Thursday, March 22, 2012
No, This is Not Your Next Twilight.
Director: Gary Ross
Written by: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray - based on the book 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Willow Shields, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson, Amandla Stenberg, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland.
Running time: 142 min.
One day, a person gets an idea to write a book. The book gets written, then it gets published. It hits the shelves, and someone picks it up. They recommend it to their friends. These friends are most likely teenagers. Then the book spreads like wildfire throughout high schools, it becomes a talking point at lunchtime. Through that success, they make a movie. That movie becomes the most anticipated thing out. Teens queue up with their wallets filled with hope that they might get into a midnight screening. The people in the movie become favourites of teen magazines, and their pictures get plastered over the walls of a young girl's bedroom.
Yes, we had this problem with Twilight. People went insane for it, but the problem was, the backlash came. Quite a few loyal fans still hold a torch for it, and that's what keeps the unprecedented phenomenon going. The Hunger Games treads the same path. Let's just say, it takes a detour from turning into mindless teen schlock and is actually a teen cause worth getting behind.
Much has been said about The Hunger Games already, so I won't go into real specifics about the plot. There is a bit of a love triangle, and while there might be some 'Team Peeta' and 'Team Gale' action going on, this isn't your soppy werewolf/vampire fantasy. In fact, this movie is far from fantasy. It is set in post-apocalyptic America, now called Panem, which houses 12 districts and a big bright place called The Capitol. With all their riches, the Capitol holds an annual event called 'the hunger games', in which two 'tributes' from each district have to battle to the death. The last man standing wins. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are called from their district to compete in the 74th round of the games, and being from District 12, they are the outsiders. And everything goes forth from there.
The world in The Hunger Games had always struck me as a more extreme edition of the world we live in today: a rich place basking in all their glory while there are people who have to suffer. The actual 'games' are what scare me the most, because considering the way reality television and taste for violence is going, the situation is not out of the question. It surprises me how much teenagers have latched onto this phenomenon, as it doesn't make for easy reading, or easy watching for that matter. The film opens up the world of Panem perfectly - even if it doesn't care to explain what happened before it got this way (neither does the book) - showing the hardships of life in District 12, which contrasts with the bright and colourful world in the Capitol. The art direction in the film is simply superb, as is the entire make-up of the Capitol with the costumes and colours. You really do feel in a world that isn't too far from where we are now, but it doesn't seem familiar enough to us.
The games themselves are quite thrilling, but they lack a lot of the excitement that made the book such a page-turner. For a movie with a target audience a lot younger than the violence in the book would allow, it does a good job of not completely watering it down. People still die, in mostly horrific ways, and that never shies away from the screen. But one thing that they try to do to detract from full-blown violence is the use of a hand-held camera and jumping editing. You can see why they used this, as it makes it very documentary like, just as the nature of the games would have it. Most of the time, though, it is very hard to make out what is happening on screen, usually detracting from the unique set-ups that the characters have to face. I was almost begging for the camera to stop moving - it was like watching a Lars von Trier movie, but worse.
Another thing that the movie detracts from is the heart. You often get this with book-to-screen adaptations, as books can explain themselves far better. As the story is told entirely from Katniss' point of view , you spend the entire time with her. This leaves little room to pad up relationships, and most of them felt kind of slight - especially the main relationship between Katniss and Peeta, which seemed quite artificial. Jennifer Lawrence makes up for this, though, by becoming a true hero you can get behind. Her performance is exactly what you could expect from her - strong, controlled, and simply breath-taking - she draws you straight into her character from the start. Most of the actors didn't have such big characters to deal with (but Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson definitely had fun with their roles), so everyone is like a shadow under her beautiful light. To take a quote from the movie, Jennifer Lawrence is definitely the "girl on fire".
The Hunger Games exists in a place all on it's own. It has a bit of everything in it: a political allegory, violence, a love triangle, technology, poverty, a frightening look at what might be in our future...it isn't the kind of film that you can easily place into a category and hope for the best. However, it is great entertainment which comes in the worst possible way. It sends you on a roller-coaster ride filled with things that you wouldn't expect to see from such a phenomenon. The Hunger Games is high quality entertainment, with niggles likely to come from people who have read the book (not enough depth) and people who haven't read the book (again, not enough depth). But I can promise you this: it isn't a phenomenon where we can all roll our eyes at the fans of it. This is actually great material, which will only get better from here on.
No, this is not your next Twilight. The only thing that slightly bothers me about saying that is that the audience will make it out to be. If you want my advice, don't go see it this weekend. Wait for the crowds to dwindle down, and the kids to go to school. I am one of those teenage fangirls and I was extremely annoyed at how immature the crowd was at the fully booked screening I went to. When I subtract them from my experience, I am immensely happy with the way it came out. This is entertainment for the teens who actually think, and goodness knows, it is about time we got something like that.
What I got: