Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Love: The Hunger Games
Where I'd argue that the book itself was more entertaining than depressing, the framework was always there and the camera manages to engage with the book's deep emotional implications. While Ross doesn't skimp on the violence, he doesn't relish it. The Hunger Games isn't the gleefully gladiatorial Battle Royale (though, if you've only seen the sloppy film...might I suggest the book?). The fight to the death has been re-framed not as exploitation, but as pure, harrowing tragedy. In early moments, as our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to step into the line of fire in exchange for her fragile sister's life, the scene is played for a frightening amount of realism. The stark costuming and gray faces echo images of prisoners of war, of death camps and political strife. We can see why Jennifer Lawrence was cast. District 12 is the same down-and-out Appalachia as Winter's Bone, though its inhabitants don't have the luxury of escaping via chemical, drugged-up outlets. Katniss is protective of her people, willing to put herself in harms way, and Lawrence has a face like a mountain lion. We read her in every tensed up muscle, and while the screenplay keeps her lines to a minimum, she's more powerful when silent.
The Monday after The Hunger Games weekend I sat down to lunch with a co-worker who hadn't read the book. She admitted that she didn't enjoy the movie and, what's more, was thoroughly confused by several events and interactions she interpreted as fairly hypocritical behaviors. As I listened to her I realized that quite a few of her points were valid. In an attempt, perhaps, at being universal and at pulling focus to the games themselves, the film fails to fill in some crucial spaces that could have added to its cause. Maybe we needed some more time in District 12, further understanding as to how much of what Katniss was doing was illegal, a deeper knowledge of Haymitch's (Woody Harrleson) backstory, or, more of a context for how complicated the background love triangle between Katniss, fellow competitor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and at home bestie Gale (Liam Hemsworth) really is. If you haven't read the book, the movie glosses over quite a bit, and while that's always the case in adaptation, here the cut-out pieces seem, potentially, to also limit enthusiasm for the film to its built-in fan base. As a popcorn blockbuster, The Hunger Games succeeds. As a movie made for fans, it excels. The question, however, is how far can it reach? When does the detail lost in the transition from book to film become enough to alienate a new viewer? As the story shifts into its more political sequels, will the casual fan, the new viewer stay on board?