THE HUNGER GAMES
It is not “Lord of the Flies”
Considering the many adults I know who have firmly stated that they won’t see The Hunger Games because “it’s about teenagers murdering each other”, I need to start this review with the above caption and address this erroneous perception. It would be more accurate to compare this movie to Brave New World or even Avatar: the scenes, well-advertised, of teens fighting to the death have more to do with tyrants imposing a punishment on their captives by forcing children to fight than blood-thirsty, out-of-control young people. The themes of this movie are hope, self-actualization, and the downtrodden raising themselves up.
This movie will no more justify bloodshed or incite young people to violence than Twilight will encourage them to become vampires. I would recommend this, without hesitation, to every age level from ‘tweens to g’mas and g’pas.
As far as the complaints that it’s a rip-off of the Japanese film Battle Royale: well, as a screenwriter I know would say, “everybody steals” – meaning , as Arvind Dilawar stated when discussing this same allegation in his blog “Thought Catalog”, that “everything is derivative”. But the difference that makes a movie derivitive and not an out-and-out plagarized project is that the author/filmmaker/etc. did something original with it.
Like Dilawar, I hadn’t read The Hunger Games before I saw it. My story/book ignorance was deliberate: I hate knowing how movies end before I see them. The only thing I knew was that the movie began in a world where North America was destroyed by disasters and near starvation, a country named Panem arose with thirteen districts (High school government and history students: remind you of something?), any rebels were defeated, and the general cowed populace (except for the tony Capitol dwellers) were severely punished not only with the savage hunger games, but with sadistically-enforced deprivation punctuating their hardscrabble survival. And, worst of all, the captives had to conducted their cruel, colorless lives on TV in the most ubiquitous, skewed, pernicious sort of reality show imaginable – for the entertainment of the sheltered fat-cats in the Capitol.
I also wanted to see what cool images they used to tell the story, what the acting was really like. Some reviewers claimed that Jennifer Lawrence/”Katniss Everdeen” gave a bland performance. What I got was a great movie along the lines of any uplifting, freedom-type film, not unlike anything from The Ten Commandments to the before-mentioned Avatar. The twist was: not only is there a strong female lead/protagonist/deliverer with courage and stamina, but she has a brain and learns both battle strategy and media smarts on the run. I kept thinking about a modern-day Joan of Arc – we’ll see in the obviously-intended sequel if she also “leads the charge” to free her world. Yes, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray, and Gary Ross have crafted quite a story/script. And Jennifer Lawrence delivered a terrificly strong, reluctant, athletic, too-young, learn-by-the-seat-of-her-pants heroine. In fact, all of the acting was top-notch.
But the honors go to Woody Harrelson. Unbelievably fabulous Woody Harrelson! It would appear that he’s taking over the Nick Nolte-type roles: the unapologetically dissipated, self-destructive, chip-on-his-shoulder-but-underneath-it-all-good-guy loner. In this movie, he plays the only living winner of the Hunger Games from Katniss’s totally forgotten, haunted district – and a more on-target performance couldn’t have been achieved by one of Katniss’ arrows.
Ok, there were a few loose ends: some had to do with the “cuts” and small changes necessary in making visual stories. Then there was the unexplained 12th-District salute-type gesture that seemed important and poignant enough to later be picked up by other districts: I had to read the book to discover it was an old gesture of thanks, admiration, and farewell. But these were minor things in an otherwise engaging movie. And they made me want to read the book, which was, I’m fairly certain, an unintentional ploy – that worked!
Please, do yourself a big favor: see this movie – in IMAX, if possible. It’s worth the hype.