Opening night. The lines of Hunger Games fans wrapped around the inside of the theatre lobby- Everyone excited to see what they had only read.
I watched the people from the previous showing exiting the auditorium from whence I would soon be entering to experience the Hunger hype. I was looking for a sign, some hope that all this waiting would be well worth our while. No one was smiling. No one was talking. It was a silent evacuation of the auditorium. To be honest, they all look like they had just seen a vicious slaughtering of young people. But then I remembered, they did.
The film takes place in a dystopian future, where the poor and the rich are segregated. The poor inhabit meager villages called Districts and are constantly patrolled by Capitol Peacekeepers, while the rich dwell in the city and sponsor a deadly television event called the Hunger Games once a year. The Hunger Games is a brutal fight to the death that is broadcast live to the entire population. The players of the game are adolescents selected from each District. Katniss Everdeen, a young woman with archery/hunting experience that lives in one of the Districts, volunteers to fight in the Hunger Games in place of her younger sister.
Within the first few minutes of the film, Gale (Katniss' best friend) suggests that the only way to stop the horrifying Hunger Games once-and-for-all is to convince everyone to stop watching. It was at this point that I felt that the movie was trying to send an important message to the audience. It was trying to tell us all to get up out of our seats, walk out of the theatre, and refund our tickets. As we all watched the disturbingly violent Hunger Games from the point of view of the pompous aristocrats that funded the games, I felt even more guilty for watching. When nobody else motioned to get up and leave, I realized that I may be missing the real message of the movie. It wasn't until the concluding moments of the film that I realized what was really being told here: a love story (or rather, a story of a love triangle).
You see, this movie is correctly classified as science fiction. However, the author chose not to use the genre as a means of warning us of the future disasters that may occur because of our decisions today, but as catalyst to set up an extreme, life-or-death love triangle. Do you follow me? I'll explain.
Many writers of great science fiction have used the genre as a means to send an often unpleasant message to an audience. Generally, if the story takes place in a futuristic age, the world of today is exaggerated by the author, along with its problems, fashion styles, and popular ideas. It is a way of giving us a glimpse of one possible outcome of our decisions today, and, in the case of dystopia-based science fiction, the worst possible outcome. The common message sent in these stories is that we should assess our actions today so that we do not experience the undesirable consequences of tomorrow.
Some of the most poignant science fiction films that have presented a merciless, dystopian world in the way I have discussed above are: Metropolis (1927), THX-1138, Blade Runner, Brazil, Planet of the Apes (1968), Gattica, Akira, and Dark City. They each carry a distinct message, encompassing issues of modern civilization such as racism, overcrowding, religious intolerance, addiction, disintegration of family values, government oppression, etc… They are a crystal ball to a future that we all should fear. They allow us to see the "worst case scenario" so that we become more aware of the choices we make today.
Initially, the Hunger Games appeared to be trying to be one of these kinds of films. I was relieved to find out, in the end, that it wasn't. Just as the Twilight series author used the fantasy fiction genre to set up characters in an extreme, life-or-death love triangle, so is the Hunger Games using science fiction. It allows for a complicated love situation that is life-costing and dramatically exaggerated. The cost of love loss is no longer a broken heart, it is heart decapitation.
The Hunger Games is a story that takes place in the future and carries qualities similar to those previously aforementioned, but just as Twilight isn't trying to be The Lost Boys, The Hunger Games isn't trying to be The Running Man. And thank goodness for that!
- Jennifer Lawrence held her own as the character of Katniss. She was well-casted and not the typical heroin we see in movies these days.
- Woody Harrelson was by-far the most interesting character in the film. The boisterous and charismatic television personality Caesar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci) was also a character of interest. The relationship between Donald Sutherland's character, President Snow, and Wes Bentley's character, Seneca Crane, was very telling and added dynamic to the plot. Lenny Kravitz did suprisingly well in his part as Cinna. Although this is practically his Hollywood acting debut, his comfort in front of the camera and his talent were solid.
- The costuming was noteworthy. Extravagant, original, and ornate.
- There was a definite sense of peril during the hunger games which kept things exciting, and there always seemed to be an interesting twist around every corner. It kept me watching.
- As far as I could tell, most people who read the book were very pleased with what they saw. Being true to the source material is a plus.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
- The 2 hour and 22 minute running time felt long. Even though the plot was fast-paced, action-packed, and regularly twisting, the length of the experience was fatiguing. I saw more than a few scenes that could have easily been replaced with more critical information from the novel or simply cut out completely.
- The world was not believable. It was difficult to allow myself to get lost in the movie, when the structure of this future world seemed paper thin. Too many holes.
- The cinematography, the soundtrack, the special effects, and the overall storytelling were on-par with SyFy Channel Original Movies.
- Alexander Ludwig's final monologue was laughable and poorly directed. This is where the camera really failed to capture the tension of a cliffhanger moment that should have brought us to the edge of our seats.
In summary, I believe this movie to be one that entertains people for the next few months, but lacks the timelessness, weightiness, and substance that would preserve itself in viewers minds and hearts. Just as the hunger games in the Hunger Games kept the aristocrats fed and filled only once a year, so will this be a temporary fix for the entertainment-craving masses until the sequel is released. Therefore, I believe that this movie is successful for what it set out to accomplish. It is temporarily thrilling, and no doubt profitable, but unfit for those who relish storytelling that speaks beyond the here and now.