto. Both Lawrence as Katniss and Hutcherson as Peeta shine in their respective roles. Their relationship is heartfelt and sincere and both young actors bring life to their roles onscreen. While some of the other casting choices were curious, they surprisingly work when everything comes together. Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Donald Sutherland as President Snow and Woody Harrelson as the drunkard Haymitch are all examples of this. Perhaps the most surprising though was an almost unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. I found myself chuckling more than once at her quirks and banter with the other characters.

There is a lot that I like about The Hunger Games. The cinematography was great. The music was awesome. The score by James Newton Howard was superb. The sound editing, direction, art direction etc... it all lent itself to creating a fresh new environment on screen. HOWEVER, there is one glaring issue with The Hunger Games that i want to discuss for a moment. That would be the incredibly disturbing violent content.

As I am sure you know, the titular Hunger Games are a brutal arena-style fight to the death featuring children. Each district has to submit a boy and a girl from ages 12-18 to compete, or risk the Capitol's wrath on their District. While this plot point makes for dramatic plot progression and emotional investment, it also adds a sick and twisted element to the story. Even though Katniss stepped in for her sister Primrose, there are still several other Tributes that end up in the arena whom we watch die.

I would like to point out that the violence in the film has been tamed MUCH more from that featured in Collins novel. The book was very graphic and descriptive to show the horrific nature of the games, and it was abundantly clear the stance that Collins took on such things. Unfortunately, in a phenomenon like "The Hunger Games" the majority of the audience is tween and teen, obviously requiring a PG-13 rating at the most severe. Where as the books would linger on some of the killings to emphasize the horror, the film never focuses completely on the violence, instead giving us action packed glimpses and quick blood splatters. The characters we are allowed to spend time with are given emotional death scenes, but there are many Tributes that fall in the bloodbath at the beginning of the games without so much as an afterthought.

My thought is this... would "The Hunger Games" have been the same phenomenon if the plot had been void of brutality involving children? Part of me wants to believe that it could have, yet violence is what sells in America. The softening of the violence certainly makes it more acceptable on screen, yet in a sense that is what is creating the problem. I read several reports of foreign film ratings boards requiring re-cuts from director Gary Ross before the film would be allowed to be shown in theaters. Most foreign countries view violence as an incredibly harsh thing to show on screen and generally reflect that in their film rating standards while America tends to push the envelope in terms of harshness. Ironically, I found the handling of such heavy material in "The Hunger Games" to be very tasteful by American standards. The question is this - By making violence more "palatable" are we instead desensitizing our youth? One might argue that by presenting violence in its true light we might be more sensitive to brutality in pop culture.

I just wonder why stories like "The Hunger Games" have become such a huge craze among young readers and audiences. I simply want us to just think a bit about WHY we are attracted to stories like "The Hunger Games." Have we become so calloused that we as viewers are becoming like the Capitol spectators within the story? Or do we recognize the gravity of the situation and become emotionally tied to someone like Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire?

Food for thought...

I eagerly await the next entry in Ross' film series and recommend "The Hunger Games" with reservations.
The REAL Bowman
(revised 3/26/12)

1 comment:

  1. I saw Collins book as a sort of commentary on the very thing you've brought up - both the violence itself, and the way reality television -- which is what the Hunger Games are -- desensitizes a nation to all sorts of brutality. I liked the way the film brought the fact of its being a TV show really to the forefront by all the scenes behind the scenes with the Gamemaster, etc. I certainly don't think that Collins intended the violence and brutality to be taken lightly, and when I saw the film on Friday I definitely found it disturbing. (I found the shaky hand-held filming to be even more disturbing, however, as it made me seasick as well as sick at heart over all the deaths!)