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While waiting in line for The Hunger Games, I thought about how great it is that the best stories are coming out of the young-adult genre these days. It’s awesome kids and adults are putting aside their differences on issues like candy for breakfast and are instead uniting over series like Harry Potter or His Dark Materials.
(Plus, a film that makes it socially acceptable for a grown woman to stride around in public wearing a Mockingjay towel like a toga is something I’ve been dreaming of since infancy.)
The story follows a dystopian future nation that requires 12 districts to provide two “tributes” to compete to the death in brutal hunger games. The supporting cast is a stunner: Woody Harrelson rocking Kurt Cobain hair, Elizabeth Banks as Effie, and Stanley Tucci vamping as the Regis Philbin figure of the Capitol of Panem (which in Latin translates appropriately to “bread and circuses”).
The rock-solid centre of the movie is Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Her steady gaze and pragmatic attitude are impeccably embodied by Lawrence, if a bit toned down to boost her audience appeal.
I’ve repeatedly heard people comparing Katniss to Twilight’s Bella, but I feel insulted they’d even be in the same sentence. Katniss is an independent thinker and fierce protector, while Bella would likely win the Hunger Games by boring the other tributes to death, endlessly listing adjectives describing her boyfriend’s bod. Is there really so few female-driven series that these two characters can be compared?
The great acting manages to transcend clumsy directing. Director Gary Ross goes for eight camera angles when one would’ve sufficed. And he botches District 12’s fiery entrance into the arena by making frantic love to the zoom button – complete with flame effects that looked like they were created in a Sears photo studio.
Another issue is the characters’ relationships with food, or lack thereof. The book explicitly expresses how much starvation has affected District 12’s citizens and Katniss’ identity in particular, yet in a flashback where Katniss is apparently comatose with hunger, she appears a bit drunk instead of starving.
Hunger is her motivation – it’s why she doesn’t have time for romance or friendship. By removing the hunger from the Hunger Games Katniss ends up looking a bit cold hearted.
People haven’t been happy with the effort to make it okay for parents to bring their offspring to the theatre, having the movie downplay the visceral nature of the violence in the book. I have to agree. If this story is going to serve as a parable for the way children are used as political and military pawns in the horrific conflicts around the globe, the brutality can’t be airbrushed. And should it really be the case that when any child but Katniss, Peeta or their allies is killed, there’s an odd sense of relief instead of “the horror, the horror”? Most viewers have read the novels, so why would filmmakers try to protect us?
As the audience burst into confusing applause while the credits rolled (do they think the actors can hear them?) I was struck with what’s so brilliant about going to the movies: leaving your comfy home and loved ones behind to enter into a lair of fantasy and wonder… into the company of wackjobs.
Let’s hope we never lose this.