The Hunger Games (2012)

Controversial big budget film adaptation "The Hunger Games" hit theaters this week. I say controversial because in horror circles it's impossible to visit a message board or a post discussing the film without someone stepping up and screaming about the Japanese film "Battle Royale." "Battle Royale" is a film I was going to address in a separate review but wasn't so sure it was fair to do so. Both films compliment each other so beautifully, they should really have just divided them in half, taped them back together, Hunger Games first half with Battle Royales last three quarters and it would perhaps been everything the film going public was looking for.

"Battle Royale" is, based on a the novel that hit shelves in Japan a year earlier. The novel and the film were so controversial in Japan that the government actually took steps to stop it from being published and made. A ninth grade class is drugged and taken to an abandoned island where when they awake they will fight to the death. 42 kids boil down 3 over the next hour or so. Those three try to outsmart the system. Ultimately two succeed, but are they really winners?

It's a good film. I chose not to use the film as a platform for a full review because the version I saw was in Japanese with English subtitles. I can't be sure that the translation I was reading was literal. There are plenty of differences between what is said in Japanese and the exact word in English. It's said that Eskimos have four hundred words for snow, we have...snow. Not being an expert in Japanese I'd hate to attribute something negatively (or positively) to the film when it's really just a translation issue. That being said, I enjoyed "Battle Royale" immensely. If you have not seen it and are a fan of or are looking forward to seeing "The Hunger Games" then it's something I recommend seeing.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock then you should know about the "The Hunger Games." In the near future, America is no more and divided into districts. Each year, every district is required to sens one boy and one girl to fight to the death for the honor of their district and for the good of the nation. District 12s "tributes" Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutchinson) head to The Capital for training with some help from Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Unleashed against 22 other competitors, Katniss and Peeta must fight to the death until there is only one (or two) of them still standing when the dust clears.

Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasentville) really shines over the first half of the film. The introduction and establishment of the characters is handled beautifully, even if there are some (subtle) changes from the book. Katniss is shown as strong especially in the face of the trauma her family has endured. It's only when she is confronted with losing her sister that her iron facade begins to break. She volunteers to go to the games in her sisters place and then the film shifts into overdrive. Here's where the film looses all emotional attachments to its characters.

Having read the book, I know there is a lot of material to cover and at 2 plus hours the film hits many of the points it needs to hit. It's just a shame that by essentially speeding through the last half of the film so much gets lost. Haymitch and Effie have a wonderfully antagonistic relationship in the book, it's shown sporadically in the movie, but both characters feel short changed as the credits roll. The same can be said with Katniss and her relationship with Rue. It's there but the deep emotion presented in the book are absent. The film focuses on the potential love story of Katniss and Peeta with out introducing one of the main subplots from the book. One of Katniss' main trepidations about Peeta is his ability and desire to play everything for the camera. She's not sure if his feelings for her are real or for TV. There is no allusions to that in the film. It really limits Peetas character here too. He comes off as more of a sad puppy dog than how he's presented in the book. After watching the movie it's hard to understand why Katniss would even want to be with him.

"Hunger Games" is certainly a good film. It's a lot smarter than whatever emotionless garbage Michael bay is trying to shove down our throats year after year. The supporting performances are all good, particularly Wes Bentley as Gamesmaster Seneca Crane. Lawrence is a fine actress and certainly able to handle Katniss' gambit of emotions. It is still certainly a "tween" movie though. A "tween" film with more of an edge than the "Twilight" franchise, but a "tween" film nonetheless. The violence is subdued with the dizzying use of the "shaky cam" technique. You know something is happening, but you can't quite see the violence and gore that in a more adult film would be splattering across the screen. The love story is certainly played up more than in the books, but not to a ridiculous point many were afraid of. The movie has plenty of good word of mouth coming from advance screenings. I wonder if this is a result of a "Twilight" hangover. Meaning that those types of "tween" films leave such a bad taste in critics mouths that anything even remotely above average from the genre will elicit an initial overreaction. I wonder if the second film, if made the same way will illicit such positive fervor.

Comparing "Battle Royale" to "The Hunger Games" is like comparing grapefruits to oranges. Certainly they are both fruits, and citrus fruits at that. They are similar enough that comparisons between the two are inevitable and at times warranted. But in the end they are different entities and should be treated and enjoyed as such.

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