As you probably know, one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2012 came out today, and it does not disappoint – much.
The movie depicts the story of Katniss and Peeta, who are drafted to fight for their districts in a country wide televised battle to the death. About 2/3 of the movie highlights the drawing for the battle, and the pre-battle preparations, whereas the last third is the actual battle.
I felt that the movie seemed much too vanilla for the very edgy and disturbing plot line. This vanillaness happened in part due to a painfully apparent desire for a PG-13 rating, and a strong focus on the more emotional touchy-feely aspects of the film which felt quite contrived at times. For example in the first twenty minutes of the film, Katniss’s younger sister is chosen to fight and Katniss volunteers in her place and heads off for almost imminent death. Before Katniss leaves, she has a few last heartbreaking minutes with her sister and mother. This scene leaved much to be desired, only in part due to mediocre acting. These characters have just been introduced to us, so I found it difficult to muster a strong enough emotional response to the situation to justify the lengthy screen time her goodbye scene occupied. I just felt sort of mildy uncomfortable watching Katniss almost apathetically hug her shrieking younger sister and then scold her mother for being distant when their father had died. I didn’t like the brief and underdeveloped allusion to Katniss’s tensions with her mother and the death of her father. There are so many other interesting themes to explore in the film, I felt that if they didn’t want to do a good job developing these ideas, they shouldn’t have bothered. I know book fans may disagree with me, but a film can obviously never have as much depth as a book can, so some things must inevitably be either left out or glossed over – and I prefer the former greatly. There is one more painfully long and uncompelling scene following the death of one of the other contestants. This (minor) contestant has not had much screen time at all, and has had almost no relationship with the person vigorously grieving of his/her body once they die, so I found the whole scene very odd. But, I did take solace in the fact that at this point the griever knows he or she is being filmed and perhaps that is the only reason he or she chooses to put on such a show.
I really enjoyed the next section of the film where Katniss and Peeta travel to the training grounds and prepare for the battle, particularly with the guidance of a former winner and drunkard who serves as their mentor, played excellently by Woody Harrelson. I loved how the film depicted very interesting scenes that arose because of the tension between Katniss and Peeta. They both know that only one can win, and most likely both of them will die. They both wrestle with the choice to either give it their all and drink in the competition, or stoically protest it with probable death either way. Once it becomes apparent that Katniss is the stronger competitor, Katniss is torn by her hatred for the evil competition, her desire to win over her viewers, to save her own life, and to help her friend Peeta as well. As a reality TV fan I could appreciate the confusion that arises in the audience and in the characters when trying to decipher what is really thought and felt and what is a ploy for the cameras. That added a rich layer to an already intriguing film. The interactions between the competition personnel and the contestants both in and out of the public eye is very interesting. Stanley Tucci is particularly convincing as the smiley, yet sinister TV interviewer and host for the games.
I liked the battle scenes as well – I felt they were exciting, felt genuine, and were not offensive to someone like me who detests action and fighting in a film just for the sake of action and fighting. As I said previously, the fight scenes are actually too vanilla. I think the shock and disgust of the audience at the barbarity of the competition would have been much more intense had the the cameras not consistently cut away from the vast majority of violence, especially against the younger children. This is very disturbing content, and I think sparing the audience from feeling the bulk of the discomfort aroused from child slaughter really does the film a huge disservice.
For those positing that this movie is the new twilight – fear not. In Hunger Games, the characters are multidimensional and well-portrayed and the contrived love triangle element of the film is very, very minimal. I doubt this will hold true for the next films, but I have hope for now, and am really looking forward to further installments of a very solid film.
I give it a B+