I just got back from checking out the new film The Hunger Games, and I thought I would voice my opinion.
Before I get started, I just want to establish that I've never read the books, so I'm coming at this completely new. I went to see it because I'd heard the hype from my friends, the reviews I'd heard said that the movie lives up to the hype, and I'd heard that the cast is a mile long of high profile, really great actors. Just to name a few, you've got Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks and Donald Sutherland.
These are major actors in the industry and they don't have to get involved in any old movie for the paycheck if they don't want to. I'm sure they do, but generally when you see a list of actors this good in one place, there's something special about the movie. So naturally, I was curious, and this is before we get into the fanbase and the hype that goes with the movie.
I've seen movies with built-in fanbases and hype before without checking out the source material, and in some cases have been sorely let down. So in order to talk about this movie while avoiding spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen it, I'm going to talk about it in the context of two other movies with built-in fanbases and hype, Battle Royale and Twilight.
Battle Royale because of the similarities in the stories, and Twilight because I've heard some people refer to The Hunger Games as a "Twilight killer" movie. Again, these are both movies with built-in fanbases and loads of hype behind them, much like The Hunger Games.
I went to a screening of Battle Royale recently, invited by a friend, having no real personal knowledge of the film. When I'd told people I was going to see it, a few of them voiced opinions on the film, mostly with favorable things to say about it.
Personally I'm not one for Asian cinema, and I have serious issues with subtitled films. Going to movies, I believe in immersing myself in the reality that's being created in it. I like to have my two major senses, sight and sound fully stimulated in the experience without being over stimulated. Subtitles in films tends to walk the line between fully and over stimulated as a movie going experience for me. Some people like them, I'm not partial to them. There are some films with subtitles that I have enjoyed, but traditionally if I know there's going to be subtitles in a film, I will avoid it in favor of something in English.
That being said, I actually enjoyed Battle Royale for what it was. It had the right mix of character, plot and action to keep me interested for the majority of its runtime. If I had to say one thing that bothered me about the film is that it pandered to a specific type of audience, and perhaps my failing is that I don't fall into that audience.
Which is not to say that I don't have films that when I go see them, I know I'm being pandered to and I enjoy it. Traditionally, there are three types of movies that I go see knowing I'm being pandered to and enjoy none the less, superhero movies, tragic love story movies, and movies by Joss Whedon. I go into those three types of movies knowing what I'm getting into and love every minute of them.
But there's good pandering, and there's bad pandering. All three of these movies pander to a specific audience in some form or another, but some of them do it well and some don't. Battle Royale panders to its audience pretty well, because buried within the character flashbacks and action is a fundamental message about the world that on some level challenges the audience to be better than the characters it's presenting to them. That to me says that the filmmakers behind it had a deliberate connection to the material and it shows in the film itself.
Twilight, on the other hand, panders to its audience while promoting an idealised version of people that just doesn't ring true. There are so many things wrong with the film, from the acting, to the plot and character development, that I cringe through most of the film. It took me three attempts on DVD to get through the third film in the Twilight series and I have yet to see the fourth installment for fear of the consequences.
The Hunger Games however, has the best of both worlds and even brings in a third for the tri-fecta of what I consider a great film. It panders to its audience very well, challenging its audience with a great message through social commentary, and manages to have a love story that doesn't feel forced or take away from the other two great elements.
What separates The Hunger Games from a film like Battle Royale though, in my opinion, is that Battle Royale had a bit of a depressing message in it. Fundamentally it seems to be showing its audience the brutality of violence and ultimate pointlessness of violence but stops short of saying there's a better way of living. It's the kind of thing that you see in a lot of Quentin Tarantino movies that are done really well. The Hunger Games goes the extra mile to say that despite all the brutality and pointlessness of violence, hope is still possible. To use a possibly paraphrased quote from the film...
"Hope, it's the one thing that's stronger than fear."
Recent films targeted to the tween/teen/younger generation have left me with a great deal of fear for the messages being portrayed in them. Having seen The Hunger Games though, much like the film itself, I'm left with a great sense of hope. And to that I say...
"May the odds be ever in my favor."