Film Review: The Hunger Games
The Hungers Games
Director: Gary Ross (2012)
A friend, yes I have one, became so addicted to reading, The Hunger Games Trilogy, she once didn’t shower before meeting me just so she could fit in, ‘a few more pages’. I spoke to other, ‘literary-orientated’ friends of mine, yes they exist, and, while none of them showed the same lack of concern for personal hygiene, they all agreed the trilogy was worth a read. Frustratingly, none of them would actually explain to me just what it was about H-Games (See what I did there), that made it worth the allocation of my precious time, the best explanation was a short, jumbled summation; ‘a bunch of teenagers have to fight to the death’, followed by ‘it’s political commentary about violence…………………..and a bunch of teenagers have to fight to the death’ concluded by ‘There’s this nation, and they have a game every year where a bunch of teenagers have to fight to the death’. All of which sounded like an American middle-class version of ‘Battle Royale’. Eventually, I gave the trilogy the old flick through, and only have the following to add; H-Games is a well written, American, middle-class version of Battle Royale. At least the first book is, the second book, well that’s not so well written, or like Battle Royale, and don’t even get me started on the third one, if anyone’s just starting H-Games, hope you like the idea of a Sci-fi Twilight, cause that’s what you’re fucking reading…….
And now I have to confess, I only read the books because I watched the film, (My first everspecial pre-screening incidentally), and I wanted to see how they compared. The answer, quite well actually, for the most part the film’s a skinnier version of the book, with some of the more gruesome moments softened. The only real issue I have is, whereas the book felt like an American, middle-class version of Battle Royale, the film opted to be more of a white, American middle-class version of Battle Royale. I’ll get to being, ‘that guy’ later, for now, I’ll stop rambling about unwashed friends and use a paragraph or two to give
myself a plot summary.
………………………Commencing Plot Summary; In one of those crap futures, the USA has gone the way of Mad Max. Replacing everyone’s favourite superpower is the nation of Panem, which consists of a capital where rich white people and Lenny Kravitz swing, and 13 colonies inhabited by the poor. The 13 colonies get called districts and colonies interchangeably throughout the film, so I will proceed in the same vein. At some point in Panem’s history, the districts all got tired of being poor and rose up, they lost, and one of the colonies (district 13) was obliterated. As punishment, the others have to go through a ritual that involves picking a male and female aged between 12 and 18 to compete in ‘The Hunger Games’. The Hunger Games is basically a huge fight to the death between the 24 participants, all for the entertainment of the rich white folks and Lenny Kravitz. The winner receives food, fame and an annoyingly open ending. In most of the colonies, a lottery is held to decide who competes, but some of the districts have academies where they train teenagers to volunteer for H-games, and become psychotic.
The film begins in district 12, 12-18 something Katniss Everdeen (a rather good Jennifer Lawrence) spends her days hunting deer and being tomboyish. Then, her frail younger sister gets selected for the H-Games. Katniss loves her sister, so she volunteers for the H-games instead, because leaving your frail sister to starve with your clinically depressed mother is better than letting her die honourably, and thus we have ourselves a plot. Along the way, Katniss meets Peeta (Josh Hutchinson), colony 12’s male participant, trainers Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch Abernathy (suspected prom crasher Woody Harrelson). There’s are also cameos from Donald Sutherland as a generically evil president in an orchard, Stanley Tucci as a television talk show host, and Lenny Kravitz as a fashion designer…………..plot summary finishes.
I’m not quite ready to be ‘that guy’ yet, so instead, here’s some opinion about H-games as a film adaptation………………………… it’s ok…….
Still not ready to be ‘that guy’, so I guess I’ll go more in depth into the topic of adaptation. The problem with a film being an adaptation of a book, (as opposed to theme park ride or holy non-existent god, a Bob Dylan song), is it will very rarely, if ever, achieve the same depth as the source material. There’s just too much of a difference between novels and screenplays, I’m not trying to say adaptations can’t be good, some are excellent, but even adaptations I love, Akira, Fight Club, Jurassic Park, Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, all had to deviate and trim their subject matter. It’s not so much of an issue when it’s an adaptation of a ‘bad’ or ‘lower end’ novel, where the subject matter is just begging to hit the proverbial cutting room floor, but in a good novel, depth of story is important and usually everything ties together. The end result is a film adaptation will never feel as well-rounded or deep as it’s novel, there just isn’t time.
H-games actually makes a pretty good effort to stick to its source material, but inevitably has to make room somewhere, in this case, with the other competitors in the H-games itself. In the book, all the competitors get their own little character moments, and are pretty well rounded, which is part of what makes the story so engrossing, there’s a lot of shades of grey moments where you find yourself feeling awkward about rooting for Katniss when some of the other players are just as deserving of the win. In the film, well, four are psychos, one runs around a lot, and the rest are……….nope, already forgotten. Even an important character like Peeta doesn’t get time to explain why he spends the first half of the H-games hanging around with four psychotic arseholes instead of Katniss, a pretty important point, you would think, given that the same psychotic arseholes are focused solely on killing Katniss and little else. So the actual H-games segment is pretty thin and un-engaging, Katniss kills, protects and avoids a bunch of characters that I have no reason to care about.
There’s also the nagging fact it’s a 12-A, so pretty much every violent moment is cut out or edited to be ‘bloodless’. There were a bunch of shocking moments in the book which had me shaking my head like I’d just read Game of Thrones, but they became little more than fodder in the film. Every other flaw is from the source material itself. There’s a point about two thirds into H-games, where you can tell the writer, Suzanne Collins, decided there was going to be a sequel, from that point on, everything gets conveniently tied up without Katniss having to do anything major. It’s a bit like if halfway through Star Wars, Episode 1, A New Hope, Lord Vader suddenly announced he was Luke and Leia’s father, resigned from the Galactic Empire and it was then revealed The Emperor had died peacefully in his sleep, leaving the rest of the army to become missionaries who spread the word of the force across the galaxy. A happy ending of sorts, but not very exciting. Also the ending of H-Games is annoyingly………………hang on
Vader is Luke’s father
The end of H-games is annoyingly open and unfulfilling, another flaw inherited from the book.
For all that, don’t think H-Games isn’t worth a watch, it most definitely is. The cast may not be all-star, but its all-talent with everyone pulling their weight. It’s also surprisingly character driven; the action is handled deftly, while the story focuses on the characters, creating room for lots of interesting dialogue scenes. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s anathema to some of the recent Hollywood dross that’s passed lately (Rise of the Plant of the Apes take a bow).
I’ll finish by being that guy…… so in the book there’s a class divide, a divide which seems to be defined by geography. Born in The Capitol, you’re deserving of luxury and riches, born in a colony/district, you’re a traitor who deserves to be poor. Segregation is maintained through control over education and resources. Importantly, this inequality stays firmly in the realms of class, in fact there’s a sense of gender equality, yes, in the style of the classic patriarchal society we know and love, the leaders are all male, but at no point is there the suggestion that Katniss is disadvantaged by being female. The same happens with race, in the book, race seems like a sub issue, it barely gets mentioned, and a picture is painted of a future where gender, age and race as concepts have all fallen by the wayside to that of class. It’s an interesting take on the route a future empire could take, an interesting take that the film chooses to completely undermine………..by designating all its black characters to a single colony. That’s right; all the black characters in The Hunger Games film, all come from one colony (except Lenny Kravitz of course, he’s the exception that proves the rule), the only colony, incidentally, that has a massive riot during proceedings. There have been suggestions that the writers tried to make up for this by making the ‘good’ characters black, Lenny Kravitz, weak girl competitor that Katniss protects, guy who also tries to protect weak girl competitor, but that’s a cop-out out best. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a guy who loves a well-timed race joke, and a Morgan Freeman enthusiast, so I don’t tend to go for this, ‘the majority of films are racist’ view of American cinema, but even I’m hard pressed to find a, none ‘the KKK have started funding films’, explanation for why you’d bother trying to insert this sort of subtext. It’s just so unnecessary and clumsy, almost like H-Games was deliberately marketing itself to a white middle class audience.
If you wanted to rally against an inherently racist American studio system, then you could probably begin said rally by making a list of overtly racist Hollywood films, and then start said list with H-games, and you know what my friend, if you did that, I wouldn’t argue with you, and that kind of makes me sad.
Written by Sam ‘Needs cleaner friends’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
See HFP’s videos at www.youtube.com/MrHFProductions
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