Previously on A Legally Black Blog, I reviewed Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows”, a film that has been appearing on certain movie reviewers’ lists of the worst films of 2012. Yes, it was a disappointment but personally I didn’t think it was that terrible of a movie. Today’s post deals with a film on the other side of the spectrum. Yes, Lionsgate Entertainment hyped the SHIT out of this film. And yes, it has appeared on many Best Films of 2012 lists since its release. And yeah, this film is possibly the inspiration behind R&B superstar Alicia Keys’ latest single “Girl on Fire” (a song that has drilled itself completely into my skull). What I’m referring to, of course, is….. (cue dramatic movie trailer guy voice here) “THE HUNGER GAMES”.
For those who forgot or didn’t give a shit back then, “The Hunger Games” (directed by Gary Ross) is the latest film adaptation of an insanely popular series of novels to hit the big screen since the epic Harry Potter film series and the not-so-epic (more like a fucking soap opera, if you ask me, but with expressionless vampires and snarly werewolves) “Twilight Saga”. Based on the first book in the appropriately-titled Hunger Games Trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” focuses on Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year old girl who partakes in…you guessed it….The Hunger Games – an annual event where kids between 12 and 18 compete in a battle to the death. The books received positive feedback from reviewers and authors, though the author was accused of ripping off the premise of the controversial 1999 novel “Battle Royale”, by Japanese author Koushun Takami. Interestingly enough, Suzanne denied these accusations, stating that she never heard of “Battle Royale” until she turned in the first Hunger Games book.
Even more interesting, and perhaps coincidental, was the decision to turn “The Hunger Games” into a Hollywood movie. In 2000,”Battle Royale” was adapted into a BRILLIANT feature-length film. The movie itself caused an uproar in Japan, due to scenes of brutal violence (all involving teenagers) and its negative portrayal of the school system. Throughout the years, it received critical acclaim, mostly from Western film critics. Quentin Tarantino even rated the film as the best he’s ever seen since his directorial career began in 1992. Anyhoo, plans were made by New Line Cinema in 2006 to do an American remake of “Battle Royale”. However, after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and an Internet backlash concerning the rating of the film as PG-13, those plans were put on hold. Three years later, Lionsgate Entertainment released the AWESOME (and deservedly R-rated) superhero satire “Kick-Ass”, which showcased young adults in costumes killing their (adult) enemies for the sake of truth and justice, to much acclaim. Whether Lionsgate Entertainment’s decision to adapt “The Hunger Games” for the big screen has anything to do with New Line Cinema’s unwillingness to remake “Battle Royale” or its breakthrough in having an eleven-year old girl curse, shoot and stab her way into cult stardom, is anyone’s guess. Or maybe they simply wanted to cash in on the success (and I use that word loosely) of the “Twilight” movie franchise. But whatever the reason was, the film became a critical and commercial success, and plans are already underway to adapt the second Hunger Games novel “Catching Fire”.
I must admit that I was one of many who saw “The Hunger Games” during its opening weekend in March, and I did enjoy the film for what it was. But I chose not to write a review, since I felt it would reflect the comments of those who were swept away by the overwhelming hype surrounding the film, both before and after its release. So I decided to wait until the hype completely died down before I would watch the film and review it. However, due to laziness and a complete lack of good shit to watch in cinema right now, I am now writing this review. In September. Shame on me, I know.
So about those Hunger Games…
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, our story is set in Panem, a North American nation made up of the Capitol (where rich bastards live) and 12 districts (where the poor people live). After the 13th district was decimated during a rebellion against the Capitol, the remaining 12 districts must face punishment. For 73 years, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected by an annual lottery (called “The Reaping”) to partake in the televised “battle royale” (Ah-haaa! Get it?) known as the Hunger Games. The last participant (or “tribute”) standing will be rewarded with fame and wealth. When Primrose Everdeen, a 12-year old girl from District 12, is selected as tribute, her 16-year old sister Katniss volunteers to take her place. Along with Peeta Mellark, the son of a baker, Katniss is the latest tribute from District 12.
Both Katniss and Peeta are taken to the ultramodern Capitol where they undergo a crash course in weapons training (excluding guns for some reason). They also meet the adult, drunk-ass Haymitch Abernathy, a former victor of the Hunger Games. He regularly gives them advice on how to gain audience support, since popularity is key in obtaining gifts of medicine or food from “sponsors”. Slowly but surely, Katniss and Peeta win the admiration of the audience – mostly due to Peeta’s confessed feelings for Katniss and Katniss’ amazing skills with a bow and arrow. A few days later, they’re taken from the Capitol and placed into a forest where the “battle royale” begins. With 22 more individuals set on survival by any means necessary, the question remains: who will be the victor of the 74th Hunger Games?
Katniss Everdeen – Jennifer Lawrence
Peeta Mellark – Josh Hutcherson
Gale Hawthorne – Liam Hemsworth
Haymitch Abernathy – Woody Harrelson
Effie Trinket – Elizabeth Banks
Cinna – Lenny Kravitz
Caesar Flickerman – Stanley Tucci
Seneca Crane – Wes Bentley
Rue – Amandla Stenberg
Primrose Everdeen – Willow Shields
President Coriolanus Snow – Donald Sutherland
MY THOUGHTS: Let me get this out of the way, first and foremost. I never finished reading the “Hunger Games” novel. I started reading it a week before the movie came out (in a failed attempt to “hype” myself for the film) and I stopped somewhere in Chapter 5 or some shit. So I will not judge this film in the annoying way a Harry Potter fan(atic) criticizes the movies for “leaving out too much from the books”. This is a movie review, and as such, I’ll review “The Hunger Games” as a movie and not as one that must follow every detail from the source material. So let’s begin.
Jennifer Lawrence – wow, does she deliver a great performance in “The Hunger Games”. Not Oscar-worthy great, mind you, but a performance that holds up for hours after you’ve seen this film. Most fans of the Hunger Games novels were hesitant when they heard that Jennifer would play the protagonist Katniss, and some complained that she didn’t fully capture the essence of the character (one of the main ridiculous controversies surrounding the film). So I guess that strong acting, dying your hair black and learning how to use a fucking bow and arrow doesn’t account for anything, I guess. Sigh! The rest of the cast, from Elizabeth Banks who looks like the equivalent of an elderly Lady Gaga, to Lenny Kravitz who proves that he actually has some acting capabilities (ain’t that some shit?), impress as well. The music by James Newton Howard matches the film’s somber tone, and the mostly hand-held camerawork provide a gritty, documentary-like feel to the movie. However, the film is a tad bit long, and the pacing is uneven at certain times. The actual battle-to-the-death competition in the forest alone (which was heavily advertised in the trailers and TV spots for the film) occurs after the first hour of the film. Even though there are interesting things which occur in the first half of the film, the viewer shouldn’t have to wait that long for the Hunger Games to actually begin. And speaking of the “Games”, the second hour itself is filled to the brim with tension, thrills and emotion. The violence in the film is indeed PG-13-friendly, and edited with such ease that the deaths in the film feel more dramatic than they actually are. On the downside, you’re forced to care for only Jennifer Lawrence’s and Josh Hutcherson’s characters (and to a certain extent, Amandla Stenberg who plays the 12-year old Rue) and no one else. The other combatants exist merely as obstacles for our heroes. We’re never given a glimpse into their lives or their individual psyche, and we’re never provided with a legitimate reason, apart from survival, as to why they would resort so quickly to acts of violence. On a whole, “The Hunger Games” isn’t perfect, but it is a very good film nonetheless. I actually enjoyed the film a little more on my second viewing, and I may probably appreciate it even more with subsequent viewings. It isn’t “Battle Royale”, but it is a damn good substitute.
SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM? Even though it was way too over-hyped for a teen-oriented sci-fi movie, “The Hunger Games” is actually worth looking at – at least once. If you’re looking for something darker that will hit you in the gut instead of the heart, I strongly recommend “Battle Royale”. It’s undoubtedly one of the best Japanese films ever made, and it’s actually one of my favourite movies from the Land of the Rising Sun. If teenager-on-teenager violence really isn’t your thing, then there’s always “The Twilight Saga”. At least it has expressionless vampires and snarly werewolves in it. I’m just saying.
MY RATING – 3 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Worth a look”)