|(Image courtesy of Lionsgate)|
Jeff Dodge's Recommendations of the Week [3/25-3/31]:
The Hunger Game (in theaters now)
Let's start off with my review of The Hunger Games. To put it simply, it's one of the best films I have ever seen. 'Nuff said. But I'll still go into more detail here with my thoughts (and please note, there will be major spoilers in this review).
The Hunger Games is breaking box office records left and right and we're only past opening weekend. The book and film tell the story of Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a post-apocalyptic North America. Years ago, there had been an uprising against the government. In order to keep its citizens in line and to remind them never to stand against them again, the Capitol stages what's called the Hunger Games once a year, where they take 24 tributes (all minors) and place them in an arena to fight to the death. All the while, the Games are being broadcast live around the country of Panem, and citizens are required to watch it. Yes, it's brutal. Yes, it's disturbing. But that's the point.
And the story, when you get down to it, really isn't about kids killing kids. It's about the power of a government controlling its people, humiliating them, killing them without any regard for their safety or well-being. Does this ring a bell anyone? This happens in real life in countries around the world. The Games, as I mentioned, are shown on TV, sort of like a reality show. This rings true in real life as well -- our society is obsessed by stupid reality TV where producers are manipulating what the cast members do and the situations they're in; and we as a society glamorize the whole shebang.
Sorry, I had to get all that out of the way, because I've been pissed off by people online lately who have never read the books or watched the movie and are criticizing The Hunger Games for being about kids killing kids. Here's the truth: That's not what it's about! Understand the story or choose to be woefully ignorant.
Now onto the movie...The Hunger Games starts off with text on the screen for us to read, explaining the concept of the Hunger Games and such. For those who aren't familiar with the story, this is a great way to learn what happens (and the rules and concepts are explains as well throughout the movie).
We've seen the parts of the Reaping scene countless times in the trailers and TV spots. But it doesn't get old. Because seeing it in full, we get the full impact, and it's truly heartbreaking to see Prim's name be called and Katniss volunteering. When Katniss and Peeta are on stage together, we get our first flashback peek into that moment when Peeta tossed Katniss the bread. Over the course of the movie, that scene is slowly revealed more and more, which I really liked.
The Girl on Fire outfit wasn't cheesy at all. I loved the special effects used. The training scenes were done really well. We got to see all that was necessarily to understand the full impact of doing the training. I loved the moment when Rue was hanging up in the "rafters" with Cato's knife. In the interviews, we've seen the dress already in TV spots and such, but I appreciated them adding the touch of fire when she swirled around.
Since the books are told through Katniss' point of view, we don't get anything outside of that. So that's why some of my favorite moments of the film were the behind-the-scenes aspects showing the Gamemaker and everyone else controlling what happens in the arena, such as the fire and mutts and such. And the commentary by Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith was necessary because they added much-needed explanations that would have been lost since the book is first person and a movie can't do that.
Whenever gifts by sponsors came floating down, there was a beeping noise to alert the tribute of it. And while it helped for moviegoers as well, logically speaking, having that beeping would not be a good idea because then other tributes might hear it and know where others are. And one scene that I loved seeing on screen from the book was when Katniss went to the Cornucopia area and blew up all the supplies. Score! Though how the other tributes didn't see her when they returned is beyond me, since she was standing right out in the open.
The scene that I was both anticipating and dreading the most was that of Rue's death. Parts of the Reaping scene were hard to watch in a way -- emotional, certainly. But when Katniss was cradling Rue, and once that first tear leaked out of Rue's eye, I started getting emotional myself, started to tear up. And during this scene, I could hear many sniffling going on in my theater. The filmmakers' added a new scene following this. After Katniss raises her three fingers to the camera, we see the people in District 11, Rue's district, follow suit. And then we see someone that most likely is Rue's father start to show his outrage over her death, and a riot starts. I got shivers down my spine during this, and it foreshadows what's to come in future movies.
The start of the climax (and right afterword) is a little different than the book, but that's for the most part fine. The mutts first show up once Katniss and Peeta make their way back to the Cornucopia area. In the movie, they show up when Katniss and Peeta are in the woods and realizing that this is the finale. And I thought it was sheer brilliance that we got to see that one Gamemaker make the mutts appear. It shows that they didn't just come out of nowhere and that it shows the pure and total manipulation on the part of the producers and such.
Once Cato is killed (and it isn't a slow and tortured death like in the book), the skies go from nighttime to daytime (another change, but intriguing, nonetheless). Then comes something that I wish had stuck closer to the book. When Katniss cooks up the idea to eat the berries so they both will die, they barely moved their hand up when Claudius announces them both as winners. I think it would've been more powerful if we actually got to see them put the berries in their mouths and then spit them out afterwards.
Everything I've been mentioning so far has been little nitpicking things that don't really matter in the grand scope of things. But the way they ended the movie does. In the book, it ends with Katniss telling Peeta that the Capitol didn't like the berry stunt and Peeta then realizes that Katniss is not really in love with him. There is only a hint of this in the movie: Peeta asks what will happen once they get back to District 12. She says, I guess we forget about it. He says he doesn't want to. That's the closest we get to that. But because they actually didn't have Peeta do the whole realization part, there might be some non-book viewers who might not understand that Katniss was doing the love angle to survive (for the most part). So the ending felt a little rushed because of that. But I understand they probably didn't want to have 5 different endings back to back to back akin to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Hopefully, there's a scene somewhere at the beginning of Catching Fire that allows Peeta to do the same thing.
The pacing was perfect. If you've read the book, you know that it moves along at quite a quick pace. Suzanne Collins doesn't hover over any one thing for very long. And that quick pace is there in the movie as well. I also have to applaud the cinematography. They employed handheld camera techniques, and so the camera wasn't always steady, sometimes shaking. I remember there was a moment in the Reaping where you could tell the camera wasn't smooth and because of the unevenness, it felt like we were standing there among the crowd, watching the Reaping take place.
Jennifer Lawrence is pure brilliance in this movie. I mean, she's an Academy Award nominee, for crying out loud. And what she did in Winter's Bone, she brought to The Hunger Games. The cast is just amazing. Usually, there is someone who we don't like cast as a character, but I don't really have a whole lot of complaints about the cast. All the actors who played President Snow, Claudius Templesmith, Seneca Crane, Caesar Flickerman, Effie Trinket, Haymitch (Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, etc). were all brilliant as well.
Of course, us fans are going to nitpick every little detail. We're already used to doing it from Harry Potter. But when it comes down to it, there's no getting around the fact that this is a beyond brilliant and energetic film that should stand the test of time, and get people to think about the realities of our own world and what's wrong and what's right. I found myself many times with my mouth wide open in shock, even though I already knew what was going to happen. If you felt disturbed by what happens in this film, that's the point. We all should feel disturbed that a government would go to these great lengths. And the impact of what they are doing feels even more powerful by seeing in for ourselves as opposed to just reading it. To conclude, I will give The Hunger Games an A- rating.
I was going to also give some quick reviews on The Adventures of Tintin and Hugo, but I took up too much time with the above review, so I'm going to hold off on those for next week. I don't think I have anything major to review next week, so that could be a good time to do it.
Alcatraz Finale (Monday, 8-10pm, FOX)
Since I spent most of this post talking about The Hunger Games, I'll just quickly mention a TV show airing this week. The 2-hour finale of Alcatraz airs tonight. Back when I mentioned it in a previous Recommendations of the Week post, I said that I enjoyed it, but there were definitely improvements that could be made. And now that we're coming into the finale, I have to say that the latter half of the season is a drastic improvement and each week I have looked forward to watching each new episode. The ratings haven't been that great, frankly. So there's a big chance that the show will be cancelled and not return for a season 2. I was on the fence at the start about being in it for the long haul, but I would be disappointed at this point to see it go off the air. So I hope people watch the finale, and we'll wait for the final verdict to come in, most likely in May.
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#1 Recommendation: The Hunger Games
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