Saturday, March 24, 2012

"The Hunger Games"

(Herr Wozzeck's Note: Oh my God, would you look at the date? Holy shit, I haven't updated this blog in forever!

I am so sorry, guys. As some of you know, my profession lies elsewhere. Unfortunately for me, though, this meant that real life caught up with me, and for a large span of time that took up most of February and the first weekend of March, I was stuck doing grad school auditions in composition. So far, my results are great (I've gotten accepted to two schools), but it's meant that this has taken a back seat. Hopefully now that that's over, though, I can get back to this with some sense of regularity.

So now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

Young adult novels... young adult novels...

What to say about them? They've got heroines. They've got plotlines. And they've got... some rather non-descriptive prose. But people also eat them up like they're going out of style. Hence, why they make good movie fodder: you adapt the latest craze into a movie, and bam, instant success.

Hence, why today's movie does stuff with that. Is it any good?

Well, let's dive right in, shall we?

The Hunger Games

Now, since this is one of those rare times where I've actually managed to read the book before seeing the movie, and seeing as how I somehow became a pretty big fan of the books once I started reading through them all (yes, I read all the way through the entire trilogy), I find that I'll have to give this movie two ratings because my judgment of the movie might be affected by how well I know the books. So one rating will be for how it stands as a movie on its own, and the other rating will be for how it stands as an adaptation.

Now, let's go on with the show, shall we?

It is the future, in North America. Now, all that's left of North America is a country called Panem. In this nation are twelve districts, and each district is under the command of the Capitol. The Capitol hosts a series of yearly games in which each district sends one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to a gladiatory contest to the death that is broadcast all across the nation (in a pointed satire/criticism of reality television), in which only one can come out victor. Stuck in one of these "Hunger Games", as they're called, is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl from District 12 who volunteers to keep her younger sister Prim out of the Games. This puts Katniss' skills to the test, and she must deal with twenty-three other tributes to survive, and hopefully to help fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) survive as well.

Now, let's get to the first rating: this movie as a movie.

Overall as a movie... well, I think that it stands on its own as an entertaining movie. Is it perfect? No. Is it good? Certainly.

I'll start off here: the acting and casting of this movie are, in a word, impeccable. Everyone is perfectly cast in their roles, and they literally become these characters. I had faith that Jennifer Lawrence would be able to play Katniss Everdeen perfectly--in a way, she already played the same sort of character in her breakout film Winter's Bone. So it was great to see that my faith in Lawrence was well placed. There are many moments throughout the film where it can't benefit from being able to glance into Katniss' mind the way the first person narration in the books can, but Lawrence perfectly conveys what her character feels, particularly during one scene relatively late in the movie pertaining to the death of a character. Everyone else is good too, but they don't get as much screentime as Lawrence. Standouts are seen from Josh Hutcherson, and from Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss and Peeta's tutor that they work with before the games. All around, the acting is stellar.

It's a bit of a shame, then, that they were stuck with director Gary Ross. Ross cannot seem to lay off of the shaky cam, and in the first hour of the film the editing can get very disorienting to the point of making one's eyes hurt. It also doesn't help that a good portion of the film's action scenes are not as well-shot as we would like. I didn't seem to have the problems with the action scenes that most people had, but sometimes the action can get a little incomprehensible, particularly in the final fight of the whole movie (which has no sense of continuity whatsoever: literally the only reason I knew what was going on was because I knew how the fight was supposed to go in the book, and that is not a good thing. The fight as seen in the movie is disjointed, confusingly edited, and uses so much shaky cam that it was almost a relief to see the camera pan back.). They could have gone with a slightly better director, I think. (I say slightly, because of one of the things with the adaptation I'll mention below.)

I also had the feeling that the movie was fighting against its own rating, though in this regard it wasn't as bad as I've seen in other examples. (*coughPriestcough*) It was unavoidable, unfortunately: some of the injuries as described in the book are actually very R-rated, considering that it's aimed at teenage girls. Given that the movie has a PG-13 rating, they had to downplay the gore. Even so, the movie manages to be as brutal as it can be, and there are some shockingly violent things that are for a PG-13 movie (such as one instance of a tribute's neck being snapped on-screen).

As for the plot... well, that ties in to how I view the movie as an adaptation. I'll get to that in the adaptation's review, but let's just say for now that while it doesn't quite get around to following through with all the digs against reality television/the American obsession with being beautiful/dictatorial governments that it sets up, that's less a fault of the movie itself and more the fact that it's how the book is (and I'd argue that much of the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy isn't really about commenting on any of those things, anyhow: that's what the other two books in the series do in much greater detail).

So as a movie? I liked it. It featured strong performances from a bunch of actors who really understood how their characters are, which was enough for the movie to overcome its over-reliance on shaky-cam and particularly the clumsily-edited action scenes. So as a movie? Give it a chance.


It has a few flaws, but is still worth checking out.

Now, let's get to my rating of this film as an adaptation.

As an adaptation? This movie hits a home run out of the ballpark. It's a rare thing to see a movie that manages to be good while staying extremely faithful to the source material, but somehow this movie managed to do just that.

I think a lot of it actually has to do with Gary Ross' vision for the film. Now, I harped on him earlier for his action scenes, but I can't deny that he's got an eye for how to realize the finer details of the book. There's supposed to be a major dichotomy between Katniss' home of District 12 (a little grungy, gritty, down to earth) and then its contrast against the Capitol (which is colorful to the extreme of having people that you'd think would fit better in a Dr. Seuss book), and the movie nails the aesthetic difference. One of my big fears going into the movie was that it would underplay the out-of-control opulence that's seen in the Capitol, and I was quite glad to see that everybody looked as ridiculous as I envisioned them to look when I was reading the books. It also takes on minor aesthetic details in a way that I think actually works in the movie's favor.

The plot of the book is also very faithfully adhered to. There are a couple of subplots that are cut for time (the cuts are particularly noticeable as far as the world-building and much of the first part of the book goes), but otherwise, this is as faithful a movie of a book as you can get. As well, in the few times where it deviates from the book the deviations actually works in the movie's favor, such as taking one scene that wasn't in the book (and actually couldn't have been featured in the book, given that the book is told from Katniss' point of view) to explain a little further about why they have games instead of killing all 24 tributes right off the bat. This is especially telling considering that the movie had a lot of material to cover. (That's most likely the reason why this movie runs at nearly two and a half hours long, by the way. It's two and a half hours long, and it moves very fast.) I had a small issue with some of the world-building that was cut, and especially how it will affect the sequels that will no doubt be spawned from this series' popularity (the book series does have nearly 27 million copies in circulation, from what I hear).

Overall, it was a good adaptation of a book. If you're a fan of the books, I'll tell you this now: you should definitely see this movie.


A must-see picture of the year.

So those are my two verdicts on this movie.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time. (Hopefully, next time won't be a month and a half... and two missing countdowns as well.)

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