Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Hungering for something more substantial
Poor, dead Rue.
As you've probably guessed, I'm not terrifically into The Hunger Games. I haven't read the book, regarding it pretty much as a hybrid rip-off of Battle Royale and The Running Man. And, as a caveat to this review, I'll add that I do tend to get pissed off when I see adults reading teen fiction, and have lumped Hunger Games in with Twilight and Harry Potter on a number of occasions whilst bemoaning everything that's wrong with readers - as opposed to writers - today. As a result I also tend to get pissed off when they inevitably make a film of said book and obssessed fans queue for days before the movie opens. I figure it's probably more than a little bit of jealousy - the life of a struggling writer is full of rejection, and seeing someone else's work become universally loved and accepted can rankle, especially when in your own opinion it is just a bit rubbish.
I'm going to try and avoid complaining about that sort of stuff in this review. I said 'try'. No promises.
I was determined to give The Hunger Games a chance, though. I'm trying hard these days to be more forgiving and also not to hate things just because everyone else likes them.
I saw The Hunger Games on cheap night at a large cineplex, a week after its release, and it was absolutely mobbed. Despite that, it was a mixed audience. Some were obvious fans, inhaling in shock every time a character got axed, while others were giggling whenever a particularly bad piece of dialogue came out, and in particular about three quarters of the way through when it all turned into a troglodyte version of One Tree Hill for about ten or fifteen minutes.
The film suffers from the same maladay that a lot of book adaptations do, where it feels like they've tried to cram too much into two and a half hours, and somehow it still feels as if they've missed the point of the film. Characters like Lenny Kravitz's gentle stylist Cinna do nothing to advance plot or particularly develop characters, but have been crammed in for the sake of appeasing fans. Even Woody Harrelson, as Haymitch the carmudgeonly trainer, though he gets a comparatively large amount of screen time and gives a likeable performance, doesn't really move the story along. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket really only serves to make the audience despise the effete upper classes of the film's society, and she does that more by being annoying rather than by being morally repulsive (in actuality, the smaller characters like Cinna and everyone else who is involved in running the games do this far more effectively with their complicity in the children's destruction). Liam Hemsworth could have been cut out entirely, and when the film periodically cuts back to him watching in District 12 I found myself struggling to remember who he was and what was his deal, anyway?
Then there are the tributes. There are 24 of them, but apart from the ever-brilliant Jennifer Lawrence's stoic action-girl Katniss, and Josh Hutcherson's surprisingly dislikable Peeta, we know precisely jack about any of them. This prevents you from feeling anything much when they are inevitably hacked to death. The only time the death of a tribute managed to elicit an emotional response from me was in the case of poor Rue, and that was more to do with the fact that she looked basically angelic than detailed character development. The 'bad' kids are even worse. Yes, we know they've been trained from birth to be utter badasses, but they can't shoot arrows for shit and at the end one of them has a completely unexpected meltdown (hey, it is reality TV, I suppose).
I hate to keep drawing a parallel between the two, but Battle Royale, despite having twice as many characters, somehow does a better job at making you care about these kids that are murdering one another, and it's 35 minutes shorter.
The film does seem to contradict its own message in some ways, though. It is, I've been told, a story about resistance. The thing that I liked best about it, and I don't know if it was intentional or not, is the way that the protagonists almost always end up doing exactly what the dominant social order wants them to do. I think it's interesting that by bringing Katniss into the Hunger Games and forcing her to kill, they've made her part of the violent and oppressive system she hates, while she rationalises to herself she didn't have a choice. It's only by playing the game the way the totalitarian government wants them to that they are able to prevail. In fact, the only time they really attempt to go against the grain is when they threaten to commit suicide, and they don't even go through with it. I'm not sure if the message is that you can't stand up to the system or that you can.
Now that you mention it, the whole fact that they seemed to have kickstarted a revolution with their inspirational young love story seems a bit contrived. Think about it. This is the 74th Hunger Games they've had, right? Is this really the first time people have gotten angry and started rioting when the government had their kids put to death on live TV? I'm no expert on stirring up angry mobs, but if I wanted to stoke a revolution, I think a televised child murder might be a pretty good catalyst.
Overall, I think there was too much paving the way for the inevitable trilogy that we're going to be watching for the next three to five years (I bet they split the third book into two to make more cash). Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who I suspect might have a more prominent role in the next one, could have been cut out altogether, and if I had been making it I would have been tempted just to mash Wes Bentley and Donald Sutherland's character into one to save on time. That would have left more time for us to actually get to know the characters and made the film that much more effective.
Actually, the thing that has intrigued me, far more than the movie itself, has been the online reaction from fans of the book. I'm guessing the people who threw a racist hissy fit because they realised Rue was black aren't regular readers. If they were, they would have been able to extrapolate her appearance by actually reading and understanding the descriptions. I have to say, I have been pretty surprised that many people who don't ever read, let alone read sci-fi, read the book, simply because everyone else was into it. It shouldn't reflect badly on The Hunger Games, really. If it's the only book a moron ever reads, I guess Suzanne Collins has made that moron a better person, if only very slightly.
Dammit, I said I would avoid talking about this sort of thing. I digress - racism is evil, stupid and wrong, and all these people who said Rue shouldn't be black and her death meant less because of it should be sent to the Chamber of Mountain of Knives (my favourite chamber in Diyu). Those guys are idiots. Here at The Crayfish Diaries, we love adorable Rue. That's why she gets the main pic. Go Rue!
And what's all this crap people are spewing about Jennifer Lawrence being overweight? Are you effing kidding me?
This is a picture of Jennifer Lawrence not being fat.
Seriously, no wonder young women today have a skewed sense of what a normal body looks like. She's got boobs, but she's slender as hell compared to the average woman. She kind of has a round face, but fat? Are we so saturated with waifs that a young woman with hips is automatically classified as fat? Fie upon you, sexist critics! They should be forced to climb the Bronze Toaster.
CONCLUSION: The Hunger Games is an average film, at least 30 minutes too long, but reasonably enjoyable, if slightly contrived. Oh, and people are idiots.