Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hunger Games, The (2012) - 3/5

There had been much hoopla over "The Hunger Games", both as a book and as a film version. It was a story I was familiar with despite never reading the book or reading a synopsis and the massive amount of hype definitely peaked my curiosity. Could a film geared for a younger audience provide the necessary commentary to make the story relevant? Could this truly be a "Battle Royale" for American audiences and a slightly younger generation? The answer to both those questions is a mixed result of a film that definitely wants to punch out a social commentary, but finds itself hindered by its boundaries of being a more family friendly film.

Katniss (Lawrence) has always done what she could to provide for her poor family in the mining district. She hunts with a bow, she works, and she takes care of her little sister. What she isn't prepared to do is fight in The Hunger Games, a nationally broadcast fight to the death by two "tributes" from each district as remembrance for their failed uprising against the government. When she volunteers for the games to save her sister from an unlikely drawing, Katniss must dig deep inside of her, take the lessons of her life, and find a way to survive the Hunger Games.

Believe it or not, I wasn't completely disgusted with this film. Films of this type tend to hype it up beyond its own worth and going into the film my expectations were lower than low. Like "Twilight" low. Luckily, "The Hunger Games" comes off much stronger than the previously mentioned young adult film with a bit more of an artistic flair and stronger performances. Director Gary Ross (the guy that gave us "Seabiscuit" and "Pleasantville" for those who don't know) does use a bit of artistic license to the film's advantage. He toys a lot with sound and more intense moments are done in silence while his eye for visual ticks certainly adds to the enjoyment of this film. The high production values help in many areas to visualize the concept although at times it can be a bit overbearing (the oddly ineffective CGI dogs in the finale for example), but it works effectively for what the film is.

"The Hunger Games" also strikes out with some strong performances. The hit or miss script (which I'm told makes much more sense if you read the of the many things I simply hate about popular books that are made into movies...just make it make fucking sense, don't rely on me to read the book for the details to be right!) is held together by a strong supporting cast where Woody Harrelson steals every scene he's in and the creepy high society folk feel like they are hiding something. Lawrence also stamps her own mark on the lead using her talents to make the best out of a rather oddly built character.

Let's just say that the film is executed in a fine and cohesive manner. Some elements can be hard to swallow (Peeta's ability to make camouflage out of cake decorating skills is a big reach), but for the most part the filmmakers and cast did exactly what needed to be done to get this film on the right track. Most of the major issues come from its concept and how it was to be approached in film form. It's a story about kids killing kids. Not something major studios want to broadcast as a "family friendly" go to blockbuster. Thusly, "The Hunger Games" tries extremely hard to play it safe without losing the societal and moral commentaries that its concept requires for it to work.  It waters the whole thing down. The killing and violence is diminished to almost nothing and takes away from how one should feel about it and the thusly Katniss' struggle seems almost lackluster - as if the urgency is taken out of the equation. Something that is required for the necessary punch of her character growth to work.

Although "The Hunger Games" is a well crafted film that is sure to please fans of the book (or so I'm told), it doesn't have the cut or the edge to get the most bang out of its buck. By the end of the film, I wasn't sold on the entire concept nor felt myself getting sucked into the plot. The watered down attempts at playing it safe for the sake of its young audience hurt the film more than it benefited it beyond financial worth. I was definitely impressed in the end, but to be doesn't even touch some other films of this same concept.
Written By Matt Reifschneider

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