Friday, November 14, 2014

Film Friday: The Hunger Games

NOTE: Part 1 in a three-part series leading up to Mockingjay, Part 1.

"But it's kids killing kids."

That's what friends and co-workers would say whenever I mentioned Suzanne Collins' novel The Hunger Games. The story of a heroine in a post-apocalyptic North America taking part in a gladiatorial game to the death is a hard sell to people unaware of the novel's first half. Supposedly, the novel was conceived by Collins after flipping through television channels and seeing a reality television show then footage from the Iraq war. With that in mind, the novel's first half is the best part because it's able to set the tone for the unsettling action to follow. The early scenes of The Reaping, where main character Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her much younger sister Prim in the games, and the pomp and circumstance surrounding the state-sanctioned games are all a bit unnerving in that it isn't all that far off from reality.

My favorite scene in both the book and the subsequent film has nothing to do with the games or the arena. It's when the contestants, or "tributes" as they are called, are interviewed by television hose Caesar Flickerman. The crowds adore the tributes, yet everyone knows those same contestants are heading into certain death...and the crowds are entertained (cue Gladiator's Maximus "Are you not entertained?) There's jabs at high society, all adorned in ridiculously over-the-top fashions, wagering over who will survive the games The dark satire, practically embodied by the oft-quoted "May the odds be ever in your favor," plus elements of class warfare, poverty, and government oppression elevate the series above its YA post-apocalyptic brethren.

My one complaint in the book is the graphic descriptions of some of the tributes' deaths once the games begin. There were whole pages that I was like "Yeesh, that's a gruesome way to go," followed by me quickly turning the page. However, despite those few pages, the book has something to say about modern culture that rises above the gladiatorial fray. It's worth a read. Rating: 3.5/5 stars.

When The Hunger Games film debuted in March 2012, the fate of a studio was riding on it. Lionsgate was fending off a takeover attempt by activist shareholder Carl Icahn and the studio plunked down $78 million to make the film. They hired director Gary Ross, who I enjoyed previously from when he directed Seabiscuit (but he's also known for directing Pleasantville), and Collins herself helped write the script.

The film made Jennifer Lawrence, who was already an ascending star via Winter's Bone and X-Men: First Class, a household name. But the movie's strength is in its supporting cast, namely Stanley Tucci as Flickerman, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy and Donald Sutherland as the villainous President Snow. Tucci is outstanding as Flickerman and really drives home the satire of the reality television show that is the games. Harrelson is likeable as Katniss' drunk mentor and Sutherland has arguably the best line in the movie when he speaks about containing the spark of hope against an oppressive regime. Below is the scene where Katniss is interviewed by Flickerman...

Thankfully, the book's more poignant points don't get diluted in the jump to celluloid, though some minor side characters are left out. The biggest example is Madge, the daughter of the mayor of District 12, who gives the famous mockingjay pin to Katniss (in the movie, Katniss gives it to her sister Prim, who then returns it to Katniss). Also, I thought the movie gave more of a sense of place, since you can very easily tell the filmmakers shot in North Carolina and Appalachia, where District 12 is said to be in the novel. The movie handles the violence better than the book, mostly through the use of shaky cam and quick cuts so as to keep a PG-13 rating. As a result, I usually tell people interested in the movie but concerned about the violence to see the movie rather than read the book. This is one of the few properties that breaks my rule of "book first, then movie." Rating: 4/5 stars

And it's more than just "kids killing kids."

Have you seen The Hunger Games? Are you excited for Mockingjay Part 1?

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