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Review of The Hunger Games

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[According to the news...The Hunger Games made a record breaking 155 million in its debut. Also everyone wore hoodies today in support of the unarmed black teen who was killed in Florida by a white neighborhood watch volunteer.]

The audience was quiet, not a lot of text messaging. Also, very crowded. Reminding me of why I don't like movie theaters. There's no leg room in them. Also you have to wait in line for the bathroom.

Prior to the film listened to an absurd exchange:

Gal: Whose your favorite character? Mine's Peeta.
Guy: Well...while I read the books, about halfway through the reading, my brain stops registering words and it just becomes a film inside my brain, so I can't remember the names and they get reduced to three syllable words if that.
Gal: That's interesting...
Guy: So who is Peeta again?
(The rest was muddled).

The movie though was quite good, a lot better than expected. I always go in with low expectations - because films adapted from books that I enjoyed or loved often don't work or live up to expectations. The film in my head often doesn't match the film onscreen, although I'm not like the Guy above, I see the words. It's Not the music video I half-expected from the trailers and hyped-up soundtrack. There's no Taylor Swift ballad or a Rap number. There are no songs at all during the movie - outside of the one that Katniss sings. I'm guessing they role during the credits, which I did not stay for.

In some respects I prefer the film to the book - it's more compact, less meandering, and we get more focus on what is happening outside of Katniss. First person close pov can be ponderous at times. So, the satire comes through a bit more as a result of not being hampered by the first person close pov. The Hunger Games is also an example of how you can balance emotional and satirical elements without becoming offensive (to the very people you agree with) or muddled. Having seen others attempt to do the same thing...and either fail on the side of "over-kill" or are far too subtle/muddled ...the Hunger Games filmmakers hit just the right balance. (Joss Whedon and Ryan Murphy should take notes.)

The acting is pitch-perfect. Surprisingly so. Jennifer Lawrence is as good, if not better here, as she was in 2010's Winter's Bone - the film which garnered her an academy award nomination and won her the part. And Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch with the cynically sly edge of pained resignation coupled with rebellious calculation. They remove Haymitch's drunked antics at the reaping from the film - which is just as well since it would have extended the sequence and brought unnecessary humor to the proceedings. In the book it works - but in a film, most likely not. As for the two male leads, Josh Hutchinson has the edge...with more screen time, and manages to convey the charisma and the innocence of Peeta in the novels. The boy who falls in love with Katniss from afar, but can never quite win her. It's not really an unrequited love tale or a star-crossed lovers one. It's anti-violence, anti-reality show tale.

The filmmakers make the smart move of focusing on character, performance, and dialogue, over special effects, eliminating some of the more horrifying acts of the games. No mutated creatures that bear an uncanny resemblance of all the tributes who died - thank heavens. Not something I wanted to see on film, and if they had attempted it, would most definitely have pulled in a R-rating.

Throughout, I found myself thinking of several recent horror movie trailers that I watched last night - and appears to be shockingly similar in concept. People come to a wilderness park, and a bunch of unseen people in a computer lab orchestrate various types of horrifying obstacles to appear in the park for either entertainment or to see how they will react - like rats in a environmental dome. Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians on Steroids. Also reminds me uncomfortably of courses that I took in behavioral and social psychology as well as the current reality show craze (which is basically social psychology done for entertainment). The threat isn't the creatures coming at you, those are just pawns or rather tools or toys of the Game-master, the true threat is the man behind the curtain creating them - a trick Frank L. Baum the creator of The Wizard of OZ came up with first - with his manipulatively sly Wizard.

The Hunger Games for those who have not read the novel is simple enough - it takes place in the distant future, in a United States that was ravaged by War and Civil Unrest. A centralized government has sprouted up at its center much like the centralized government in Whedon's Serenity and Firefly series. The centralized government, run by "President Snow", well played by a subdued and grandfatherly Donald Sutherland, who holds most of his conversations trimming his roses, keeps the 12 surrounding Districts, where it obtains its fuels and food and power in control through an annual intimidation tactic of taking two children from each district and entering them in The Hunger Games. The children will fight to the death in reality game show that bares a sly resemblance to Survivor, the far bloodier Battle Royal, and Stephen King's classic Running Man. Every portion of their lives in the games is telecast to a national audience. Complete with commentators explaining the challenges of the games, and giving a play-by-play of the action. But they don't stop with the Games, there's a "romantic" sub=plot that is equally sly and satiric, more so here than in the books - because we are distanced a bit more from it and less inside Katniss' head.

The love-triangle aspect is under-played here as it was in the books. For Katniss is as oblivious to the romantic intentions of either male as she was in the novels, her focus solely on her sister, Prim, who she is responsible for and their survival, along with the rest of their district. She plays up the romance - to save Peeta's life and her own - after Haymitch explains its necessity. But has little time or energy to focus on it. Her feelings for Gale are equally subdued, she cares about him, but her focus is solely on her sister Prim.

When it first came out, people compared it to Twilight, but it actually has more in common with Harry Potter. The romance is played like a reality show - such as the Bachelor or
Dancing with the Stars. All smiles and sunny looks. Katniss plays up the role of the "girly girl" who is so much in love - to keep herself and Peeta alive. But it is clear that she doesn't love him, she's doing everything possible to survive.

Much like the book it is based upon, the film demonstrates how violence destroys us. Kato towards the end of the film tells Katniss to kill him, that he's ready, that all he knows and is good for is to kill - to be the pride of his district, because he can kill. The proper solider. And he looks so much like Peeta, whose deepest fear is becoming Kato.

Even if you haven't read the books or avoided them, the film is worth seeing for its message is an important one. It holds a mirror up to our society, our values, shows what happens when taken to the extreme, and asks if we are willing to pay the price.