Saturday, 31 March 2012

Happy Hunger Games!

The anticipation for this film was ridiculous, with people making statements that it was the new must-see teen franchise. Already having a wide fanbase due to the popularity of the books, the film had a lot to live up to, and it's safe to say it more than met expectations.

In a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world, the nation of Panem, the remains of North America, is divided up into twelve districts who each offer to the controlling Capitol city one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in the annual Hunger Games, a reminder of the Capitol's dictatorial control over the nation after a rebellion by the districts. In these Games, the twenty-four "tributes" are placed into an arena to fight to the death, until one victor remains. It's the 74th Games, and Katniss Everdeen of the poverty-stricken District 12 has volunteered to take the place of her sister. Despite being a skilled hunter (that girl is mighty handy with a bow and arrow), she must fight bloodthirsty teenagers and the Capitol, whilst also battling with her feelings for fellow competitor Peeta.

Firstly, I do apologise for the delay in publishing this post; I was busy reading the last book and then I had work to do, so... yeah, anyway. It also gave me time to go and see it for a second time, which I think always helps before properly forming an opinion about a film. Anyway, I commence.

I've openly discussed my disdain at Jennifer Lawrence; although I haven't seen her in her Oscar nominated role in Winter's Bone she did not impress me in X-Men: First Class and I've never understood the hype about her. When I first read the book I was outraged that she had been cast, but I take back every bad thing I've said about her casting in this because really she was brilliant. I overlook the fact that she's really too old to be playing 16 year old Katniss, because I couldn't imagine anyone embodying the character better really.

As for the other of the three young leads, I can't say I was hugely impressed with their casting either, but they both made the most of their roles. Josh Hutcherson, despite looking gormless for the first third of the film because of his gaping mouth, redeems himself with being unbelievably sweet as Peeta. I quite like the fact he's shorter than Lawrence (even if it does make me laugh a little) because it's true that the traditional role of boy-saves-girl is reversed in this, and it's nice to have a strong female lead;  the differences in their stature really only emphasise this. Liam Hemsworth's Gale doesn't play a huge part in this film (though his role is expanded in the future) but his chemistry with Lawrence makes me think he'll have promise for the future.

The supporting cast was also really incredible; all the older cast members were so perfect for their roles: Donald Sutherland as the sinister President Snow was so inspired the character could have been written with him in mind. The same goes for Woody Harrelson's alcoholic mentor, Haymitch (who I would have liked to see more of), Stanley Tucci's Hunger Games host, Caeser Flickerman, and Elizabeth Banks as Katniss and Peeta's escort, Effie Trinket; the latter two in particular should be applauded because they play their characters in such an extreme way that they are very nearly going overboard, but just stopping short of that so they are just perfectly eccentric. I also want Katniss' stylist Cinna, played by Lenny Kravitz, to be my friend and just dress me all the time; he was wonderful, and refreshing as seemingly the only normal person from the Capitol. I have to say though, I don't really understand why Toby Jones' co-commentator Claudius Templesmith was there, considering he had about four words in the entire film; I suppose he was just there to make Stanley Tucci seem as though he's not talking to himself. Harsh, but true.

In terms of being a film adaptation, it's superb. It IS the book, almost exactly as it's written; the parts that are taken out or changed are so miniscule that really it doesn't have any impact whatsoever on the film. It does help, I suppose, that Suzanne Collins (author of the books) wrote the screenplay; it will be a challenge to continue the brilliance if she doesn't write for the sequels. It is one of the best ever book adaptations I've seen, which is really saying something considering how many there are to choose from. It's challenging, both to reality television, corrupt governments and to teenage violence; it is a violent film, but that's the point: the shock of seeing children killing each other is at the heart of the story, and creates the events for the next two films.

Into my technical opinion of the film, I have to say that the production design on this film is beautiful. From poverty-stricken District 12's ramshackle houses and dilapidated Hob (the black market where Katniss gets her iconic Mockingjay pin towards the start of the film), to the weird and wonderful excessive luxury of the Capitol, every set is perfect. The costumes are brilliant, especially those of the Capitol's residents who dress so eccentrically and brightly that it's almost painful to look at; because they are so strange and colourful we share Katniss' feelings of being in a completely different world. The score also fits the film very well; James Newton Howard gets the mood just right in each scene. It's nice as well that not every scene has music in, as this really emphasises certain moments and often creates the tension needed in the arena.

One thing I don't understand is all the comparisons to The Twilight Saga - as Danny Leigh of Film 2012 said, the comparison just doesn't hold. Aside from the fact there's a developing love-triangle and it's aimed at the teen market, there are no other similarities. It doesn't even really have the same audience - everyone knows that Twilight's audience is over 80% female, but the people in my first viewing of this film were very mixed, from elderly ladies to groups of young guys; I was expecting mainly girls there, but it was refreshing to see such a varied audience. Yes, Twilight is a massive franchise with an overly-devout fanbase, and I feel that The Hunger Games is going to go the same way, but really the supposed "rivalry" between them is nonsense; as if either of them cares how the other does? They are both major money spinners, they don't need to ramp up rivalry for publicity. And believe it or not, people can like both! I do! It's one of the biggest irritants to me, when people say that you can only really like one or the other, or that you're "betraying" one by liking the other. There was the same issue with Harry Potter and Twilight, where fans of one were slating fans of the other - it's not illegal to be a fan of both! Please, people, stop this. Let them both stand on their own and be individually successful, as they obviously will be.

Another thing that has confused me is the major backlash about the supposed extreme levels of gore and violence in the film. I don't really understand the big fuss about cutting out seven seconds of footage and digitally removing gore from the film to keep to its 12A rating; it could have been quite a bit worse before it became questionable. The warnings are sufficient enough, and if parents don't look at them properly before allowing younger children to go and see it then that's their fault, not the film's. Lord knows what they're going to do in the future films, which, if they stick well to the book, will only become more violent and gory. But I like that; to take that away would take away the brutality of the situation, which is essentially what the story is about. I really pray that the filmmakers don't make any stupid decisions with how they make the films just to gain a bigger audience.

Verdict: the most perfect adaptation of the book possible. Even if you aren't a fan of the books (why the hell aren't you?!), it would still be an extremely enjoyable film even if there may be some slightly confusing parts. I definitely recommend everyone sees it immediately. The sequel cannot come quick enough, and since the film broke box office records on its opening weekend (it brought in $155 million in America alone - the third biggest opening for a film ever behind The Dark Knight and Deathly Hallows part 2, and biggest opening for a non-sequel film), be assured that a sequel will indeed happen. As Humphrey Bogart said, "this could be the start of a beautiful franchise." Or something like that.

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