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The Hunger Games

April 17, 2012

It is almost hard to review a film that has made so much money. It’s success is a done deal and it seems obvious that most viewers liked it (if not the critics, who seem compelled to compare it to Twilight). When my friend “Kylie” and I went to see it in LA last week at least half of the audience were men, which implies it’s appeal does transcend that of Twilight. And I know a lot of middle-aged women who loved the books and have gone to/plan to see the film.

I don’t come here to criticise The Hunger Games, I come only to praise it. In my opinion it’s a fantastic, empowering film in a completely believable manner, in a way that so many female action-driven films are not. From Angelina Jolie’s twig-like arms to Zoe Saldana’s twig-like legs, how are audiences supposed to believe these women are able to hold a gun, let alone jump atop vehicles or round-kick antagonists? Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen is utterly utterly competent and believable as a heroine. There is not one moment one could doubt her ability to survive, and win the Hunger Games. Lawrence completely embodies the literary version of Katniss: her introverted, socially prickly nature, her ambivalence towards the men and the adults in her life, her fierce protection of her little sister Prue – and clearly all other little girls needing help – and her essential morality and tenderness. Beastly critics have called Lawrence ”too round/sexy/fat” to play supposedly starving Katniss, which is just insane. She is slim, firm, active, normal – above all, strong. It is obvious, having seen the excellent Winter’s Bone why Lawrence was cast in this role. The bow sits comfortably in her hand, she is utterly one with the forest. She has grit, an unwavering eye. I’d have bet on her to win the Hunger Games for sure.

“Kylie” had a problem with Gale’s (Liam Hemsworth’s) casting (too obviously, conventionally good-looking) but because I do not find the actor so, this did not bother me. Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta was well-studied and executed, complete with all of Peeta’s subtleties and disguised motivations. Peeta could just be playing the game, couldn’t he? Woody Harrelson is also an excellent take on drunken Haymitch, even if perhaps he is a little too young, healthy and sober in the film’s version of the tale. But Harrelson has enough darkness in his history and under his skin to suggest these complexities, even if he has been cleaned up. Much racist hate and criticism has been directed at the casting of black actors as Rue and Thresh – completely unwarranted, the casting decision feels right and not merely PC. The Capitol and the Arena were exactly as one would have imagined. Basically fans of the book should not have been disappointed on any level. Even if the heroes did not look exactly as one pictured them while reading, well, they never do do they? Each actor just Was each character.

What does worry me is director Gary Ross’ departure from the series after this film. He did such a good job, one wonders with trepidation who will come next. The film was so multilayered, it used silences and pauses to good effect in contrast with exciting action sequences. It did not pay lip service to emotions and was certainly no mere action or tween franchise film (no matter what cynical critics may say). The soundtrack was suprising, folksy and memorable (another good job by T Bone Burnett). Author Collins’ critical intentions were definitely well-served by this production.

As the books got harder to read so will the film get harder to watch – Collins’ is no easy narrative despite its Young Adult origins and perceptions of the remainder of the book series are very mixed. The next installments will have to be helmed by someone sensitive and skilled enough not to sell us fans out, or flounder with the subject and its complex directions. So much sci fi film falls into the derivative trap (so many Blade Runner-lites out there!), and this particular dystopian, Orwellian-type scenario could go so badly wrong, in the wrong hands. There are many scenes in this series which require the right ”look”, the right production values and special effects. The staging is key, especially in the scenes requiring the depiction of their futuristic world.

Films like this are essential to women and the future of the movies. From the young girls who watch these performances (faced with ‘Teen Mom’ on the TV) to the always hotly debated (non-)existence of good roles for women in cinema, the fact is because Lawrence naturalises her dominance of the screen it becomes more possible for others like her to do the same, in a manner that is no longer questioned; that is taken for granted. I love Twilight, I admit it. But I also agree that Bella is lame, and limp, and probably not to be emulated (although for Pete’s sake, its a romance movie!) Katniss has no such problems as a character.

The film’s theme of reality TV gone mad is probably lost on many if not most of its younger viewers. That said, it’s a timely theme nonetheless with reality TV taking over as the most bankable form of entertainment. Flicking through channels one can barely find an actual show, and when one does, the best ones usually have to fight for survival, or last only one season.

I’m sad that the sharks are already picking on Lawrence. I hope she survives and appears again in complex, epic, heroic roles. I hope she stays the size she is. I don’t want frail Angelina Jolie, and her emaciated younger replacements, as lovely as they are, to be my only action stars. I don’t want Sex and the City, and its model of so-called ’empowered women”, to be my only onscreen heroes.

So: may the odds be forever in Jennifer Lawrence’s, and The Hunger Games‘, favour.

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5 Comments
  1. pallasathena1 permalink

    Havent had an opportunity to see HUNGER GAMES yet, but I must say after reading your wonderfully intelligent and thoughtful review, I can hardly wait. It is so rare to find such indepth analysis in film reviews these days. Battle on!

  2. I enjoyed the variety of themes and issues you pulled into your review. I read the book when it first came out and had the opportunity to meet Bryan Unkeless (producer) at a writing conference two years ago. I wasn’t disappointed after waiting so long for the movie to come out, yet I wasn’t that thrilled. Even though Collins gave input on the script I felt so much was left out of the movie and we only got a glimpse of what held it together. I found another dystopia series with a strong female protagonist: Divergent by Veronica Roth. I wonder if Bryan would consider it for a movie…
    Happy Pages,
    CricketMuse

    • Thanks for the recommendation re Roth. I do love some dystopian fiction (with strong female protagonist). Upon reflection, perhaps without Lawrence’s Katniss I may have found the film a little more underwhelming…

      • The cinematography definitely made the film interesting, yet without a strong Katniss (which Lawrence was) I think the film would have been mediocre or at least just entertaining. So much was left out! Anyway, I hope the film gets people to read the book–it will prove that books are indeed better 🙂

      • I would tend to agree. Although I did find book Katniss irritating and hard to like at times.

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