"Sure, its world is a little broken, but its people are shattered."
Teen books making the transition to movies defiantly don’t have the best reputation at the moment. Though Harry Potter was... passable, it wasn’t anything to set your watch to. The vampire incident, I can’t even bring myself to write about. So you can understand why I was extremely cautious as I approached a midnight screening for the Hunger Games.
There are two things to note when you read this.
The first is probably the most important. I have not read any of the books. I also have no intention of doing so. I have heard mostly positive things about them, but as books they fall into an extremely diverse arena where they can and will be outshone. And this is where I think their movie iterations will become very important. There aren’t that many respectable uses of dystopian worlds in cinema at the moment. The technological pessimism of the 70s, 80s, and 90s is over. Public interest has shifted to mankind slowly euthanizing our environment and our economy rather than building T-800s. We just don’t make nihilism like we used to. Now as I’m sure I’ve said somewhere before: I don’t give a rat’s ass if “that one part makes so much more sense if you’ve read the book.” I’m not watching a film with a prescribed text. If you can’t translate a book into a movie with substance and its own voice, don’t do it at all.
The second important point is how late this film released in South Africa. The reason this is relevant to my opinions isn’t just due to my rage at our cinemas, it’s also because other people’s writings on the film have influenced me somewhat.
Right, now that we’ve tripped through that preamble let’s talk shop. The last decent post apocalyptic film I watched involved a blind man and a cat. If you don’t know what I’m talking about it’s probably good because I just spoilt the entire thing for you. If you do, then you might agree with me. It combined the right amount of cool and desperation that the genre needs to not depress the living hell out of you. The Hunger Games is different right off the bat, mostly because it has trees and more than one desert local, but more importantly because its desolation manifests in its people not its world. Sure, its world is a little broken, but its people are shattered.
Ironically it’s these broken people that give the Hunger Games a voice over the standard dystopia (Usual population: One incredibly skilled, silent badass and a million dirty indiscriminate cannibals.) Jennifer Lawrence is solid in her role and I’m very excited to see how she handles becoming a ruined mess as the subsequent films release. She proves that X-Men: First Class was just a bit of a hiccup. Woody Harrelson and the cleverly cast Lenny Kravitz also pay off handsomely.
They made some very good decisions with the visual design of the world, allowing the film to immerse without being distracting. The opulence and ridiculousness of the ruling class quickly becomes normal to the eye, and is never taken too far in the characters that are meant to be feared or respected. There were only one or two scenes where I felt the budget let the visuals down, the chariot scene being the major culprit. I guess it also helps the film dramatically that most of it takes place in a forest.
I was quite worried about the cinematography in early scenes, an over dose of shakey-cam that just wasn’t necessary, but the film cleans up substantially as it goes on and proceeds to shake only to distract from the R-rated brutality that it can’t show it’s largely teen audience. I had a good laugh when they make the transition from fighting one another to the CG mutts – the camera was suddenly steady, then a teenager has a weapon and is bleeding on screen and it all goes to hell again. Outside of this, I was impressed by how the film didn’t tiptoe around the violence that is so integral to it. It’s not Battle Royale, and it might be better for it.
I suppose the question comes down to: Is the Hunger Games a good movie in and of itself? If a good movie is something that keeps you watching and uninterruptedly entertained though you knew little to nothing about it when you walked in, then yes the Hunger Games is a good movie. I was particularly proud that it didn’t try to explain everything all at once. That may seem obvious, but so many films fall into this trap. If you would like to watch an entire film about just this; it’s call Inception and for some reason people thought it was clever. Interestingly the films lack of hustle to get you into the actual games gives it a wonderfully foreboding quality. At no point do you really know just how close they are to culling all the characters they have introduced; it’s like every Game of Thrones.
These days I advocate watching something before you read it, and not just because I read like a sloth. You can get everything good out of a film or TV show and still find more in the books, but for many people it doesn’t work in reverse. This creates a new generation of angry people, and we really don’t need more of them.
I guess this hasn’t been about the Hunger Games that much.
That’s why it says “Sort of” in the title.