The Strange Entertainment of The Hunger Games: a Recommendation from Steve

The Hunger Games is an entertaining movie. Strangely, though, the premise of the movie forces the viewer to ask whether that is a good thing. Should we feel entertained by a movie in which the major plot point is kids killing kids? I know, I know, The Hunger Games is not about kids killing kids. And, no, I have not read the books yet, although I plan to soon because I did find the movie intriguing enough to pique my interest in the trilogy. I do understand that  the story is about the dangers of totalitarian power and, in conjunction with that, the dangers of media used to manipulative the masses, in this case reality television taken to a gruesome extreme. However, no matter what Suzanne Collins’ (she wrote the books and co-wrote the script) story may ultimately be about, there is no avoiding the fact that kids killing kids takes center stage. This is not a movie for younger children. There is a good reason why it is rated PG-13. However, for older children, it provides a good opportunity for parents to engage in conversation with their children about the darker aspects of human nature and the sinful ways in which we treat one another.

Collins and the other creative forces behind the movie, including director Gary Ross, had a tricky task before them. Even with that central theme, they had to ensure that the movie was rated PG-13 rather than R because a large portion of the intended audience are “young adults.” They achieved that by keeping the blood and gore to a minimum, but in so doing they muted the horrific nature of the deaths of the young participants in the Hunger Game. This also muted the social critique of the story. Indeed, the social commentary is also kept to a minimum. One could argue that the writers did this out of respect for the intelligence for their audience. There is some truth to this point of view. The movie does get its point across without hitting us over the head with it, but I still think that this lack of urgency is what keeps the movie from being a great movie rather than just a good one. Given the plot, you would think the movie would be filled with tension, but the inevitability of the ending deflated the intensity. Another drawback in that regard is that we never really get to know the characters, even the main ones. This also mutes the emotional impact of the deaths of the children.

Despite those drawbacks (and a few other issues with the story), I did enjoy the movie. Much of the credit for that goes to Jennifer Lawrence. She shows here that her strong performance in Winter’s Bone was no fluke. Her ability to express deep emotion through facial expression is essential to her role as Katniss. I just wish the writers had given her a bit more to work with. I guess I’ll have to read the books to get to know Katniss better. I’m of mixed feelings regarding Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. At times he seemed a bit flat, but there was a subtlety to his character that he handled well. I’m a big Woody Harrelson fan and I enjoyed him as Haymitch.

Two final things before I wrap this up. I was surprised that the Games were so manipulated by those running them. This was so unfair, yet it made perfect sense. What didn’t make sense was the dogs. What was the deal with that? A movie needs to make internal sense and sci-fi gives one a lot of leeway, but I thought the dogs just didn’t work. There was a realism to what was happening in the Game, despite the manipulation, but what were the dogs? Virtual reality? No, they were certainly real, but even in that sc-fi world there is no good explanation for their appearance in the Game. I can live with the dogs, but I would rather have lived without much of the camera work. Especially in the beginning of the film, Ross chose the herky jerky approach of a handheld camera. I recently praised the use of that technique in Melancholia, where it created intimacy and intensity. It didn’t work that way here. It was simply distracting and annoying. At least it wasn’t also in 3D! Even with those complaints, I still recommend the movie. It was a (strangely) entertaining movie that is hopefully the beginning of a trilogy that will get stronger as it goes along.

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