Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: ‘The Hunger Games’ Taps Into the Bloodthirsty Media, ‘Death Race 2000’-Style

Kevin Carr's Weekly Report Card

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr is feeling hungry. Of course, this is nothing strange because he’s always feeling hungry. But this week, he’s extra hungry because only one movie is opening wide, and that is the highly anticipated adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel, The Hunger Games.

So Kevin grabs a bow and arrow, a tub of magical antibiotics, tracker jacker repellant and a big bucket of popcorn to check out what is sure to be the next big young-adult-novel-turned-billion-dollar-franchise. (Spoiler alert: Kevin is still hungry when the movie is over, but that’s no surprise either.)

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen as Kevin is joined by FSR’s Associate Editor Kate Erbland to battle to the death and dissect The Hunger Games.

Studio: Lionsgate

Rated: PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson

Directed by: Gary Ross

What it’s about: In a Dystopian future, the North American country of Panem is carved into twelve districts. To control the people, each year the government selects two teenagers from each district to fight to the death in an annual event known as the Hunger Games. Katniss Everdene (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are sent from the blue collar District 12, capturing the interest of the viewing public around the country.

What makes the grade: In general, I have always liked stories of Dystopian futures more than I have liked general tales of the apocalypse filled with anarchy and confusion. There’s more to relate to in a Dystopian future, for no other reason than if someone from the distant past looked at our lives, they might consider our society to be just that. The Hunger Games, while presenting a somewhat simplified Dystopian society, taps into the elements that make these stories compelling.

The movie is not just the story of two tributes heading off to the Capitol to fight to the death with 22 other teens. That will be what connects to the younger fans reading the books, and the relationships and emotions presented in this story will help sell this. However, unlike the inevitably comparable Twilight books and films, there’s a deeper, richer world to explore.

The Hunger Games has as much to say about the bloodthirsty and heartless nature of the media as it does the basic hero journey of Katniss and providing an empathetic character facing insurmountable odds. This movie uses elements from other Dystopian classics like 1984 and THX-1138, as well as connecting to the sensational media circus presented in Death Race 2000. So it’s not just a kid’s book turned into a movie.

Also like Death Race 2000, which is one of my favorite movies of all time, The Hunger Games plays with a weird 70s aesthetic for the high society. During the grand reality show moments with Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman, the movie felt very retro. I kept expecting the bleeding lens flares from 70s television to work into the design, which would complete the feel of the audience, who looked like they had just stepped out of the chorus from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Like the old saying goes, this was just crazy enough to work.

Considering the acting, the effects, the vision and the pacing (which is impressively brisk for a movie that clocks in at 142 minutes), The Hunger Games may very well be the best first step into a major young adult franchise in years. It’s certainly better than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Twilight and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief combined.

What fails: I wouldn’t say that The Hunger Games fails necessarily but rather stumbles and presents certain flaws to overcome. The biggest problem it has is the undeniable ripping off of Battle Royale, at least from the premise standpoint. Fortunately, it’s a very different movie – both in terms of culture and delivery. So while it will always be possible to criticize The Hunger Games on that front, things divert quickly.

Then there’s the general brutality of the premise. Kids killing kids is never easy to take, especially when our own bloodthirsty and heartless media parades stories of youth violence and school shootings across the headlines ad nauseum. It was different in Battle Royale, which was made more for the adult market and existed squarely in R-rating territory. There’s only one particular scene in The Hunger Games that’s particularly difficult to watch – especially as a parent – but on the whole the movie handles this subject matter with maturity and respect.

Finally, there are filmmaking elements that get in the movie’s way. The most noticeable is the herky-jerky handheld cinematography of anything shot in District 12. I get it, movie: You want to show an earthy roughness and confusion that personifies the district. You just go too far. I don’t like feeling like I’m going to puke fifteen minutes into the film. This isn’t Battle: Los Angeles, for crying out loud. Fortunately once the tributes are chosen and they’re headed to the Capital, things smooth out.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of the book and most of the people they’ll drag along to join them.

Grade: B+

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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