Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Hunger Games: belated mini-review

Plans are afoot in my life that will distract from serious blogging for awhile, but I just wanted to mention that I rather loved The Hunger Games, which I finally caught up with yesterday, and urge adult filmgoers who may be lumping it in with Twilight and other teen-'tween fare and thus staying away to check it out while it is still playing theatrically. It is no great masterpiece of cinema, but will be of interest to anyone who cares about imaginative film fare; further, it is: 

a) Not so derivative of Battle Royale that it deserves to be accused of plagiarism. I was concerned about this initially but was pleased to see that The Hunger Games stands on its own merits, though Battle Royale IS an obvious precursor. (Anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games should check Battle Royale out, btw). 

b) Probably going to be the most widely-seen film of 2012 to deal explicitly with issues of class, race, and social control, though it displaces these onto a future society

c) An intelligent "dystopian game" film, belonging to a long-established genre that uses an SF scenario involving players who "break the rules" of a contest in an unjust society to get at problems in our own society. The lineage extends back through Battle Royale to The Running Man, Rollerball, and Death Race 2000. Like these films, it contains an indictment of the way media is used as a tool of social control, and challenges concepts of celebrity and glamour. Going further than these films, it also shows how romantic relationships and hopes can be manipulated as an aspect of  media/ social control; the film actually raises questions about "the politics of love," particularly where media depictions of romance are concerned. If I had a 13 year old daughter I would be DELIGHTED if she were interested in this film. Hell, I would drag her to it.

d) Highly competent and occasionally quite moving, in that classic Hollywood way - you can't but be drawn by its manipulations, obvious as some of them may be.
e) Nicely production-designed; it's a vision of the future I haven't seen before, and uses its design elements as part of the thrust of its queries (unlike, say, Michael Bay's The Island, which uses design for its own sake)

f) Reasonably respectful of the intelligence of its audience, for a mainstream commercial film; it takes awhile to enter the "world" that it crafts, is comfortable raising questions that it doesn't get around to answering right away, which is a pleasing thing. Adults will not find this a "childish" film, whatever its target market. 

g) Quite well cast; it has a terrific central performance by Jennifer Lawrence, the young actress from Winter's Bone, a much admired independent film of a couple of years ago, and has roles for both Donald Sutherland (who needs never really act again - he can just turn up and be Donald Sutherland) and Woody Harrelson (who, while a likeable fellow, I'm sure, has never REALLY seemed much of an actor, but here steps far enough outside his usual range of characterizations that I was briefly unsure, when he first appeared onscreen, if it was indeed him - a reaction I cannot recall having to any other performance he has given. Later in the film, his Woodyisms manifest, but I still think this is one of his better roles). 

That's about as ambitious a review as I have in me at the moment, but I hope it might sway a couple of you to check out this film. The 3:50 screening at the Fifth Avenue yesterday only had about five other people in the audience, so it probably won't be sticking around much longer. If you're a parent of a teen, go with them, and be on hand to talk about it with them after its over. I think you'll be very pleased, if you do. 

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