Back in October of 2010, I read the book The Hunger Games, and even though I read the book in two sittings, and subsequently ordered the sequel and three-quel as soon as I could get them, I didn't think the writing all that good, or the story all that original, but dangit, there was something about the novels that was compelling. Pacing? Action? A tale in which some character out there named Katniss Everdeen thought that there ought to be an alternative to random killing of hapless teenagers, and maybe that could even resonate with people's horror over the innumerable gang murders and drive-by shootings that have even less sense than arena fights?
When I heard that a movie was being made of The Hunger Games, I was skeptical -- because how would anyone pack all that action and background into a movie?
We went to see the movie The Hunger Games today, at the first Friday morning showing at ten. The theater, though not sold out, was packed, except for the desperation-seats right in front of the screen, which didn't surprise me, considering the amount of page presence the movie has received in glossy magazines for weeks now. Though it was a mixed audience, the majority were middle-aged and up (that's 35+ ) with a smattering of young adults -- I'm guessing largely folks who had read the book and wanted to see what would be done to it on the big screen.
Personally, from my ninety-seven thousand years of reading and watching movie adaptations of stories, The Hunger Games as a movie was a very good representation of the novel.
Well, okay, I'm not that old, but I think the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games does for the novel what Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable did for the fictional characters Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. This movie, The Hunger Games, tells the story and gives it visual impact, the characters' eyes, the political background.
In this post-civil war story set in the indeterminate future, outlying twelve "Districts" are basically company towns bled dry by the company -- The Capitol. The Districts are there to provide for the Capitol, and nothing else. An insurrection by the Districts, defeated by the Capitol in the past resulted in the installation of humiliating "Hunger Games" -- a chosen pair of kids from each district are pitted yearly against other districts in a battle to the death, a broadcast reality show in which the winner is promised wealth and sustenance for the rest of his or her life. Katniss, despising the Capitol and its stranglehold on her people, leaps to volunteer instead for the Games when her little sister is chosen by lot to participate.
Katniss is a hunter, a profession strictly forbidden by the Capitol. That's the skill she brings to the Games. That's the skill that keeps her alive -- that and a caring heart. The games begin, and Katniss runs into the forest to try to figure out not so much how to triumph, but how to survive.
Twelve Districts: twenty-four teens -- called "Tributes" to euphemize the executions of children of the once-rebellious lands -- and all but one of those will die. Each youth enters the arena knowing that his or her life is about to end, unless he or she can manage to outlive or kill all the others.
Not really touched on deeply in the movie is that while every child of eligible age has his or her name put into the lottery, the name is never removed until the child dies in the Games. Each year, the child's name is put in again; and the Capitol encourages the perpetually hungry district families to barter for extra food by putting their child's name in the lottery over and above that. You want enough to eat? Sacrifice your child.
Jennifer Lawrence is at the center of this movie, and impressed me very much with the range of her acting ability. What she brought to the screen makes me want to read all three books again, imagining her in the main character's role. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta was also apt; and while the film rolled, I even forgot that Woody Harrelson was more real than his character Haymitch -- and that's saying something, considering how much I loathe Harrelson.
This movie is earning every penny it's making.
Okay, so I didn't read the books. I was busy.
Not having read the books, in my opinion, was not a liability in going to see the movie. There are, after all, lots of publications in which I only look at the pictures. In fact, I think that in some cases not having read the book can be an advantage when going to see a movie. I can judge the movie on its own merits.
That said, I was prepared not to like The Hunger Games. I anticipated that this would be another movie in which the central theme is killing is always the right answer. Admit it, in our media we are totally fascinated with killing. We like professional killers, we like machines that kill, we admire people that kill well, and we laugh at funny killings. Did you laugh, for instance, when Indiana Jones shot the sword-swinging turbaned guy in The Temple of Doom? And weren't you impressed when the geeky computer nerd kid in Live Free or Die Hard finally learned how to kill at the end of the movie when he shoots the bad guy? And aren't the new breed of tough women, like Alice in the Resident Evil films, Selene in the Underworld movies or Mallory in Haywire really hot because they can kill real good?
And yet, I wasn't prepared to embrace the idea that this concept should make its way down to kids. I didn't want kids killing kids to be cool. I didn't want to be entertained by this kind of spectacle. Maybe, I was even a little concerned that I had allowed myself to become so calloused about killing that I might see kids killing kids as entertaining.
Fortunately, The Hunger Games is not about killing. Yes, there is killing. It is a constant presence. But the story is about a young woman caught up in things far bigger than herself who does not want to sell out her humanity for fame and glory in a system that is intrinsically evil. The handling of this story reminded me of The Empire of the Sun, Spielberg's 1987 classic (and a movie that I think is in the top three movies of all time). In that movie, World War II is ever-present, just over the horizon, shaping everything in the movie, but the War is never really seen. The story stays focused on a young boy's experiences in a world at war.
In The Hunger Games, the barbaric rituals of the Hunger Games are the backdrop for the story, and we are introduced to the enough of the political details for us to understand the setting, but the main character, Katniss Everdeen, is the focus of this story. She is unwillingly sucked into something which for her is an abomination, a pointless, heartless, meaningless threat, a dragon that swoops from the sky to devour children. When the dragon swoops toward her younger sister, Katniss instinctively throws herself in front of her sister, volunteering herself in her sister's stead.
This is a story of goodness, fidelity and honor and how those values can be tested to the limit, and how in that time of testing, it is not always clear what the right course of action is. That's the way life really seems at times, and perhaps that's why the story has resonated so well with young people. In telling this story, the film succeeded unexpectedly well by virtue of good writing and a strong performance by Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Katniss. I was drawn into the story and found myself thoroughly involved with Katniss and her plight.
I was not overly impressed with some of the artistic choices made by the director. The audience has to endure way too much jiggly realism shots that looked like they were filmed by the director running after the action with a camera attached to the brim of his beer hat. I'm not sure why he decided to do this. I found it annoying. Fortunately he did less of it as the movie went on, either because he got tired of running or because he ran out of beer.
For a movie that I was not expecting to like, I ended up liking this one a lot. Should you go see it at the movies? Well, you might if you don't want to be the only one not to have seen it. It looks like a real box office blockbuster. And if you did, you'd get your money's worth.