Monday, May 20, 2013

"The Hunger Games"...

In my usual form, here I am writing a review of a film I waited to see on DVD (which is how I watch 99.9% of movies). This flick is another film based on a book, like many films that are produced these days. For as many decent book-to-film adaptations made, most of them seem to be book-to-film disappointments. Sadly, this review is about a disappointment.

(Jennifer Lawrence as "Katniss Everdeen")
I’m sorry to say that this film, the “Hunger Games”, was a dud for me. Really, I am. To borrow from ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, the hype over this one wasn’t on ten, it was on eleven. I had very high hopes. Unfortunately, the hype didn’t match my inflated expectations. Before I get into the meat of things, I am going to cite another book-to-film series in order to better illustrate some points I am going to be making. The “Harry Potter” series is a prime example of a successful transition from the page to the big screen. No, not every nuance of the books is in the movies, but that is understandable considering the basic length of a standard feature film. I entered into the Potter movie world as someone who had not read any of the books prior. Several of my co-workers at the time (adults) were hooked on them, and raved about how great the books were. For whatever reason, their recommendations didn’t get me to board the ‘Hogwarts Express’. When “Sorcerer’s Stone” came out, I watched it (on DVD), and I did enjoy it. It was cute. Then when “Chamber of Secrets” came out, it was a little darker. Enjoyed it a bit more than the first. Then “Prisoner of Azkaban” came out. The slightly precious hand of Chris Columbus was no longer steering the ship; Alfonzo Cuaron was in charge this time; the darkness of the story came pouring in on ‘Little Whinging’, and I was hooked. I immediately went out and bought the first three books, soaking them up one after the other like a Dementor. I am a huge Harry Potter fan these days, and it is due to the films. Even through the cutesy vibe of “Sorcerer’s Stone”, the world was engaging, and I cared about the characters. I could enjoy the film without having read the book(s). For me that is numero uno on my list of what makes a good book-to-film transition. If a movie goer who has not read the books can follow what’s going on, and be engaged in what’s happening on the screen…can care about the good guys, and even loath the bad guys…that’s a success. That’s how a film should be.

Usually, about this point in my reviews, I give a warning about “spoilers” and then launch into a more detailed review. Give a synopsis with some pros and cons thrown in. I won’t be doing that for this one…tells you how much I enjoyed the film.

(Left: Jennifer Lawrence as "Katniss Everdeen"; Right: Liam Hemsworth as "Gale Hawthorne")
“The Hunger Games” left me feeling peckish, and not in a good way. Aspects of it felt derivative: “Running Man”, “Rollerball”, “Logan’s Run”, “Death Race 2000”. The fact that I was sitting back making mental comparisons to other films I was being reminded of is a huge red flag. The president in this futuristic piece (played by the great Donald Sutherland), says that the games are held to give the somewhat outcast population feelings of hope. The only hope I really had was that things were going to get more engaging, so I could appreciate what was going on.

(Liam Hemsworth as "Gale Hawthrone")
I get the premise of the story. Two teens from each of twelve districts are chosen at “random” to engage in the games. During the competition, the competitors do their best to stay alive so they can be the sole survivor and achieve fame and wealth. Meanwhile, the shallow rich people watch things unfold in lavish television style, betting on who they think will win. I will give the film credit for being visually nice. The sets, costumes, etc. are well done. For the most part the acting is good, too. As a Chris Hemsworth fan, it was good to see his younger sibling, Liam, appear in the film as Katniss’…couldn’t tell if they were best buds or boyfriend-girlfriend…anyway, he plays ‘Gale Hawthorne’. Jennifer Lawrence is decent as ‘Katniss Everdeen’ (even though I didn’t care much for the character).

Now for my main issue with “Hunger Games”. It is the latest book adaptation to make me feel that I needed to have read the book prior to seeing the movie to really be an involved audience member. It was almost as if the producers were assuming everyone watching had read the book, so why bother filling any holes? Why worry about actual character development within the confines of the film? It was destined to make a lot of money off of hype, and the young stars would draw in a young audience, so who cares about some of the finer details? Was it touching that Katniss Everdeen stepped in as tribute when her sister’s name was drawn? Sure, why not. But, with each frame that flashed by, I cared less and less about her. I didn’t even find her that likeable. The only real reaction I had was when Gale (Liam Hemsworth) saw Katniss on TV smooch her companion from her district, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and be visibly hurt at seeing her with another guy.

(Left: Jennifer Lawrence as "Katniss Everdeen"; Right: Josh Hutcherson as "Peeta Mellark")
Over all it did not pull me in. Too much hype, not enough substance. I don’t know what it is with Hollywood. With each movie that is released, they seem to be resting too much on the visual and not enough on the content of the story. The plot, the characters…these should be the most important components. Instead, the visuals…costumes, make-up effects, special effects overall…these have taken over from the reason the film was made in the first place. It starts with a story. In this case, with a fantasy world designed to transport the viewer into its domain for the duration of the story. To offer some escapism.

“Hunger Games” the movie didn’t do it for me. When the credits started to role, I didn’t even have a glimmer of a thought about reading the book. I would like to say that I feel differently, but…there ya go. Will I sit through the sequel? Well, my significant other, Glenn, told me that he had watched the film a second time while I was at work. He didn’t think it was that bad the second go round. I suspect he’ll want to watch the second film once it hits DVD. I might sit in for it. It would be nice if I find the second film to be better, so I don’t feel like I wasted the two hours or so…again...stranger things have happened…

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