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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games...and Fan Racism? Part 1

[Image Source: KatnipOnFire]

 * * * This Review May Contain Spoilers * * *

It is rare for the spousal unit and I to see a movie at the theaters on opening weekend. I have a fear of being in the middle of a crowd when the zombie apocalypse happen to strike and Brooke vehemently dislikes fighting for good seats (and in the case of The Hunger Games, a place in the holdout line) against teenyboppers and kids too young to appreciate the movie going experience. But, it's my firm belief that certain movies are guaranteed to be the subject of many water-cooler discussion come Monday morning and I did not want people spoiling the experience for me.

I will say this: if you have the willpower to wait out the crowds then do so. I'm not saying that the movie was bad—in fact, I would give this movie a 4 out of 5—but if you think the crowds will ruin the experience for you, this movie would definitely be worth the wait. Brooke and I actually lucked out that we got to the theater early and planned our concessions/seats strategies well enough to get excellent seats long before the crowds poured in.

The movie itself stayed pretty faithful to the book. I think it is hard to find movies that stays true to the source material, so I was really glad that Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins took the time to get the story right. That is not to say that somethings weren't omitted or changed to fit the needs of the film, somethings were. However those change did not greatly alter the story as a whole.  In fact, I would venture that the things added to the film had more of an affect (for the better) than what was left out. Scene such as Haymitch's negotiations with potential sponsors and the districts' reactions to watching their children die added a dimension to the story that the novel's first-person-limited perspective could never achieve. (For a list of items left out of the film check out Meredith Woerner's article at io9.)

That being said, I did lament the fact that the writers downplayed the "love affair" between Peeta and Katniss.  Throughout the book, Katniss believed that Peeta's affections were part of a strategy on his part to win sponsors, so when the opportunity arose to use this to her (and Peeta's) advantage, Katniss played right along. Peeta of course, would be crush upon learning that his genuine love for her was never really returned. I thought that this was a significant theme in the story and by leaving it out of the film, I felt that the ending became a lot weaker than it could have been. (Check out this EW article for more on this.)

[Image Source: Goodreads]

I also felt that some of the acting was a little stiff, in particular those of Lenny Kravitz's portrayal of fashion wizard Cinna, but I think that had to do more with the writing and the fact that much of the book had to be condense to two and 1/2 hours, removing any chance for real  character development.

Despite the collection of A-listers and otherwise well established actors, some of the best performances were those of the relatively unknown. I thought that the young actors playing the red-shirt tributes did a great job of showing their fear in the brief seconds they had on screen, particularly during the blood-bath at the start of the Game. Alexander Ludwig gave a surprisingly strong performance as District 2's career tribute Cato. You can see the dichotomy of the viciousness instilled in him by the adults of the society in which he lives and the hopelessness it leaves him when he realizes that he will die for their entertainment.

If Ludwig's Cato epitomizes the callousness and everything else that is wrong with the country of Panem, District 11's female tribute Rue is a perfect example of the innocence and bravery destroyed by the Games. Excellently portrayed by Amandla Stenberg, Rue represents the very thing the Capitol aims to destroy with the Games and her death is the catalyst needed to inspire Katniss, not only to survive, but to use her survival as a subtly form of rebellion against an oppressive government and the adults that perpetuate the ritualized murder of children.

[Image Source: Goodreads]
I won't lie: I kind of teared up during the scene in which riots broke out in District 11 after Rue's death. It was a powerful scene, one that begs the question: why would the adults of the districts put up with the murder of their children for sport?  As we, the movie audience, watch as each child continue to die on screen, a sudden realization comes into play. We, like the fictional audience, paid good money to witness children kill each other. There is something that could be said about the way Ross hides many of the deaths from the theater-goers. Maybe he intend only to achieve a PG-13 rating as oppose to an R, greatly opening the movie's earning potential (after all, the book is one meant for young adults). By panning away (or not) just at the right moment, we are exposed to just enough violence to make our skin crawl the way it does when we hear of a real life child murder on the news. Yet, perhaps unintentionally, by not catering to the snuff-enthusiasts in all of us, Ross tries to save our humanity. Yes, we are there to be witnesses, but not to children's deaths. We are there to glimpse at a future world that, with the way we consume reality TV and the way we as a society encourage aggression and competitive behaviors, is not too far off from the direction our present lives are headed.

In Part 2...I will try to tackle the racist reactions of some fans to the casting of black actors as Rue, Cinna, and Thresh. What?! Racism, you say?

Click [here].  See you all soon.