Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is fairly complex for a teen fad series - with solid story, acting, action and characters - I look forward to seeing the next few!

All that build up and finally it's here. This is probably the darkest teen book-made-movie I've ever heard off - it puts all the most interesting elements of The Twilight Saga to shame - in just one film! I'll say right from the start that in light of other popular teenage franchises, the popularity of this series is a positive thing.

Prior to seeing this film, I had just an inkling of what it was about; A bunch of teenagers are forced to fight to the death in a reality tv show in the dystopian future. The hero was a girl. I wasn't that excited for a movie about this - it would probably end up as a dumbed-down, kiddie-friendly Battle Royale, right?

Well, honestly, I can't comment on the Battle Royale comparison, because I haven't seen that movie. Let's be clear though: Battle Royale is not a Japanese Hunger Games; the Hunger Games are are a Western Battle Royale. But dumb and kid-friendly the Hunger Games are not! Take the rating seriously on this one parents, there are some brutal things in this film that your child may not be ready to see. There are also some really smart things in this film.

So lets back up and find another point of comparison that I can speak to: The Hunger Games is like Metropolis. Y'know, Fritz Lang, 1927... Everybody knows that right? Ok, in case you don't know, Metropolis is a very very old German expressionist sci-fi film, dealing with the separation between the upper class and lower class, and the process of restoring the balance. There is a ton of stuff in the Hunger games that is reminiscent of Metropolis. The denizens of District 12 shuffle in line, much like the workers of Metropolis; while the rich are garishly dressed, care-free and shallow in both. Theres a biting satire of society buried under the spectacle in both films; although The Hunger Games hones in on the current fad of reality tv, while Metropolis deals with broader issues. I could do a whole post on the parallels between the two films, but I don't have the time. Plus, somebody's probably already beaten me to it....

I'm not sure what to think about the shaky-cam. On the one hand, it's difficult to see whats going on when the camera moves so much - and it could be an indication of lazy filmmaking; using editing to give a sense (but not a clear picture) of whats going on, without having to, say, choreograph a real fight sequence. On the other hand, it is used in a very particular way that lends the film a unique sense of style.

There is heavy, heavy camera shake in the opening sequences... even when there's nothing going on. It's as if these people live in a daze, oppressed and struggling to survive. It is only when we move into the world of the upper class that the camera manages to sit still for a bit. Theres a few sweeping shots of the train and the city... and then we are plunged into confusion again when Katniss and Peta see the people. This is a different kind of confusion though - one that comes from the music, and the mise-en-scene itself, rather than the movement of the camera. When the games finally begin, that shaky-cam is back as the kids slaughter one another; the situation is appropriately desperate and chaotic. After that... well, there are a few more scenes that involve shaky cam that have less personality to them. I think from the start of the games onwards its a bit generic and lazy, but at least it started well.

Much of this movie was steeped in confusion, but I liked it. I liked it for the social issues it raises, and for the intriguing world it creates. The action is brief, brutal, and terrifying enough at the start (although the less said about the 'final boss' fight the better) to adequately satisfy the artful tension created in the long, slow build up to the games.

(Spoilers follow)

The characters are mostly good - although Katniss stands out as especially bad-arse, while Peta stands out as especially wimpy. The scenes with Haymitch are funny, the scenes with the President are menacing, and overall the handling of all the characters and motivations comes off pretty well. There's also a particular air of tension towards the end to do with Katniss and Petas relationship - would they really both eat the berries? I knew the protagonist had to survive, but I was drawn in by the possibility that they were both completely faking it - and either one would have played the other, had the announcer not intervened. Likewise in the final scene - when the pair are on the train, being presented to their district. The whole thing felt fake. A show. There's a real story buried here, but this is not it. Katniss doesn't feel for Peta, she feels for Gale... right? Or am I just buying in to the love triangle motiff that saturates these films? What was the result of that 2 minute uprising sequence? Is there more to come? Of course there is, there's a whole book series. And one I'm happy to say I want to see made to film.