This is going to be a very good year for movies. In 2012 we will see Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” and, of course, “The Hobbit” and “The Dark Knight.” However, the first greatly anticipated film of the year opened this past weekend: “The Hunger Games ,” which broke all sorts of weirdly specific box office records.
As mentioned previously , “The Hunger Games” is based on the young adult novel by Suzette Collins and is set in a future 74 years after “The Uprising” (which is never completely explained, but seems to be some sort of civil war). As penance (and as a way “to help us heal”), every year each of the 12 districts of Panem randomly selects a teenage boy and girl to participate in the Hunger Games, a twisted national television spectacle wherein each of the participants (callously referred to as “Tributes”) attempt to stay alive, for it is a fight to the death, and only one victor may emerge.
I must say that at best, I was expecting an entertaining, though unoriginal, film. These teen-book-turned-film crazes have not always gone so well, so my standards weren’t high, but I figured that if the acting was ok and the script wasn’t too terrible, it might make for fun watching.
First off: the cinematography immediately grabs the attention of the viewer. District 12, wherein our heroine resides, is a coal-mining region, and the setting is appropriately drab. Shaky-cam captures quick snapshots of life in this district – a bit dizzying at times, but effective. It is in this setting we first meet Katniss Everdeen, who eventually volunteers as Tribute at “The Reaping” (the yearly selection ceremony for the Hunger Games) in order to spare her young sister from almost certain death after she is selected.
Katniss is played by Louisville’s very own Jennifer Lawrence , who has previously shown her acting skills in the fantastic “Winter’s Bone.” Lawrence was interesting to watch in her role in this film; while her performance wasn’t exactly mind-blowing, it was certainly effective, and at times she shone through in subtle ways, such as with perfectly timed facial expressions (an example: when being interviewed prior to the Games, she is asked what the last thing was that she said to her sister, and Lawrence’s face registers a curious expression of pain at the memory, annoyance at being asked to publicly share such a private moment, and resignation that she has to cater to the media circus if she is to receive outside help while in the Game).
Of note is the treatment of violence in the movie. A film in which half of the plot revolves around a group of people trying to kill each other should ideally be created to receive an R rating, because to hold back on the violence can come across as cheesy or sugar-coated. However, the situation with “The Hunger Games” is unique, as the audience is specifically the young adult crowd; an R rating is not an option. However, the problem is handled nicely – the initial slaughter upon commencement of the Game is not shy when it comes to blood or vicious attacks, but the (again) shaky-cam effectively keeps the exposure to a PG-13 level while simultaneously providing an appropriate mood of chaos. Henceforth, much of the killing occurs off-screen, but the story is effective enough that the audience doesn’t feel cheated.
The best thing about the film, however, is that it managed to be surprisingly deep. To watch the trailer, one expected a teen-friendly “Battle Royale” rip-off, but as the first half of the film is devoted to exploring this dystopian future world and the nature of the media surrounding the game, it provides an excellent commentary on our own society and our reactions to violence, as well as our obsession with reality television and glitz and glamour. One of the most remarkable scenes is the afore-mentioned interview with the Tributes, hosted by Master of Ceremonies Caesar Flickerman (brilliantly portrayed by Stanley Tucci). The whole spectacle is bright and flashy and horrifically gaudy, but the huge audience laps it all up, consistently laughing or “awwww”-ing on cue. It is a bitter indictment of the mindless masses in our society who somehow get fulfillment out of watching the dreck provided just by switching on the television.
“The Hunger Games” can be viewed as just an exciting and entertaining movie, but it provides food for thought as well, if you let it – and you should let it. It is a very well-rounded film, and definitely worth the ticket price. See it in theaters – it deserves the big screen treatment.
And we only have a year and a half until the sequel.
Image: Rotten Tomatoes