Tuesday, March 27, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Hunger Games"

The Hunger Games

I remember seeing the movie Grease with some friends from school during the summer of 1978 — I was 15 years old. This now iconic movie told an engaging story of teenage love, set during the late 1950s. The prim and proper Sandy Olsson, played by then-pop star Olivia Newton-John, meets local delinquent, Danny Zuko, played by then-upcoming mega star, John Travolta. The odds certainly didn't seem in their favor. Yet despite the disapproval of Sandy's friends, The Pink Ladies, and Danny's "greaser" buddies, it was their destiny to be together. Ah, true teenage love prevailed.

Writer and director John Hughes mined pure box office gold throughout the 1980s. He attracted countless movie-goers, eager to plunk down big bucks  to see his string of such quirky and romantic high school-themed blockbusters as The Breakfast ClubSixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink — making actress Molly Ringwald THE universally recognized "girl next door." And for Ringwald's numerous onscreen characters in the '80s, true teenage love always prevailed.

In the 1990s there were less compelling and less memorable films such as Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead and Can't Hardly Wait that also were aimed toward high school audiences. Yet despite the diminishing likable qualities of some of the main characters portrayed in these more recent efforts, the underlying message remained the same — true teenage love prevails.

But even the '90s were a long time ago. And given the influence of current music-types, glorifying a lifestyle of blastin' caps in bee-atches asses while gitin' a 'drank on' all up in 'da club, graphically violent video games, TV shows promoting the awesomeness of teenage pregnancy (Aw, mom —  Ashley, Jasmine and Megan got to have babies — why can't I? You NEVER let me have ANY fun!) and the deep, complex storylines of the seemingly endless slew of Vampire-related epic sagas on book shelves and the big screen, today's younger audience is simply too intellectually advanced to accept the corny teen flicks from the past. They demand more sophisticated stories.

Published in 2008, Suzanne Collins' novel, The Hunger Games, has generated enormous international sales. And according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the much-anticipated film adaptation of the book took in an astounding $155 million during its March 2012 opening weekend.

Amazon Reader Book Review
"The setting of a dystopian society wherein
children are pitted against one another to the
death in an annual melee absolutely begs for a
strong moral message. A message of humanity,
hope, compassion, the darkness AND the
lightness in each person, forgiveness, sacrifice,
redemption. The call is completely unanswered.
There is no moral message that comes through,
not for the characters and not for the readers."
-Dana Leigh

An 11-year-old friend of mine was elated to purchase a print copy of The Hunger Games at a recent school book fair, as it has become a recommended, sophisticated read for elementary school-age kids. "It's about children fighting each other to the death on a reality TV show," she reported enthusiastically upon bringing the book home from school. Hmm.

Ironically, the movie version of The Hunger Games arrived in theaters just two weeks later. All I knew for certain was that the film was receiving rave pre-release reviews and the book maintained an impressive Five-Star Amazon review. Given her passion for this story, I offered to take my young friend to see the film on opening weekend.

Lenny Kravitz as Cinna
Directed by Gary Ross, the film stars Jennifer Lawrence as the perceived heroine, Katniss, along with Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Katniss' teenage love interest and fellow rival in this televised, real-life, fight-to-the-death competition. The support cast includes Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, an alcoholic Kurt Cobain look-alike mentor and former Hunger Games champion, Lenny Kravitz as the RuPaul-meets-O.J. Simpson-looking trainer, Cinna (pronounced, Sin-ah), Elizabeth Banks as the talent scout / PR agent, Effie Trinket, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the go-to guy behind-the-scenes, Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, the "Ryan Seacrest" of the Hunger Games show, and Donald Sutherland as Coriolanus Snow, the dastardly president of the Rocky Horror-meets-Whoville nation of Panem (also referred to as "The Capitol"). It's a stellar ensemble to be sure.

Anonymous web post:
"The citizens of the Capitol are Lady Gaga's
little monster wanabes, as all the people
wear outfits that are crazy and over-the-top:
loud colours, extreme make up, body
modifications and skin coloring. Basically
picture a city full of Lady Gagas walking
down the street and you get an idea."

The perceived heroine, Katniss, volunteers to take the place of her younger sister who was initially chosen in the annual lottery to represent Panem's District 12 in the 74th Hunger Games competition. Given her brave and selfless sacrifice, some  have come to view the book / film as possessing a (very) deep Christ-like message. However, I believe that my friend quite accurately and succinctly summed up the story days earlier when she told me, "It's about children fighting each other to the death on a reality TV show."

Following the necessary contestant grooming and training process, the grand and glorious competition ensues in an American Idol-meets-Survivor at The Super Bowl atmosphere.

Woody Harrelson as
Haymitch Cobain
Now, help me out. Exactly who am I supposed to be cheering for? Is it one of those  teens who oddly are vilified for brutally murdering other teens in their fight for survival, or is it one (or both) of the two kids who also are brutally murdering other kids, but who are being portrayed sympathetically because they're just two wacky teenagers in love?

It's bad enough that teenage bullying and school shootings have risen to epidemic proportions in recent years. Now we have a super groovy and sexy saga to further inspire teen violence. Yeah, I know — I'm just the out-of-touch "old guy" who lacks the sophistication required to grasp such a complex message. But I already can see the headlines... Dateline: Anytown, USA — Four teens brutally beaten and savagely murdered in Hunger Games-style attack.

Hey kids - you too can duplicate the flava of
your fave Hunger Games murder accomplices!

And I further agree with Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun-Times opinion that the film ran much too long. In fact, an hour or more of this epic easily could have ended up on the cutting room floor without compromising the complex storyline. Heck, after sitting for nearly two and a half hours, even my young friend was complaining that her "butt had gone numb!"

In sum: The Hunger Games — Well-written? Yep. Well-cast? Certainly. Well-marketed? Absolutely. Rock solid performances? Of course. Visually appealing? To be sure. So, what's the problem?

As we were leaving the theater, my young friend inquired immediately, "Well, what did you think?" I replied, "Uh, what did you think?" "I know it's only about kids killing innocent kids, but I just love it!" she confessed enthusiastically. "I don't know why I love it. I just do!" Hmm, out of the mouths of babes. Well, at least true teenage love still prevailed. "May the odds be forever in our favor."

-Christopher Long
(March 2012)

The latest from author Christopher Long
is available NOW on Amazon.

Also from Christopher Long...
Get it on Amazon.


  1. Damn dude. Good review overall, and the last paragraph totally nails it. As you are someone I've always looked up to, Thank you!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, "Anonymous!" I appreciate you offering such kind words.

  3. Great review! Just watched it with my daughter and as we were leaving she askede me if I liked it. Many thoughts raced through my mind, so I asked her what she thought and she said she liked it, but knew it was only a movie. I don't know whats sadder, the fact the we watched (kids killing kids)for our entertainment: Or that the whole idea was put into a movie!?

  4. This was my concern exactly, "Anonymous #2." Thanks for the comment!

  5. Great Review Chris!!!! I scouted this one out since my kids were talking about it...I can't in good conscience take them to see this since it advocates such brutal violence. Call me old fashioned, but I am taking a proactive role in my kids life and would much rather have them watch Veggie tales for the positive teaching and role modeling instead of the corporate crud that is being forced down their throats vying for my hard earned paycheck.

  6. BRAVO, Jerry! Great hearing from you.

  7. This review made me chuckle. At first, Mr. Long, I was convinced you hadn’t actually seen the film until you shared details about your young movie going pal’s “’numb butt.’” Perhaps it was nostalgia, perhaps that “’I’m just a simple guy’ syndrome” [insert good natured teasing tone] that affected your take on this slightly above average film, but I had an entirely different surface value take.

    First of all, was it really so hidden that Katniss did not in fact have romantic feelings for Peeta but was merely acting in an effort to save his life? I thought that was intentionally made obvious. As far as her questionable heroics, there was the above mentioned act, the one you mentioned regarding her taking the place of her sister, her care of Rue, but beyond acts of mere survival for herself and others there was something bigger and, again, not so hidden.

    The heroin Katniss wasn’t blinded to the atrocities of Panem (clearly used to make a statement on our own society), and didn’t value what they valued -entertainment, fancy clothes etc, at the cost of the most fundamental aspects of morality. No, she didn’t overthrow this evil caricature of our own society, but she was able to not embrace its anti-values, not get caught up in it’s enticements and frivolities, and she was even able to ‘stick it to them’ by beating their disgusting game by playing to their weakness.

    Hunger Games was certainly not the best movie I’ve ever seen (I also disagree with you about the acting by the way ;) ) but it was also not the convoluted a-moral disappointment you saw (be honest, were your really watching it or just rolling your eyes the whole time? ;) ). If we really see things so differently I could perhaps use your reviews as a guide in opposites world –lol! Although I’d suggest you stick to the 80’s films you know and love ;)

  8. Carla,

    Thank you SO much for offering such a detailed and well-thought-out comment. You've hit upon the essence of this blog -- a cool forum where people can exchange ideas. These days it seems like folks can't have differing opinions without screaming and name-calling. Although we had different views of this film, your thoughts are passionate and articulate -- and very much welcome here. PLUS, you used a (perceived) "real" name and I'm always more compelled to respond to those visitors than to the typical "Anonymous" posts.

    The funny thing is, it appears that I may have actually liked the movie more than you. (LOL) I offered it kudos for being well-written, well-cast and fun to look at. I also thought the acting was incredible. I've been a fan of Stanley Tucci since "American Beauty" and of Donald Sutherland since I was fifteen and saw "Animal House." Furthermore, I thought Jennifer Lawrence's performance was amazing. In fact, I actually had very little negative to offer about "The Hunger Games." If you notice, much of the less-than favorable content in my post are the words of others. My intent was merely to offer a more urgent commentary on our changing culture and how our kids are being affected rather than of the film itself.

    I hope you will continue to be one of my frequent vistors. And feel free to continue offering your personal commentary.


    BTW, by my own admission, I certainly AM the "old, out-of-touch" guy, for sure. Fortunately, I still look amazing! But to be honest, regarding "those 80s films," I wasn't a particular fan of many of them. I merely used them in this post as reference points. (FYI, I enjoy YOUR blog)

  9. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for indulging me with such a great reply =) I love to debate (as you may have guessed) and am glad to find such a good sport. I agree that it's hard these days to find those who can communicate differing opinions without screaming and name-calling (aka advertising all their baggage and insecurity for the world to see) but that aside, it can be hard to communicate tone and intention in writing, though I think we're off to a good start =)

    Thanks for the compliment on my blog. I once had an anonymous reader tell me my blog "sucked," was "overly wordy" and "self serving" and I was therefore an "idiot" -LOL! By MY own admission my blog is wordy (what can I say? I love words!) and self-indulgent but at least I own it with my full name ;)

    Anyway, I'll be back ;) (No movie reference intended... Really! :)

  10. Carla,

    Yay! I was hoping to hear from you again.

    A very wise man once told me never to apologize for my work. Your blog is exactly as it should be. But I can relate to that "Anonymous" comment, however. I was on the receiving end of a good bit of that type of sentiment when my first book hit stores in 2010. I believe it's a good indication that you're right on target.

    Thanks for being my new BFF!


  11. Take away the hullabaloo surrounding the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young adult book and what you have is an absorbing film with a dire premise that stands pretty much on its own. Lawrence is also the stand-out here as Katniss and makes her seem like a real person rather than just another book character brought to life on film. Good review Chris.

  12. Yo, Dan O.

    I'm a big fan of your movie blog and I'm honored that you stopped by. Thanks for adding to the conversation -- and don't be a stranger!


  13. “There is nothing ‘new’ or ‘original’ anymore. It’s all been done before.”. This was told to me years ago and I believe it to be true.

    A recent, relatively, example of this is, “The Hunger Games”, and “The Lord of the Flies”. I probably don’t need to say anymore. The inference is obvious.

    The Hunger Games sounds like an interesting movie, (no.. I haven’t seen it yet..) But…. Haven’t we seen this before?
    Then again, I’m not 20 years old…. So …. “What’s Old Is New”. .. I guess.?..

  14. Thanks for weighing in, Jim. Good points, to be sure. Feel free to stop by again anytime!


  15. Hi..I just watched the second film and reviewed it, and I also linked this review there. I offer a different take on the film than you did. Check it out! http://williamtelltale.blogspot.com/2014/01/late-movie-review-series-2-hunger-games.html