The next film on my intercontinental viewing is The Hunger Games, the adaptation of a popular book that I had never heard of before. The movie is also extremely popular, and came out a while ago, so I’m sure there is nothing I could say about it that you don’t know already. Just in case, there are spoilers here. Anyway, coming into this film, I hadn’t heard anything beyond the basic premise – a girl taking her sister’s place in a ritualized battle to the death – and the fact that the movie is sad.
Because of that, I went into this fully expecting our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, to either die or fail in some other way. But thankfully for my Hollywood-happy-ending-trained-eyes, this turns out to not be the case. The sadness of scene of the film comes at the beginning, when Katniss steps in for her hapless sister and goes off to what everyone expects will be her death. The rest of the story is less sad than it is heavy – the situation is so absolutely wrong, and (almost) everyone knows this but is completely helpless to do anything about it but just navigate the system as best they can.
Fortunately, Katniss finds some allies in the process, including a former champion / trainer played by Woody Harrelson, and a personal stylist played by Lenny Kravitz. These characters are a bit underdeveloped but still sharply defined and well portrayed. Katniss’ chief ally turns out to be the other “tribute” sent from her “home sector”, Peeta Mellark. He’s a bit of a confusing character – sometimes moody and emotional, other times able to play to the Hunger Games’ audience much better than Katniss can.
Katniss herself is Jennifer Lawrence, who I was only familiar with from X-Men First Class, in which she played the young proto-Mystique – a character who was at the heart of everything that was weird about that movie. She was fine there, but it was hard to reconcile her performance of the character with the psychotic murderer love-slave of Magneto that we see in the other films–but that’s another post, I guess. In The Hunger Games, she gives a very solid performance, making Katniss into a compelling protagonist who is sympathetic and believable. I was impressed.
Overall, the film is strongly grounded and well done, engaging me throughout. Now, it’s possible that I was more open to liking it because of what I had just watched prior (see here and here and here). Actually, after those negative experiences, I had sort of hoped that everything I watched on this flight would prove to be atrocious and have bizarre connections to each other, especially to the inaugural film, Battleship. The Hunger Games doesn’t really have these, for better (for my viewing pleasure) or worse (for this article) beyond some superficial ones – protective sibling relationships are important to both, and they both feature an older “name” actor in a small but important leadership role in order to give it greater weight: Donald Sutherland, in this case, playing the President of this horrible society.
There are some weak points – the other Games participants are only barely developed, and there was just a bit too much “get us into the experience of the protagonist” shaky camerawork for my taste. But despite that, and in spite of the way the adolescent clique-ishness displayed by the Games players made it all seem a bit petty, I was so drawn in by the environment of the film, by the world that had given rise to this grisly “celebration,” that I readily forgave such flaws. The ending is bittersweet—Katniss’ victory comes really as she learns to play a role for the camera. As a new celebrity, she must continue to play that role, possibly to her personal detriment. She has saved her life, and her sister’s life, but changed nothing else. It’s a bleak resolution, and makes me eager for a sequel.
Fortunately, I won’t have long to wait, as I’ve read that follow-on films are already underway, using the tried and true method popularized by franchises such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings of releasing subsequent films quickly, and turning some books into multiple movies – therefore helping to satisfy the desires of both the fans for a more faithful adaptation and of the film-makers for more money. I guess I don’t mind – I’m eager to enjoy the story as it unfolds.
Now I just have to avoid spoilers over the next three years.