By JAMES MELVILLE
This is the first year I haven’t made up a movie to review for April Fool’s Day. I decided to write about The Hunger Games instead, because it’s more culturally relevant.
The Hunger Games (2012):
Plot: In the future, some kind of global conflict has collapsed America and replaced it with the airline-sounding Panem, which is divided into twelve working-class districts surrounding one decadent capital known as the Capitol. Each year, two teenagers—a boy and a girl—are randomly chosen to participate in the “Hunger Games.” This entails going into the woods and killing each other. The last teen standing is the winner. The film follows two teens from District 12, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Together, they learn the values of teamwork, human life, and quick reflexes.
One of the more interesting things about the film is the director, Gary Ross’s (Big, Seasbiscuit) decision to use shaky cam. Not just in the fight scenes, either. All the time. The camera tells the audience where to look, which can get annoying sometimes. It’s supposed to let us see things from Katniss’ perspective, but there are times when it feels like we’re being led by the hand. I like holding hands as much as the next guy, but not if your hands are also holding my eyes. I…think you over-extended your metaphor.
The performances, on the other hand, are generally decent. The two leads stand out especially, and do a good job of lending gravity and depth to roles that didn’t always have much to spare. Jennifer Lawrence plays tough well, but also manages to come across as maternal when the script requires her to be.
Josh Hutcherson is perfectly likeable as her counterpart. Peeta balances out Katniss’ rough edges and social ineptitude with charisma and a canny ability to read situations and people. Hutcherson, by the way, is growing up to be quite the charming young man.
Lenny Kravitz is also in the film, giving what I can only imagine to be the best performance of his career. My brain is telling me that his character’s name is Cinnamon. IMDB is telling me that it’s Cinna. I was close.
The violence in the film is very tastefully done. It is, after all, PG-13. Still, I’ve heard people say that they wished the film had been more violent. I get that. It would raise the stakes and make some of the more dramatic moments hit harder. But the point of the movie isn’t to send Katniss on a Heart of Darkness-type journey, and that’s kind of where heavier violence would lead. Think about it. According to the rules, twenty-three people have to die before she can go home. This isn’t a movie where a sixteen year-old is going to deal with the horrifying implications of her situation.
Unless you want a sequel about Katniss dealing with PTSD and a crap ton of guilt, R isn’t really the way to go. The Hunger Games is a pretty standard lead-in to a young hero taking on an Evil Empire, not an existential meditation on the violence inherent in all of humanity—that’s Nicholas Winding Refn territory. Nor is The Hunger Games really a satire of the American government, or even the media. Sure, there’s elements of that, especially in the first half, but the story is more about the sacrifices Katniss makes than anything else. The film brings up a lot of moral issues and potential for some pretty heavy shit. Once it gets to the second half, however, everything pretty much goes how you’d expect it to, with some action movie clichés thrown in for good measure.
Would the movie have been better if it had abandoned those clichés? Well, yeah. For some reason, people tend to think that “good adaptation” is synonymous with “accurate translation.” By that definition, a good adaptation just puts the images from the book onto the screen, maybe cutting a few boring parts to save time. Changing anything more is “wrong.”
To quote a movie I helped make in high school: “Sometimes, doing the wrong thing is doing the best thing.” There are times when the best thing for an adaptation to do is to not try to be totally accurate. An adaptation should be a good movie before it’s anything else. You’ll always have your imagination. If you don’t like the movie, that’s fine. The book is still there.
The Hunger Games wins points for accuracy and performances, but would have been better if it had stuck a little less closely to the novel. I did enjoy it, though. Really. I just needed to get all that adaptation stuff off my chest.
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