I saw the HUNGER GAMES this past weekend. It was good, and inventive story. Well relatively inventive, mixing equal parts Logan’s Run, Battle Royal, and Running Man, it still adds enough of its own mythology to keep from seeming rehashed.
Nicely acted throughout, particularly it’s a joy to see Donald Sutherland still commanding the screen, and still creepy. His role as president just another in a long line of memorable performances. All of the actors do a great job. And the film is nicely photographed and for the most part engagingly presented.
All that said the film never really goes beyond good for me. It never rises to being great. And I don’t think that understated ending, though I’m told it follows the book, helps the film. In fact I’m sure it hurts the film.
When I pay $10 to $16 for a movie, I want for the most part a beginning, a middle, and an end. I’m not a big fan of the TV-ization (yes I did just make that up :)) of movies. So that non-ending was the main problem I had with the film, and would have had the same problem if the book ends as… blandly. Some films have put enough in the can that they can pull off such an ending, such as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. That curt ending comes, but you’ve already had the climax, the payoff, and the wrap-up of loose ends, so I was perfectly fine with that ending. Not so with HUNGER GAMES.
That non-ending and the fact that the sentimentality seemed at times just a tad much and obvious and forced, are the main things I came out of HUNGER GAMES with. And this comes from a guy who likes sentimentality when it’s done well.
Sentimentality when done well you don’t feel them pulling your strings. Sentimentality when done well, is definitely less is more. You get the audience to cry for the characters, not the audience watching the characters cry.
Akiro: “Why do you cry?”
Subotai: “Because he is Conan. Cimmerian. He won’t cry. So I cry for him.”
—CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)
But my caveats aside the film has done exceptionally well on its opening weekend. However, when you open it on thousands of screens, in every money grubbing 3D format there is, and toss a Dark Knight level marketing and hype campaign with it, you’re bound to draw in the numbers. Add to that there is nothing in the theaters to compete with it, and it all spells dominating performance.
At least for the first couple of weekends after that I think the word of mouth will be a lukewarm, “it’s okay, but you can wait for DVD”.
Everybody wants to be the next uber franchise, the next Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. If the hope of this Hunger Games film was to get people geared for sequels, it failed on me. Had more attention been paid to making this a good FILM, rather than just a good 1st chapter, I would have been much happier with the movie.
So based on this, the rest of the series, not really interested… I’ll stick to catching them when they hit DVD; as I did with the Potter Series, and the last two films of the RINGS trilogy.
Final Grade: B-
A minor update: Ray over on WSJ wrote the following which I thought was worth repeating 🙂 :
“Battle Royale: In a post-apocalyptic future where all of the world’s major societies have fallen, the government has decided to keep the people in line by having entire classes of students fight to the death on a live broadcast. They are randomly assigned weapons in an ever-changing arena filled with traps that punishes those who break the rules or fail to pay attention. The winner is the last child standing, who is taken on a whirlwind publicity tour to show the power of the government. However, in the latest game, two students team up to beat the system and hopefully make it out alive.
Hunger Games: In a post-apocalyptic future where all of the world’s major societies have fallen, the government has decided to keep the people in line by having randomly chosen children and teenagers from all over the country fight to the death on a live broadcast. They are trained to use randomly selected weapons in an ever-changing arena filled with traps that punishes those who break the rules or fail to pay attention. The winner is the last child standing, who is taken on a whirlwind publicity tour to show the power of the government. However, in the latest game, two children team up to beat the system and hopefully make it out alive.”
— Ray at WSJ