Sunday, April 22, 2012

We Like to Watch

Like some who have flocked to see The Hunger games, I had not read the book (still have not read it, btw), and was not planning on seeing the movie, even though I am a sci fi fan. Then the opportunity arose to go with my wife (who has read the books and is a fan) and sons, so I went.

I enjoyed and appreciated it, especially the acting (Jennifer Lawrence in particular) and the music (by James Howard Newton). But the story left me flat. I wasn't engaged by it for some reason. Maybe it would have worked if I had been a fan of the book.

However, now that a couple weeks have gone by, and I have now seen the new horror movie "Cabin In the Woods," I have a new observation to make. Both of these films have a very prominent theme of voyeurism, i.e. other people watching your every move.

In both THG and CITW, the fact that audiences are watching the main characters suffer and die was somewhat sickening. At the same time, this is a savage critique of our own society today, especially when you consider that some of the most prominent reality TV shows, from Survivor to The Amazing Race, operate on the same principle. As much as I don't like what it says about us, I guess it's true. We like to watch.

Another parallel, in both THG and CITW, there are technicians in a control room filled with monitors, buttons and levers at their disposal to not only watch the hapless contestants/victims, but to influence the choices and outcomes on screen. (As some have pointed out, this is just like the film The Truman Show with Jim Carrey of several years ago.)

Despite the massive bureacracy designed to control what is happening, in both THG and CITW, their attempts to control the outcome eventually fail. As much as we would like to control things in life, we actually can't. (My son pointed out that this is also the gist of another recent film called The Assassination Bureau.) People are far more complex than computerized systems, and often quite surprising to those in charge.

Though I haven't read the books, I have heard that in the second and third installments of THG, Katniss and other characters do take part in a rebellion to take down the hateful system that oppresses them.

At the end of CITW (warning: spoiler ahead - stop reading now if you don't want to know how the film ends), the complicated heroes not only bring down the system and foil the controllers, they inadvertently cause "all hell to break loose." It's actually quite hilarious to watch, along the lines of the end of the film Dr. Strangelove.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday April 22, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Hunger Games

My wife and I saw the new film The Hunger Games last night. Here is my review and general commentary.

Overall, this is a good futuristic tale of a post-war world where evil reigns and the poor are held down in poverty by the ruling class. Every year, to drive fear and despair into the populace, children and teens are selected from the twelve districts of the country to participate in a deadly competition called The Hunger Games. The games are a huge event, televised to all the districts, and controlled by politicians and technicians who can create a forest fire, or a rampaging pack of monster dogs, at the push of a high-tech button.

The starring performance by the excellent young actress Jennifer (Winter's Bone) Lawrence is the big reason to see this film. She is great, and should get an Oscar nomination for this. The rest of the cast does quite well, including the weirdly Oz-like games masters played by Stanley Tucci and Wes Bentley. Woody Harrelson as the girl's mentor almost steals the movie too. I also liked the score by composer James Newton Howard.

Now a more general comment. I have not read the books. So I rely on my wife's comment that the movie did a nice job of translating the first book to the screen.

While watching the film, I found myself shifting in my seat a lot. Not exactly bored, but also never fully engaged by the tale, I have been trying to figure out what the problem was.

Here it is: The Hunger Games is derivative of so many other films, TV shows, and stories that I found myself thinking more about them than the movie in front of me. For example, I found myself reflecting on the classic UK TV series The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan where Number Six keeps trying to escape The Village but is always brought back by his shadowy techno captors.

Other reviewers have mentioned the similarities of the movie to Battle Royale, The Running Man, and others.

There's nothing wrong with being derivative, and resembling other literary works. I guess what I would ask of such a film is to do something really different and original. Like McGoohan did with his Prisoner series.

Knowing that there are two more books, and I would assume two more movies, to go in the Hunger Games series, I will await the next installments, hoping that the story goes into more creatively original directions.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Monday April 2, 2012