I took my 13 year-old daughter to the midnight premier of The Hunger Games last night. Every showing was sold out weeks ago and the line stretched around several buildings, with people in tents and lawn chairs blocking traffic. I saw a lot of parents like me who were there with their kids. Teenagers in costumes waved plastic bows and arrows around, and the ratio of girls to guys was probably 4 to 1. I guess teenage girls finally got their Star Wars.
I haven’t seen a movie generate this much hoopla in some time. And while I’m glad I went, the movie is pretty average for the amount of hype it is getting.
To be fair, I’m not the target audience. My daughter is. I needed no further proof of that than when the preview for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II came on and the audience went absolutely crazy. The Hunger Games is a story about 24 teenagers on a futuristic television show where they must fight to the death until only one remains… Yet the biggest reaction that this movie got from the audience was when the two leads briefly kissed.
The film is directed by Gary Ross, who uses three camera tricks in constant rotation: shaky handheld, extreme close-ups, and rack focus. All of this to lend a “raw and gritty” quality to the visuals. The PG-13 rating ensures that the worst you’ll see is blood on swords and arrows, but no actual death or dismemberment.
The story is about Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year-old girl from the poorest of the 12 districts in a flawed utopia. Every year, the 12 districts must hand over two teenagers – one boy and one girl – as “Tributes” to the capital, where the teens are then pitted against each other in a televised fight to the death called The Hunger Games. Katniss, who is handy with a bow and arrow, proves to be a bigger adversary to the other contestants – and the establishment – than anyone could’ve guessed.
This is a variation of the gladiator games of old, so the Roman mob is made up of a bunch of weirdly dressed socialites led by blue-haired TV host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). I found it interesting that the characters we were supposed to love, such as fashion designer Cinna (Lenny Kravits) and former champion Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) looked normal while the villains were all dressed up like foppish clowns. The scenes with the ruling class in their generic sci-fi city seemed goofy and entirely contrived, contrasting sharply with the scenes of woodland hunting and survival.
Jennifer Lawrence is good as Katniss, infusing her character with the same defiance that she did so well in Winter’s Bone. As the audience’s eyes and ears, she seems to be the only one who is shocked and horrified by The Hunger Games, despite having been raised her entire life within the reality of this world.
I read the book several years ago, but it didn’t interest me enough to finish the trilogy. I found my mind drifting every time main character Katniss (while in the middle of a fight to the death, mind you) would ruminate about her conflicting feelings for two different boys. My first clue that the book wasn’t for me should’ve been the lead-up to the Hunger Games themselves, which too often focused on the fashions Katniss and the other characters were wearing.
During the movie, just like with the book, I wasn’t able to completely buy the concept. I kept wondering why Katniss was the only teenager in 74 years to react with defiance to this whole scenario, especially since every teenager to be chosen is almost certainly going to die. Rebelling is part of being a teenager, but 23 of the 24 contestants in this world seemed content to walk directly into the slaughter without so much as a second thought.
The Hunger Games can be seen as a reflection of our own reality TV-obsessed culture, but the movie doesn’t seem to have anything larger to say about society or the media, except that kids killing kids in a futuristic woodland arena is bad, which we figured out during the opening crawl. The movie’s presentation is very by-the-numbers, but it’s a slick piece of superficial entertainment. If you like the books, you’re a teenage girl, or you just want some fast food for your brain, then give The Hunger Games a look. It’s the first big movie to get us geared up for the summer blockbusters. But if I were you, I’d wait until the lines die down.