Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games -

A Collection of Thoughts:

1) The movie theater was a bit of a zoo, and between the survival jackets and braids, were a number of Effies, Caesars, Senecas (complete with beard!), fire capes, and Panemanians. (Panemaniacs?)

2) I enjoyed it. It clipped along, it hit all the important points, I was enthralled, I jumped several times and teared up quite a few. A lot is indicated instead of explicitly stated, such as when Haymitch becomes involved and holds his hand over his wine glass to refuse another drink while continuing to talk strategy. A lot also comes from Katniss' subtle expressions and reactions.

3) I liked the way the camera work mimicked what was happening to Katniss.

4) Jennifer Lawrence was perfect, as expected. You completely followed Katniss' interior monologue.

5) I liked Josh Hutcherson as Peeta much more than I expected to. (When he was cast, I was very skeptical, even given that I don't really like Peeta to begin with). So, in winning me over, he did a very good job. I actually really enjoyed the entire cast. Cinna, Caesar, Seneca, Snow, Haymitch - all fabulous. (Effie maybe the least.)

6) Gale got one thing to do in this film: sad and dejected head nod. I laughed the third time it happened.

7) I loved the sound work in the film. There was this really interesting tinkly-bit in District 12 that was wonderful. Bits like the explosion and the reaping were great.

8) Getting to see the action from an omniscient stand point (the Games control room, Districts 11 & 12, Snow's garden, etc.) was wonderful.

9) There was a lot of plot to cover. A LOT. And as such, while I followed it all -having read the books- and while I did like the way it flowed as it played out, looking back, some of it seems to have been hitting a lot of marks. As in; there are certain landmarks in the book that have to be shown, and the movie perfunctorily hits each along the way as it races to the finale. (And the finale does feel like a sprint.) Because so many moments have to be included, certain elements didn't really get the time they deserved to make sense. For example, when Katniss and Rue team up, they instantly set about destroying the alliance's supplies. Now, having read the books, my mind filled in the gap, knowing that the career tributes wouldn't survive as well in the woods and the girls could starve/exposure them to death (or something to that effect). But that is entirely glossed over in the movie. As is the fact that it does weaken the Careers. I generally think splitting books into two movies is a lousy money ploy, but I wish this had been longer, so that those elements could be fleshed out better. There are moments that are beautifully played out, such as Rue's memorial and Katniss going off to hunt in the beginning. But it's hard not to feel that, in return, there were scenes pared down to the absolute bones to squeeze them in without having a four hour film, and that's too bad.

10) Other elements which needed changing, due to time constraints, ended up changing the meaning of those events. Cato's death in the book was long and drawn out and underscored the horrific deaths of these children. That really didn't come across in the movie. The mutts, while scary, weren't horrifying, as they were in the book. Rue didn't teach Katniss the signature whistle, just a four note melody, and Katniss whistled the tune that plays over the trailers. (Also - I thought I remembered the three finger salute being Rue's district?) Peeta is shown lobbing bread at Katniss, rather than burning some intentionally (and at his own detriment) for her. All minor quibbles, but each that change some of the expected elements' meanings. I purposely did not reread the book before the film (and now I want to). And while Katniss' dehydration could be cut for time (not so cinematic, even if it gave more time to Haymitch's silent coaching from on high), cutting down all the time with Peeta in the cave did shift the focus a little. While I'm mostly okay with that (I've never been a huge Peeta fan), I seem to recall that it was that element which got Katniss most of her sponsors. And which leads to the ambiguity of her feelings towards Peeta. In addition, we never get to think much about the fact that Haymitch and Effie have been guiding children to their deaths for years upon years, which accounts for some of their behavior.

11) The mockingjay pin. I'm fine with cutting out the mayor's daughter. Clearly; I don't remember her name. But when Katniss gets the pin at Greasy Sae's, she asks what it is. She obviously doesn't know. And then when President Snow questions her about it, she says it is a symbol from her district. Where did that come from? And if she gave it to Prim to protect her in the reaping, and it didn't work, why does Prim give it back to Katniss for her protection? And if the pin becomes a symbol of the resistance, it wasn't visible during the games... so... does it just get picked up from the coronation?

13) There are moments that are horrifying (the initial bloodbath, the guard getting his neck snapped, the commentary on the moment when the tribute becomes a victor, Seneca's death), scary moments (the mutts in the night), moments that invoke genuine terror and anguish (Katniss stepping into the tube, Prim being called, Rue's death). And perhaps this quibble comes from already having read the books, and experiencing these character's deaths once already. But given that the focus is children killing one another for entertainment, I didn't leave quite as unsettled as I would have expected to? Maybe because the story takes place from Katniss' point of view and so you are rooting for her to win. In addition, her kills are all self-defense (although that's sort of true for everyone), and she only has to kill those that were enjoying themselves.

As Vulture put it; "The audience at Monday’s packed preview of The Hunger Games came out juiced and happy, ready to spread the good word, while all I could think was, They’ve just seen a movie in which twenty-plus kids are murdered. Why aren’t they devastated? If the filmmakers had done their job with any courage, the audience would have been both juiced and devastated." Now, I don't agree that they purged all the horror (see above). But the film didn't maintain the creepy tone throughout. To its detriment, I think. Not to mention the PG-13 gore, a la War Horse. I understand that this film is going to make millions and millions of dollars, and I'm happy about that. I do like it overall. But child death should be horrifying. I think if the final death, Cato, had played out better, maybe that would have helped? As it is, we worry for Katniss' safety, but in a 127 Hours, survival-type way, not as much an appalling, dystopian V for Vendetta type of way.

Another review, from /Film, mentioned that they didn't understand how the districts were so afraid of the capitol (this from a viewer who hasn't read the books). While I thought cutting out the Avoxes for time was a smart move, perhaps that isn't the case? Maybe Donald Sutherland's creepy menace doesn't cut as well when you don't know he smells of blood?

I guess in the end, my feeling is that I liked it. I like the plot of the book, and I'm glad to watch it on screen. I really like "resourceful girl surviving in the woods." I love Jennifer Lawrence and the sound design and some of the camera work. And the supporting cast.  I think that, overall, it is uneven. There are scenes that are incredibly well filmed, and ones that got short-shrift. And because there are some noticeable inconsistencies, it doesn't feel as if the movie entirely lived up to its potential. Maybe in the next go-round, when the arena is more "terrifying monkeys" and less "Katniss' home element", the arena will feel more horrific.

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