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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"The Hunger Games" failed to satisfy my craving

"The Hunger Games" is now playing in theaters everywhere.
I took my 4th grader to see The Hunger Games tonight because he just finished reading the novel and had been asking to go. I've never read the books myself, and I don't plan on doing so either. After having seen the film, any limited interest I had in joining the Hunger Games bandwagon has evaporated. Ash enjoyed the movie, though he reminded me repeatedly throughout it that we were not watching a loyal adaptation of the book on film; the two were worlds apart based upon his description.

Here's my take: I saw the first trailer for The Hunger Games a few months ago, before I'd even heard of the book and all its hype. I remember turning to my friend during the trailer and saying, "Who is this movie's target audience? Seems like a kids' movie, but it looks kind of violent." And later on, after the trailer concluded, "Jeez, really? What do you think the odds are of that chick dying at the end?" I was implying that the movie looked formulaic and predictable, the kind of film where you can call every shot at least two minutes before it happens on screen.

Now it doesn't happen all the time, but this time I happened to be spot-on accurate in my estimation of what to expect on screen when that theater darkened tonight. But that wasn't the worst of it. Not only was the entire premise of the plot completely absurd, but it borrowed so much from other films as to be totally devoid of any originality or suspense. And the future world in which it took place was presented with laughable melodrama, failing to successfully connect or identify with the viewer on even the most basic level of being human. It was totally non-believable.

David Carradine starred in the 1975 film "Death Race 2000."
I can accept the notion of a future version of the U.S. which follows a second Civil War, breaking the country up from 50 states to 12 districts. However, regardless of the believability of the uprising that brought on the state of the former union, the idea that the citizens of the former U.S. would not only allow, but support, their government in requiring their children to take part in such a brutal bloodsport, even for food, is ridiculous. I've seen similarly themed movies that were actually more plausible--The Running Man, 1932's The Most Dangerous Game, Surviving the Game with Ice T, Logan's Run, Roger Corman's Death Race 2000 for crying out loud...

In a nutshell this world is like 1984 meets Logan's Run meets Robin Hood. As I said, no originality. We aren't ever told exactly what year the story takes place in, but certain parts initially led me to think perhaps the 22nd century. The movie begins in a small, dirty mining town surrounded by a lush forest. Later on in the film we move to a large city (via an Atlas Shrugged-style speeding super train) and certain other things struck me as severely anachronistic for only a hundred years or so in the future, so I started thinking it might be more like 500 years on.

The partygoers at the Frankenstein house had...unique...flair.
For one, there's the fashion. It's like the costume designer for the Rocky Horror Picture Show got together with Dr. Seuss and Prince Poppycock to come up with a clothing line for the future earth. Ridiculous, colorful, twisty, shiny and flashy clothing and accessories. And the city... Like a cross between Oz and Alderaan. The citizens fit right in.
Then there's the technology. I initially thought the games were taking place in some sort of forest, perhaps on a secluded, escape-proof island. When Katniss tries to escape, though, it turns out to be more like a Truman Show style, enormous enclosure. Remember when Truman Burbank tried to escape by driving in one direction until he couldn't any more? Katniss did that on foot. Remember how they stopped Truman? Forest fire. Guess how the eyes in the sky stopped Katniss? Yep. Forest fire. (facepalm)

Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank in "The Truman Show."
So it's like the Truman Show--cameras hidden everywhere (even in trees), environmental controls, fire spraying weaponry that pops out of the ground like a lawn sprinkler, the ability to display a computer readout or TV feed on the sky (?)... But then the control operators start fiddling with some sort of hellhound hologram in their control room, and the next thing you know, a bunch of them just...APPEAR...in the forest. What??? What the hell is going on? OK, so I guess it's less Truman Show and more like a Star Trek holodeck. Oy vey.

Then there's the script. Let's just say it could very well have been written by whoever wrote any given Spy Kids movie and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. Just one example. I'd hate to give away any spoilers (ha!). So Katniss is found by a gang of rival contestants who are working together. She's being tracked, and the group is led by her supposed teammate and friend (the boy who loves her). She outruns them and climbs a large tree to get away but they find her and decide to, "wait her out. She has to come down sometime."

Not exactly cinema gold.
They camp out directly beneath the tree and she sleeps 40 feet up, tethered to some large branches. Only in the morning does she notice the ENORMOUS nest of mutant hornets ten feet above her, conveniently hanging smack over the sleeping enemy. Katniss endures a few venomous stings in dislodging the nest, but the payoff is huge as thousands of angry "tracker jackers" swarm her murderous foes. Half of them don't survive the attack but her traitorous friend does. Later in the movie the two of them rejoin one another and it's like the incident never even happened. Are you kidding me? He tried to KILL HER. Who just forgets that?

Anyway, I guess you can tell I won't be recommending this movie to anyone over the age of 14, which is a shame because it is rather violent. It's a pity that the only people who should be able to enjoy this film are tweens on the edge of puberty and under the MPAA's (and my, as I agree with the rating) recommended viewing age. The film is rated PG-13 for violence and alcohol use. There might have been tobacco use--I don't remember for sure. There is very little to no objectionable language and no sexual content whatsoever.

Unfortunately, there's very little good to say about The Hunger Games either, other than my ten-year-old son said he loved it. However, even he commented that it was more violent than he's used to seeing. We're pretty conservative with our permissiveness as far as movie viewing. Normally a PG-13 would require a parental pre-viewing, but since he'd just read the book I decided it would be OK this time to skip that.

Monk is about to go splat in the original "Men in Black."
The difference with the violence in this movie compared to what he's seen before on film is that this was more grounded in reality. This isn't Agent K splattering Jeebs' head to snot in Men in Black only to see it grow back five seconds later; this is teens in a contest for their lives, killing other teens with knives, spears, bows and bricks. It's definitely more visceral than your average sci-fi violence against ugly aliens with laser guns. The only sci-fi parallel that comes to mind for the emotional weight of the violence in this movie is that in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

My recommendation for parents: buy your kids the books and skip the movie(s?). The books may be violent too, but at least they'll be reading. It's becoming a lost art these days. I've heard a lot of great things about the series from kids and adults alike. And if it can get MY son to read, there must be something to the hype.